Students reconnect with family abroad

Summer visits help to shorten the distance

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Students reconnect with family abroad

Amanda Cassel and Olivia Griffin

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Gabby Gruszka:

Zakopane, Poland is a small resort town to many but a second home to senior Gabby Gruszka. A destination for spectacular views, never-ending mountains and national parks, Zakopane is also home to many of Gabby’s friends and family.

Every summer, Gabby travels to Zakopane to visit her dad’s side of the family, including her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandma whom she takes care of while she’s there.

“I take her on walks in her wheelchair,” Gabby said.

Her grandma is 89 years old and is living with Alzheimer’s, a disease which requires her to be with someone at all times.

Gabby said, “I feed her, take her to the bathroom, and just sit and talk to her, even though she can’t speak.” 

Gabby’s dad was born in Poland. He moved to the United States in his 20s, leaving his Polish family behind.

“I always get really excited. I get that feeling of being home,” Gabby said, describing what it’s like to see her family after spending most of the year in Chicago.

Gabby has been visiting Poland since she was 6 years old and spends about 2 months with them every summer. 

She said, “Since I’ve been doing this for so long, I think about it more as just going home.”

David Libes:

After a long flight to Azerbaijan, David Libes arrives in the suburbs of Baku very late at night. Tired and hungry, he, his mom, and his extended family all await their beds. However, no matter the time of their arrival, David’s whole family always musters enough energy to greet  one another with a small, late-night party before finally going to bed.

David visits his family once or twice a year and will spend up to 2 months with them at a time, spending the time “chilling, eating, and speaking Russian,” David said.

With more than 30 people in his extended family, David says he meets new people every time, and gets closer with his family every time he sees them.

His mother has 4 siblings, spread around Azerbaijan and Russia, each with several children.

David says his uncle in Moscow is always planning activities such as their annual ski trip or even activities no one else in the family would’ve thought to do.

“At one point, he literally called up some people, got the police to roadblock parts of the highways, got a camera crew, got us in the news, and organized a bike ride for the family,”he said.

Alexandra Nehme:

“When we first see each other, there’s always a lot of emotion and sometimes a little shock at all the change in a year,” junior Alexandra Nehme said. “But then, we just click back into gear.”

After almost a year in Chicago, Alexandra travels to Lebanon and Jordan each summer for a few weeks to visit both sides of her family. 

Alexandra explained how, once the family is back together, it’s as if they were never apart.

“We do normal things, like, go to the beach and eat together and go to the mall and really just enjoy each other and spend time together,” Alexandra explained.

Both of Alexandra’s parents left the middle east and came to the United States pursuing higher education. They both settled down for their schooling, and with busy schedules, and a family of their own, it isn’t always easy to reconnect. 

Alexandra explained how it has always been a tradition in her family to try and shorten the distance by skyping routinely.

“If you do have family nearby, and you do have a good relationship with them, really do reach out and try to take advantage of the fact that they’re here,” Alexandra said. “Because when you don’t, you really wish you could.”

Julia Anitescu:

Julia Anitescu travels each summer to Romania for a few weeks to visit her mom and dad’s parents, otherwise, she doesn’t see her extended family for almost a year.

“The holidays are when we really see the distance,” Julia said. “Everyone talks about their family and holidays, and we can rarely spend them with our family, but we do have this wonderful community of other Romanian families who are experiencing the same thing and it’s like a second family.”

Outside of the holidays, Julia also feels the distance when her parents tell her stories. They both describe childhoods with less freedom and opportunity and give advice to Julia and her sister based on their experiences.

Her parents both came to the U.S. for graduate school and medical school.

“To a certain extent, I feel like as much as my parents were teenagers once, it’s just a different experience for me and I need to figure it out on my own,” Julia said.