SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Ewa K Freindl

You can hear it in my accent when I talk

                    The view from window of airplanes landing, sound of some happy music playing from the speakers, hundreds of busy people walking by, babies crying loud, people laughing, smell of hot coffee, feeling of fear and excitement. It was cold, it was loud and it was just strange to sit at the JFK in New York by myself.  I could hear my MP3 player and how the battery was slowly dying after 12 hour flight; Sting was singing about Englishman in New York, and here I come, Polish girl unsure what is going to happen next, in New York. 

                        I came to the U.S. a week before the September 11, 2001, when America, as one of the most powerful countries in the world, defined as freedom to every other nation; just seven days later and the whole world turned upside down when the attack happened in New York by terrorists, and the word “freedom” became questionable to every human being. At the time I still was not able to pronounce specific words in English, a language that was as new to me as the whole country itself; I remember the feeling of frustration and anger when I was trying to make simple conversation with someone who could not understand a single word I was saying. The only languages I knew were Polish, German and Dutch – neither of them helpful at that very moment.

                      The view of airplanes landing on the bright blue sky is very important to me because it reminds me of that day at the JFK in New York when I arrived to the USA with one way ticket, one baggage and tiny little Polish-English dictionary in my hand; the feelings I can describe are both fear – because I did not know what to expect and excitement at the same time – because I knew this will be the new chapter in my life. I remember clearly the smell of Starbucks coffee when I was passing by people on my way to grab a cab; the smell teased me at that moment and I wanted a sip of it so much but I was too afraid to go and buy it, since I was so lost at that place and I wanted to find my way out.  Airports will always be very special to me since I spent a good amount of my life traveling from place to place, but that specific airport at the JFK will always bring all the memories to me.

                     Ever since I remember, I have always been interested in discovering different cultures and religions; learning about human ethnicity was fascinating to me, because I believe that everybody has some unique story to tell. Coming to the U.S. meant another lesson about the people and the way they live and deal with their background. America was just a perfect place to be.  While in Europe ethnicity is segregated by country and region, here in the United States people are mixed up together, sharing one country. I could learn more about different traditions and religions here in the U.S. than in Europe or Africa, because here even if far away from their home countries, people still seem to keep their traditions, beliefs or cultures alive. This is very impressive to me. What I have learned from September 11 is the fact that in tragic situations people are able to comfort themselves. Cultural background and ethnicity is no longer as important when tragedy happens because people do not notice their skin color, their roots and their different opinions about things such as political views; they are all the same at that moment and they see themselves as brothers and sisters

                     Seven years later I go back to New York with a smile on my face; I consider myself as a completely different person now, than I was years ago. Moving to the U.S. was the biggest change in my life and the biggest experience so far. After I graduate in May I am planning on joining the U.S. Air Force in order to continue my life journey, but I will always remember the day when I arrived to John Kennedy International Airport and I did not know where to go, who to ask and how to talk to people in my new “home”. Now I understand Americans better than ever before and smile to hundreds of immigrants I meet every single day….as one of them, I sing with Sting “be yourself, no matter what they say”.


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