Q&A with Zaneta Marcinik

Jan 27, 2020

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Zaneta Marcinik and I moved from Poland to the United States in 2013 when I was 16 years old. I graduated Steinmetz College Prep HS in 2016 and I placed 3rd in the top 10 students. I also received my International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB), which provides an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education and is recognized by many universities worldwide. After high school graduation I went to Wilbur Wright Community College in Chicago and received my Associate Degree in Engineering Science in 2018. Currently, I am studying civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I am the treasurer of the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA UIC) and part of other clubs and projects that are outside of class requirements.

I am working part time at Allstate insurance company as licensed sales producer. However, I am looking for internships in my field and I have already received offers. I will be interning in the summer of 2020 and working in the engineering field. In addition, I am a volunteer at my local church group Lednica 2000 and attend weekly Sunday masses and activities. I do a lot of fundraises for the group, sing, run the Facebook page, help with the website, and teach religion. Besides being involved in school, working, volunteering, and focusing on my education, I also help my single mom. She doesn’t speak English, so I am trying to help her with everyday tasks as much as I can. In my free time (believe it or not I still have it sometimes) I like biking, writing, reading philosophy and psychology books.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zaneta-marcinik-a21067185/

What were some of the obstacles you have been faced with, and how did you overcome them?

One obstacle I faced and overcame is failure. I failed so many times. I did not only disappointed myself but also friends and people who counted on me. Failures are things that have shaped me. I just needed to accept that fact because everybody fails at a certain point in their lives. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!

Another obstacle was my laziness and procrastination. Sometimes I had such a poor time management and I had so many activities in one day that for the next few days I just wanted to stay at home and be lazy. I really regret those days. I am still dealing with poor time management, still did not overcome it, so if anybody has any suggestions please reach out to me and let me know.

Okay, now I will get to the real obstacles. Language barrier was the biggest one for me. When I moved to the United States, I knew a little bit of English, but I struggled to understand it and I struggled even more to speak it. School gave me an opportunity to learn. I am thankful for my high school friends who pushed me to present and speak whenever there was an occasion. I remember mispronouncing every single word and them not listening but at least I was learning. I remember those times when I struggled with the language so at my work when I work with Polish customers I often serve as a translator and this is not within my job responsibilities.

Culture shock was another big one. In Poland I was exposed to one religion and all people being Polish. Here I learned something pretty much about every country. At first it was an obstacle, now I learned to love it. I love our Chicago diversity! With starting a new life since the beginning, I did not have any friends or family members. I was stuck at home studying for almost 1 year. It changed when I joined my church group and joined clubs at school. There were more obstacles, but I just don’t see them anymore as ones. I treat them more as experiences.

What have you learned through being a student and immigrant? What advice would you give to those in your shoes?

I have learned that all the resources I need in order to succeed are out there. I just need to spend some time and do research to find them. I was always discouraged because some of my classmates got the parental support I didn’t have. It was either in terms of finances, or advice on how to be in the engineering field because one of the parents was already an engineer working for the company. As a first-generation student and immigrant, I would recommend to those who are in a similar position to not to be discouraged but find resources yourself because they are out there.

What has shaped you into becoming the person you are today?

Everything! I believe that we become the people we are today through everyday experiences. Experiences can be small like a fight with a co-worker or big like personal failure. We shape ourselves by the personal discovery but also dealing with different people who are not necessarily the best influence. There are few events that shaped me into who I am today.

Firstly, the divorce of my parents. It showed me that not everything lasts forever, and everything requires hard work, especially, relationships with different individuals. I am originally from a small village and my parents’ divorce was the first one in the village. After my parents’ divorce there were more marriages that followed my parent’s steps. This taught me that if anything is holding me back, I need to let it go (and eventually I do but sometimes it takes time, maturity, and realization). Over the years I see my parents being happier because they are not together. I also learned not to depend on anybody (especially a significant other).

Secondly, moving to another country and starting a new life all over again. I experienced culture, language, and morality shock. I experienced diversity! And it was beautiful I went outside of my comfort zone. That really pushed me to start doing a self-exploration and learn more about myself. How do I react in certain situations and why would I react that way and not the other?

