The Anniversary of Becoming a Citizen
Kasia Olek began her journey as an immigrant in Poland as Kararzyna, but now she is known as Kasia for short. Her story is a layer of two generations of immigration, beginning with her parents. Kasia’s mother, at the age of two, immigrated with her parents from Russia to Poland when the country’s boundaries were changed after World War II. Later, Kasia’s parents, both students of mechanical engineering, met in 1978 and she was born in 1979. By the time Kasia was 18 months old her father had been traveling back and forth from Poland to Holland where he made money while on student visa. As she grew she became extremely anemic. “It was the worst of communism,” in Kasia’s opinion, “they had little to no food, no medicines, no anything,” which caused her parents to want to leave Poland.
Her family was a strong Polish military family and her grandmother was the manager of the only privately-operated hotel in in Warsaw which was the Grand Hotel. Because of the family’s position, they had access to resources that the general public did not, including food. “The only reason they had food was because someone delivered vegetables and fruits to them, but it still wasn’t enough to be healthy.” Her parents struggled to make money and Kasia’s health was declining, so her parents decided they needed to move to another country. The decision was difficult, her grandfather’s military career was such that they couldn’t tell anyone of their decision. “My grandfather couldn’t legally know that they were fleeing the country.” The young family told their family that both Kasia and her mother were going to go with her father while he worked in Holland, so everyone would be left behind safely.
They had heard the immigration gates were open in London, so instead of going to Holland they flew to London in the summer of 1981. Unfortunately, London had closed its immigration gates and they were denied entry. Then they heard that Austria had open immigration, so her mother and Kasia stayed inside a home in London with a family member home while her father slept outside on the stairs while earning money to further their trip. In a short amount of time they bought air fare to Austria, but because they had gone to London first after leaving Poland, Austria would not grant them refugee status. While they were in Austria her father found work and a place for them to live. For the next 6 months, he would go weekly if not daily to immigration and petition for refugee status so they could get passage to Australia. “They didn’t care if it was Australia or America at that point because there were people trying to go to both locations. They just needed a place they could get to in order to start their new life.”
The day that they left, they literally got into line and that line lead them to a plane that was going to Australia. Their fate was determined by the line they got into that day. “Typically, a flight from Austria to Australia takes anywhere from 17 to 20 something hours, but this was a flight with 12 different connections that took over 40 hours.” Just three days after Kasia’s second birthday they were on a plane, her parents were flying with a 2-year-old, while pregnant with their second child, for over 40 hours. Upon arriving in Australia her family and the other refugees were then put on busses and taken to a hostile for immigrants, where they lived until they were established financially in Australia.“
Immigration has never been easy," but Kasia feels like it is easier to some countries than others. She personally feels it is very easy to immigrate if you are immigrating with money and, that ultimately,at the end of the day, determines your experience. Whether you are coming in as a refugee or with an existing family member in the country or formally educated and able to work. The process for her was more pleasant applying for immigration to Australia than America.
Kasia lived with her parents in Australia for 20 years, until she meet her first husband while working and attending the same university. She was now married to an American citizen and sponsored by her husband’s father, so she left Australia in August of 2002. Kasia explains,“This was after 9/11 so the immigration process,even in America was changing and we would speak to an immigration attorney that would tell us one thing and then by the time paperwork was filed a different application was needed. It was extremely stressful and frustrating and it doesn’t feel good when you are trying to start your life over and you are willing to work and to adapt, along with all the risk and sacrifice to start over and you can’t.”
Kasia wasn’t discriminated against like some immigrants because she looks like people in Oklahoma, “I look like a typical American girl only sounding different, that’s truly the only difference by looking at my physically and yet I had to wait 8 months to get a social security number.” WhenKasia moved to Tulsa she couldn’t drive, work or open a bank account, all she could do was set and wait for her paperwork to be approved. Kasia said,“I feel like there are different immigrants now. We have third world refugees that aren’t educated,their lives are threatened and then you have the refugee that is just looking for a better life, educated but they can’t seem to work or make sense of where they live, so they choose immigration and that is the type of immigrant that I was.”
