Anna Sycz – Seattle feels at home

The end of the year is marking the closing of the series of articles about Polish women in Seattle. We have called it Project SiS meaning: Success, Satisfaction, and Fulfillment (pol. Spełnienie) – interpreted by each contributor in their own way.

I’m glad I could create this small collection of personal stories with the amazing girls living in Seattle. I hope it brings a ray of sunshine in all of these difficult moments we face living abroad.

Sharing their stories and talking about their path to the “here and now”, each of the Polish women who took part in Project SiS had to ask themselves many questions.  At some point, my interviewees figured they would also like to ask me questions and learn more about me. So, below you will read some more about me – the author of this blog. 

You’ve lived in quite a few places both in Poland and abroad. Many people don’t want to move somewhere else – being afraid of losing friendships and the necessity of establishing new ones.
How do you deal with that?

Moving places is certainly connected to leaving something and someone behind. However, in my case, meeting new people is not a necessity but a pleasant learning process.

Meeting new people is a bit like a voyage into the unknown. Each time you are meeting somebody unique! We can learn a lot about ourselves and others if we listen and manage to push aside our own need to talk.

I’m glad I found the courage to live in different places. If it weren’t for that, as well as an openness towards people, I would have never spent Bayram with a Turkish family in Istanbul, and I would never have drunk mimosas on a rooftop in Brooklyn while watching the NYC Marathon!

"Project SIS: Anna Sycz"
photo: Marta Bras “Project SIS: Anna Sycz”

I’ve been a Couchsurfer for many years, and I’ve always explored new places on low budgets, from the very basics, and with the locals. I remember how one day I found this crazy cheap carpool ride to Hamburg and jumped in on the spot, with no plan whatsoever. Later it happened to be one of my best travel experiences that made me wear out my tango shoes.

Once I flew to Cyprus for seven days with 30 euros in my pocket. Sitting at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, I waited forever for my Couchsurfer-host.
It was boiling hot, and there was no shade whatsoever!
Suddenly, probably seeing my despair, a very old Greek woman invited me to her house.
I did not speak a word of Greek, and she did not know English, but it didn’t bother us to understand and get along! Over lunch (a slice of homemade cheese and coffee) not knowing a word of each other’s languages, I somehow followed this woman’s life story! We then went to fetch some chickens, and at the end, she gave me an unexpected gift – a pair of brand new extra large panties she probably bought for herself on a local bazaar.
With some people from my past, I still keep in touch, with others I don’t. People who are supposed to stay in our lives will be there no matter the time and distance.

When it comes to losing and gaining new friends, we tend to choose people that are simply like ourselves.

I sometimes hear from people that I “already know many people after just a year of living here!” Many people who have lived here longer haven’t established as many contacts as I have.  In my opinion, everything depends on our approach and our availability. Nobody could drag me out of my apartment if I didn’t want to meet new people!

On the other hand, it’s also not that I need to be everywhere and do everything – I have my responsibilities, and I value my time, freedom and the variety of choices Seattle offers.

But most of all when it comes to friends, just like Marta, I value quality over the quantity, and that’s probably a separate subject about Dunbar’s number. I’ve never needed many people around and I’ve never particularly cared about belonging to a group.

I don’t really pay attention to updating my Facebook status or uploading photos from every place I’m at – both in my life and geographically. Some people may find it weird because I write a blog and for some time now I’ve been working in Social Media but I really value my privacy.

I believe that we all have some kind of energy and we can catch other people’s emotions like the flu. If we get along well, share some common interests, and want to spend time with each other – great! Let’s be the way we are and give others the right to do the same!

I’m happy when I get messages from locals who want to meet or from Seattle visitors whom I can help in one way or another. I always sincerely reply and try to arrange a reasonable time and space but “no pressure” is my motto.

For instance: Project SIS happened only because not really knowing all of the participants I simply emailed them saying ‘Let’s do this together!’ We sometimes do not realize our story can be motivational to others! And here we are at the end of the year having done what we planned and more!

You’ve been living in the U.S. for over a year now so you still have a fresh lookout towards many things. Did anything that you thought of the States before change since you moved here?

I really like this question because Poles often ask me that. Actually, since I can remember I have neither been especially interested the U.S. Living in each country is different: you drink ayran in Turkey, maślanka in Poland, and kombucha in Seattle.

Studying English Philology, a lot of my fellow students were dreaming of the  “unreal” travel to the States. I’m not sure if Hollywood movies or the field of studies was fueling these dreams. For me, going to the U.S. has never been a big priority.