Thirdly, being the “Queen of the Polish Parade” (Królowa Parady 3 Maja). Small pageant where the Queen opens the annual Polish May 3rd Constitution Parade in Chicago and represents Polish community during different events. We cannot forget where we are coming from, but we also need to adjust in the country we live in (if that isn’t our homeland). I think it is very toxic to live in Polish reality, while being in the United States where the laws and other things work differently; or become completely Americanized that means forget your Polish language, your roots, history, or try to hide it. And it is sad because I met people like that. I also became more confident and humble after this one-year experience. I learned how to advocate for myself when people are trying to put me down. That was very hard to accept that not everyone will like me, because I cannot make everybody happy even when I try my best.

What advice would you give to women who may be dealing with similar situations?

There is still a stereotype that women are meant to stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the kids. What is good for us millennials is that we talk about problems instead of hiding them under the rug. More and more women are choosing to pursue their dreams and study STEM fields. More women are involved in politics and want their voices to be heard. The advice to women is to stay true to themselves because at the end of the day they cannot count on anybody but themselves. We need more strong and independent women willing to change the world and how the world looks at them. Surround yourself with people who will stretch your mind not people who are holding you back or telling you that you can’t do something. If you don’t have people like that right now, it’s better to be alone and the right people will come your way at the right time.

Did you ever have moments of doubt? How did you continue to push yourself to follow your dreams?

I have doubts every day. I think everybody does. I always question myself if whatever I am doing will bring any fruits in the future. I believe in God and I believe that He did not put me through all of this without any purpose. I believe that everybody has a purpose and that is what keeps me going like a tank through holes and hills.

I was not always sure if I was supposed to do the things I am doing (for example, studying civil engineering, or competing in pageant) but from the experience if something is not meant to be for me those doors will be closed, I will have a “no” response, or I will just not enjoy it and feel it deep down in my bones that “this something” is not what I am supposed to be doing at that time. Maybe later, who knows?

Which of your achievements are you most proud of?

I am very proud, and I was so honored when I won the title of the Queen of the Polish Parade 2019. I was competing against 9 other smart and beautiful Polish women. It was a small pageant competition. I learned more about the pageant industry because I attended Miss Polski IL competition and Miss Illinois. Those girls are beautiful outside and inside. I found out more about different Polish organizations in Illinois and how to network with people.

Recently, I was also chosen as one of the 40 writers among 300 applicants to be the “IB Graduate Voice” where IB alumni from around the world share their stories throughout the year as part of graduate voices series. They give advice to current students, reflect on their experience and share their accomplishments and adventures since graduation.

I received 3 prestigious scholarships among other scholarships. One was from The Catholic League for Religious Assistance to Poland and Polonia (Liga) St. John Paul the Great Scholarship. The second scholarship form the CME Group and Mayor Emanuel Award for Star Scholars to Continue at Four-Year Institutions. The third scholarship from Montrose Deli, who is the main scholarship sponsor for the girl that wins the title of Queen of the Polish Parade.

On a personal note, I was very proud when I became a US citizen. It was a lot of preparation, time, and stress. I’ve met people with different “immigration status” and being able to be a citizen was huge for me.

What are your next goals? What else are you working towards?

I want to continue learning something new every day even when I am not in school. The goal for the near future is to get my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and work in the field. I also want to continue volunteering and giving back to people or organizations that supported me when I was in need. One of my personal goals is to write and publish a good book or research.

I want to keep and cultivate my friendships. You know who you are! 🙂 I am thankful for all of them! I am thankful that they were pushing me to do more and were taking care of me during my darkest days. It is important to set up goals for the day, for the week, for the nearest future because that is what keeps us motivated.

What advice would you like to share with others that has helped you throughout your journey? Are there any quotes that you “live” by?

“You must demand of yourselves, even if others would not demand of you!” (John Paul II, 1983)
“You can’t allow where you want to be in the future disrupt where you are now in the present. Be grateful for every moment and every situation you face. Great situations will build your faith. Tough situations will test your faith.” (Marc Isaac)

What does being Simply Unstoppable mean to you?

Simply Unstoppable to me means to continue waking up every day despite the struggles and obstacles, even when no one is by your side, and keep on going to pursue your dreams! As long as you are not harming others. Ideally, even helping other people on your way. It means to smile every day and give back to the community.