Stories from the melting pot

DePaul students tell their stories about being immigrants


Graphics by Ally Zacek | The Depaulia

The melting pot is what America calls itself, and at DePaul University there are many cultures represented in the student population who are immigrants.

Sophomore Alan Zientarski and freshman Andriy Dutka are just a few of the many students who are immigrants at DePaul University.

Zientarski is from Elk, Poland and he moved to the United States when he was nine.

“American culture is a lot different from Poland. A lot of people in Poland and Europe fantasize about America saying that it is a great place and it is the land of opportunity,” Zientarski said.

At first, Zientarski thought it was harder to adjust because he did not know English well enough. It took him some time to learn English, but he says it was a great experience.

Zientarski moved to America because his parents were looking for more opportunity. He already had some family members who settled in America two years prior to moving.

One difficulty Zientarski had to face as a new citizen of the country was the process of applying to become a citizen.

Since Zientarski’s parents did not apply for citizenship, he and his family were undocumented for a long time.

“Until about two years ago there were quite a bit of other hardships that I faced where I don’t have family here anymore,” Zientarski said. “Being undocumented and not having citizenship has put a lot of struggles and difficulties on my life because it limited me from all of these opportunities we came here for.”

Julia Lieblich is an adjunct professor in peace studies at DePaul University, and she points out how students who are immigrants face numerous challenges.

“Dreamers worry about being deported. Immigrants with undocumented parents fear their mothers and fathers will be forced to leave the country. Some first-generation students, whose parents work two or more jobs, care for their younger siblings and handle the family finances,” Lieblich said.

Zientarski points out that being an immigrant is something to feel proud of despite the inflammatory rhetoric being used in the political world.

Immigrants currently living in Illinois, based on birth place. (Victoria Williamson | The DePaulia)

“It is important that you stay true to your character and who you are … despite the fact that you might face a lot of obstacles,” Zientarski said.

One of those opportunities Zientarski said he was unfortunately not able to participate in was studying abroad.

Despite these hardships, Zientarski feels that some of the opportunities for education in the United States are greater than elsewhere around the world.

“I feel like people here are able to manage difficult situations. For example, there are some scholarships here that I have not heard of when I was in Poland … I do see education as an opportunity here,” Zientarski said.

One thing that Zientarski misses, though, is his native Polish language and culture.

“I definitely miss (the Polish language) and my family, because I am the only one here that is left and I don’t have any more family,” he said.

Dutka, meanwhile, is an immigrant from Ukraine, which borders Poland to the east. He moved to the United States at the end of his middle school career.

His goal is to get his masters degree in finance.

“The biggest difficulty (I had to overcome) was the language, because coming here I only had a limited knowledge of British English which is different than American English,” Dutka said.

Nevertheless, he learned English quickly by making friends and watching American television shows. For him, English was an easy language to learn.

While Dutka misses Ukraine, he always travels back to visit during the winter.

“I definitely miss my family … I have a fun time in Ukraine because I feel like the social life is way better over there … over here it is a busy environment,” Dutka said. “In Ukraine it is more laid back and there are a lot of more cool places to be at. I feel more at home over there since it is more fun.”

Despite missing his native Eastern European country, Dutka says the DePaul community has made him feel at home.

“There is a lot more acceptance here and more diversity here. It is a much more diverse country then Ukraine. All you see in Ukraine are white people who are European, and over here there are many different cultures represented,” Dutka said.

One difficulty he does faces in America, however, is social interactions; he admits it was an adjustment to learn some of the unique social gestures in this country.

“It took me some time to become better at interaction with people,” he said.

In terms of government, Dutka sees similarities between the Ukraine and U.S. systems.

“Government wise, it is sort of similar: there are more than one political party in Ukraine and there are many in the United States as well,” Dutka said.

One of the primary differences Dutka sees is how there is a free market trade, while over in Ukraine there is more of a labor force economy.

Although Dutka enjoys life in America, he prefers to make his own living in Ukraine.

“Ideally, I don’t want to get my education here in America and get my masters in finance, but if the income would allow me to and my socioeconomic status would allow me to, I would love to move back to Ukraine because I feel like it is a lot more fun for me over there,” Dutka said. “Since the salaries are way lower there … it is more economically stable here.”