For many people, the “infeasibility” of the U.S. travel is based on the fact that the flight costs way more than any other Ryanair flight within Europe. When you add the money you need to pay for the visa, as well as the entire cost of your stay in the States, not everyone can afford it.

During my studies, we were given a chance for a scholarship in Iowa but none of my colleagues applied. I also did not choose it. I preferred to go to Turkey and learn about its religion and culture.

Later on, in the most unexpected moment of my studies, my thesis supervisor and one of the most inspiring women in my life prof. Anna Lubecka invited me to present at an international conference taking place at Jagiellonian University. After that, I got invited to the U.S. to see the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. That was actually my first time outside of Europe.

I wouldn’t have been myself if I didn’t use Couchsurfing to travel around and meet new people.
I clearly remember how surprised people were by that! And I was surprised by their reactions because Couchsurfing was invented by Americans.

Seeing people in their pajamas walking their dogs and popping into cafes in the morning was also quite surprising. I don’t really see it now in Seattle but back then it was a novelty for me!

Another time I’ve visited the USA was for business in NYC. I remember the people I interacted with were quite loud, bold and aggressive so back then I thought Americans are like this. Now having moved to the Pacific Northwest I realized there are some meaningful differences in attitude between the East and West Coast.

Is there anything that surprises you today?

Today, just like during my first visit, I’m neither enchanted nor disappointed by our daily life here. Living in every country is a bit different: you drink ayran in Turkey, maślanka in Warsaw and kombucha in Seattle.

The biggest difference between all the bigger Polish cities I lived in and Seattle is public transportation and the time it takes to get from one place to another.

Kraków, Wrocław, and Warsaw spoiled me with its buses and trams. Even though I know how often people tend to complain about the constant works on Basztowa Street in Kraków or traffic on Marszałkowska in Warsaw, now I’m a bit nostalgic about those. Have you ever been stuck in traffic on I5?

For almost a year living in Ballard, we didn’t have a car. The location of our apartment was so convenient that it was enough to hop on a D Bus to Seattle Downtown. When we wanted to go outside of the city borders we would just rent a ZipCar. It’s rather obvious that in Poland we would probably take a train – in Seattle the train station is shockingly empty…

Today, we are so-called “Suburbians” and we had to get a car to be able to function efficiently.
But moving further from the center and owning a car made me realize the distances between various places even more.

In one of our conversations you’ve mentioned that after a short holiday you felt like the World pulls you in different directions – you wanted to do many things! Not many people have such reservoirs of energy so I wonder what’s the source of it?
Is there anybody especially inspiring in your life?

I asked similar questions in Project SiS because it seems that people tend to look for some abnormal characteristics in those who do something more. Sometimes, you meet this incredible person who resonates this amazing energy, but I guess I haven’t met too many people like that. At the same time, this energetic glow might just be something I project on others and maybe some of them would be surprised that I thought that!

Most of the terrific, inspiring people I admire on a daily basis do not appear on magazine covers, don’t run multi-million businesses and don’t write motivational books – they are just like you and me – they start their day with a cup of coffee.

The Polish women in Project SiS talked about their role models being their moms, grandmoms, sisters, and friends – I certainly find such examples among the women around me as well. Obviously, there are also public figures who I look up to, but mostly. I believe that those close to us influence us the most.

Additionally, we all mentioned how important our partners’ support is. Most of the time they are with us every step of the way and we should always remember and appreciate their presence!

When it comes to motivation I guess I use the sources that are available for everybody. I watch TedTalks when I cook and recently I’ve started listening to NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast in my car.
Additionally, every day I try to read few pages from a book that I’ve chosen from a long list of “to read”. I grow really attached to books and I cannot imagine my house without them.

All of these things give me a lot! One of my tango teachers in the past once said that if we want to dance better, we should only watch tangueros that are much better than us. I use this rule in my life: I don’t want to stuff my head with meaningless matters. Just like Dagna and Ania – I simply don’t know how to be bored so I have to find myself something to do. That’s why I usually have multiple projects running at the same time.

Between so many things going on how do you choose which projects to do first?

I look at it all from broader time-related perspective. Once I have the big picture I look at the details and adjust my plan to the emerging variables. “I look at it all as part of a big picture. From that, I break down the details into smaller chunks and plan accordingly.”

There are things I know I have to do, such as various classes or professional courses and other things come after these. So far everything works.