“Typically, the more adversity you have in life,the more you are able to overcome because adversity teaches you how to deal with life situations.You are forced to overcome objections, you are forced to overcome things that limit your ability to live, breath and earn a living. Because you are overcoming you also become an example for others that also need to continue going. Often, huge successes are born from people that have overcome massive adversity.I have not overcome massive adversity, when you look at my life it was a lot of inconvenience but it was not adversity of me being fearful of my life, nor was I coming from such a dire situation because I wasn’t starving or impoverished in anyway. My immigration was truly a choice to make a better life and knowing that we had to go somewhere else to do it. Australia is a beautiful country with a lot of opportunity and I could have stayed there and made a life and been happy. I still have family that I visits frequently so I may end up back there again. I came to America because I had an opportunity to come, I was 22, married, excited about the change and opportunity and adventure.Looking back my dad was 22 when I was born and 24 when we were immigrating to Australia and at that age you tend to deal with things that may be a little scary differently because you are oblivious of some of the consequences of your decisions. It completely did not occur to me that once I landed in America I was on the other side of the planet from my parents. I didn’t realize I was going to be that far away. I was young and I didn’t understand what I was doing, it was just a season in my life….‘yeah I’m moving to the other side of the world but if I want to come back I can’, ‘ I know it’s really farand I’m not going to see my parents for a while but it will be fine because what do you need your parents for?’ I was so young. As you get older, you understand the consequences of decisions you make,you probably don’t jump into situations the way you carelessly did in your youth. Now, at this age,if someone asked me to move to another country,I would have to know about the opportunity, what happens to my family, and for how long. It ultimately determines the decision you will make. Anyof us can do anything for a couple of weeks but if you are committing to 5 years, that’s a completely different decision. At 22 you are like, “Hey when is the plane leaving and what do I need to pack,”it’s an adventure. You totally buy into the American dream. The best part of living in America is that you really can become whatever you want to believe. I had a limited belief system in Australia,I didn’t think I could succeed for whatever reason but that didn’t exist in America. It was a fresh start, a completely clean slate, so I had no ceiling of achievement.”
“I have so much more that I want to do, the milestones that I have hit and the opportunity that I have had I am grateful for. I am glad at some point that I was emotionally mature enough to open my world to other people and create opportunities for others to succeed. I have a successful sales team, a great staff, a husband that has a creative outlet with his company. There is no ceiling on income in real-estate, it’s all dependent on how much you want to work or how big your center of influence is or how big your network is that and your actions are what determines how successful you are going to be. Because I was young and unlimited amounts of energy from 22 to 30 years old and very little limiting belief and I was in an environment that encourage growth with KellerWilliams, I have been able to do a lot in a really short amount of time. Because of that and our exposure to others that are succeeding at really high levels there’s always a pull to do more."
After her first child was born, Kasi decided it was time to go through the naturalization process. She was pleasantly surprised about how easy it was and that was a result for her being here for a long time already. She had ended her first marriage and was then thrown into an insta-family, so it became very important to stay in America. She started applying to become a resident when she was pregnant.
Kasia remembers, “The most shocking part was the emotional reaction I had during the naturalization ceremony. I was unprepared for the quiz about American history, but I passed the quiz. The Second piece, the ceremony I didn’t know I was going to be experiencing the ceremony so emotionally. I cried like a baby. It was at Bailey Elementary School in Owasso. I thought it was a strange location but all the children were there serenading us with very American, Patriotic songs talking about the beautiful land of America and we all got American flags. I was standing in a line with all these other people waiting to become American citizens and I could not stop crying. It was in that moment as those kids were singing and we were receiving our paperwork that I was officially able to change my name (from my first marriage).At the naturalization ceremony I got my maiden name back, so the ceremony was layered with a lot of emotion, it was about having a baby and being a parent and mom, committing to America andmaking America my home and becoming a true America, and then taking back my identity, which was not who I was when I first got off the plane here as a young woman and then starting this new chapter after a lot of messiness and hard times.Almost failing at this business and not having any money because of things that happened with the economy. Also, my ex father-in-law who did so much good for me passed away since I had come to the USA. In such of short amount of time I started a new family, a new life, a new business,a new career, it was just a lot. The naturalization process on November 10th was the most incredible experience and that was the cherry on top.After that, we settled what it is like to be an American,to celebrate our first Thanksgiving as a family,our first of everything in this new life.”
“I only wish I would have invited other people that had been through everything with me the entire time that I was going through this whole process. I didn’t realize how significant the experience was going to be until I looked back.”
“People should always understand that really, at the end of the day, you can be anything you want. This country and this environment that people live and grow here, you have the opportunity to be whatever it is you want to be. You have to surround yourself with people that will encourage you to be successful and for you to push through which every way you define success.”
“People in my industry especially are always focused on what’s next, the next transaction, the next client, the next appointment, the next closing, the next day and we sometimes don’t take the opportunity to look back and acknowledge the progress that we’ve made. The one thing that helps us do that is to acknowledge immigration, anniversaries,whether it’s a birthday, marriage, career that day, that moment is typically the beginning or the end of a chapter in someone’s life. It gives you the opportunity to look back and pay attention to the progress from the messy middle, to the obstacles, to the successes, to the milestones, to everything that’s happened in that time and often,if you take a moment to look at that time, not in pity or to dwell, it gives you the energy to keep going. You can know that you accomplished all “this” during such a difficult time in your life because whatever you are dealing with right now isn’t going to last forever. It truly is just a season and you can still accomplish things and move through difficulties.The focus should never be on how hard something is, the focus should always be on how much better something is as a result of a situation.”