Favorite quote/life motto: “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts” ( Marcus Aurelius )
My name is Monika Gąciarz, I am now 27 years old but was 13 when I left Poland. Although I was born in Warsaw, I spent 13 years of my life in a small town in the south of Poland called Tuchow. My whole family comes from the region, from an even smaller village called Plesna. Before I left for Ireland, I had never even been to an airport, and the farthest trip I have been on was to the Baltic Sea in Poland, some 600km away from home.
I was in my last year of primary school when one dark, wintery evening of December 2015, my mam came to my bedroom and told me she is considering going to Ireland for work. I was speechless. As a 12 year old girl, the prospect of not having my mam close to me was terrifying. However, my mam assured me it would not be for longer than 3 months. I had no choice but agree and, through tears, I smiled knowing that it was the best solution for the whole family as our financial situation was quite precarious at the time.
Little did I know, that the 3months would soon turn into 6 and then 8. In July of the following year, my mam called us and said we could come and live with her to see if we like it. I was about to start secondary school and was looking forward to a new chapter in my life with my best friends. Although I suspect that my parents had already organised everything before September, they still let me go to school for one month before we left in October. When I found out that we were going, I was inconsolable, walking around the town, trying to imagine what my new life would be like.
I don’t even think I knew where Ireland was on the map, all I knew was that English was the spoken language and they used the Euro. Having never been abroad before, it was almost impossible for me to imagine life outside of Poland. Thinking back to it after having visited more then 20 countries, it’s hard to believe that I was so unaware of the world around me.
When the day finally came, I took my suitcases and closed the door to our apartment behind me. I flew from Krakow to Warsaw with my dad and then directly to Dublin. My mam was waiting for us at the airport and although I saw her only a few months earlier, it seemed as if it had been years since she left. I remember worrying that we would never rebuild the bond that we shared, but thankfully I saw wrong.
When we arrived in Cahir, a small town in the south of Ireland, it was already night time. I remember waking up the next day not quite sure where I was. I went for a walk to town with my dad and the first thing that shocked me was people wearing shorts and T-shirts when I was freezing in a jacket and a scarf. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore my new town as 3 days later I went to my local school to register and join the first year of secondary school in Ireland. In Poland, it is very rare for students to wear uniforms, everyone wears their own clothes. The uniforms in Ireland are compulsory but to be honest I did not complain about them, I guess it was because it was such a novelty for me and I was glad to be part of a different culture. I have no doubt that the move to Ireland was what fuelled my love for discovering new cultures and languages.
My first few days in school were challenging to say the least. Most students were very friendly and welcoming but of course there were some mocking my accent and my lack of understanding. Although I did study English in Poland since I was 6, my level of English was nowhere near that of my peers. For the first few months all I could ask was ‘which class do we have now?’, so it was difficult to find friends. I also decided to follow my dream and learn French as it was not offered in my school in Poland. I will never forget my first class which was French. Not only could I not speak a word of French but I could also not understand the teacher speaking in English, but I was determined not to give up.
After 3 months have passed, I was sure that it would not work and I wanted to go back home. My parents however told me to hold on for just one more day and see how it goes. Before I knew, I made friends with other children living in my estate and everything started to make sense.
Once the worst has passed and I felt at home, I was quite surprised to discover what ‘reverse culture shock’ was. When I went back home to Poland during the summer, I noticed that I was no longer the same person while everything else stayed the same. I also started to notice that I didn’t quite fit in as I had before, due to being exposed to a different culture. I behaved in a different way and became a lot more independent. This unfortunately meant that I lost touch with most of my friends in Poland.
Years have passed and I was ready for the Leaving Certificate. I was only in Ireland for 5 years but I managed to receive the highest Leaving Certificate result in the school. I decided to follow my heart and study French at university. I picked the a course called European Studies at the University of Limerick. This allowed me to spend a semester in France and a semester in Spain as I was also studying Spanish. These experiences further increased my love for Europe and other cultures, and made me see a world through a whole new, more compassionate perspective.
After graduation I decided to follow one more dream and study journalism, also at the University of Limerick. Following that I moved to Dublin and found a job in the International Office at University College Dublin. My job involved working with exchange students, on both Erasmus and non EU exchanges. It was a dream job for me as I could use my own experiences in ensuring that the students have the best possible time here in Ireland. The job also allowed me to travel to Erasmus conferences and to meet colleagues from all over the world.
Three years later, I am now working in the International Office of the National College of Ireland, and I continue to help newly arrived students with their life in Ireland. My goal in life is to always be helpful to others and for that reason I also volunteer with an organisation called Serve the City. I am part of the marketing and social media team to help spread the word about the work we do.
I have no doubt that I would not be who I am today if I did not have the opportunity to travel and get to know other cultures. That is why I am so passionate about Europe and equal opportunities for everyone. It is natural to be afraid of the unknown, which is why we need to break the barriers, leave behind us any prejudices that we may have, and be all in! I strongly believe that our mind is the most powerful tool we have, which is why my favorite quote is: “The quality of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts” by Marcus Aurelius.