I’ve learned how to prioritize and how to restrain my own personal optimism that sometimes turns into an obstacle. I know now that sincere willingness to help someone does not mean that the cooperation will be smooth. In those situations, I just take a step back and move in another direction. I believe it’s a healthy approach.  

What really helps me on daily basis is the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a simple lifehacking time management technique that helps me organize my daily schedule.

What does writing a blog mean to you?

Writing is my hobby but most of all it is a multidimensional learning tool. People often don’t realize how blogging looks like behind the scenes.

I’ve already learned how to use few programs, took a couple of interesting courses and I’m constantly gaining knowledge that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

When I was writing back in Poland I also established some meaningful blog friendships that last till this day.

The blog is also my personal space. I write about my observations, information that I gathered, people I met and places I visited. It allowed me to meet people I would have met if I didn’t write “I love pierogies”.
I want my content to be valuable for me and my readers so I write about things I would like to read about myself.

When I came to Seattle I couldn’t find anything about Polish women who were in a situation similar to mine – that’s why I created Project SiS. I was lucky to meet women who agreed to share their stories not only with me but also with my readers. I found it necessary to create a small collection of stories that could help other women in the future. I strongly believe it’s more important to cooperate with others rather than write about yourself as if you were the most important.

I also believe that helping and supporting each other is good and should be practiced more among the Polish community. Thanks to such positive cooperation many people learned about Maria and Black Birch Textiles, Dagna and Silesia Guitars, or about Marta and her photos.

The opening article for Project SiS caused many different emotions among Polish women. How do you deal with the negative comments and what do you do not to lose your motivation?

You mean the post in one of the local Facebook groups? Yes, there was some attention. All of us, the girls who participated in the Project were surprised by some negative reactions the first article brought. However, despite these few negative voices I’ve received much more positive feedback in private messages in personal conversations.

Anyways, negative voices will always be there no matter what you do. Ania Cholewińska runs a much needed Polish School in Bellevue and even though she does a magnificent job for the community – she also meets a lot of criticism.

When it comes to Project SiS I already had a plan and I would’ve made it happen no matter how many naysayers there were. At the same time, I also believe that Internet is a vast space where everybody can read whatever they find most appealing to their taste.

Success, Satisfaction and Fulfillment  (pol. Sukces, Satysfakcja i Spełnienie) are something different for each and every of us. The stories we tell and the main idea of Project SiS was to show the variety of choices the women made can be interpreted in many ways. You can compare them to your own situation or not… I can’t help if somebody has chosen to charge against me and get offended.

One of the amazing women I spoke to shortly after publishing that first article said:

“You don’t have to be like a tomato soup – not everybody has to like you!”

I fully agree.

What have you got out of Project SiS and what surprised you most?

Writing about Polish women in Seattle positively surprised me. But most of all I learned a lot from the ladies! Each lady brought something different to the project and that’s what I was aiming for!

I think that talking to Magdalena motivated me to return to university and squeeze as much as I can out of it!  Mariola, Marta, and Maria in their own individual ways are extremely passionate about what they do. When I met Sylwia and Dagna I understood that we should always take our lives into our own hands. And Anna does so much, has so much wisdom, and strength – she is one of my personal heroes!

I also received a lot of positive messages from various women that were inspired by this series. I understand that not everybody feels like writing public comments so I thank them even more!

One can expect that I haven’t written about all the women in Seattle but there are many that I met thanks to my blog and Project SiS -I appreciate each and every one of them! There are also those whom I haven’t met this year – maybe we’ll still meet, maybe not – no pressure.

Will there be a second part of Project SiS series?

I don’t really know because it doesn’t only depend on me. I already know that I’ll be involved in quite time- consuming projects in 2018. Even though the Project SiS articles are fast reads, the coordination, as well as the creative process of each of them, takes a lot of time.

In some cases, it’s also as they say: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”Sometimes it’s the lack of time, other times it’s just a fish in the pan that makes writing harder.
We’ll see – if I receive specific proposals and we’ll be able to include them into our calendars, there is a chance a continuation of this project will happen.

Do you have any favorite spots in Seattle that you take energy and inspiration from? And do you already feel at home here?

I’m a coffee lover and basically, every place that serves coffee is a great place to charge my energy from.
It’s worth to mention that even though Starbucks was born in Seattle and you will find its logo on every street corner there are also many local coffee roasters here.

I have some favorite spots in Ballard because that’s where I lived the longest so far. I love to visit Ballard Coffee Works and Anchored Ship Coffee Bar on the old Ballard Avenue. Apart from that, one day I also discovered La Marzocco Cafe in the reception area of KEXP Radio on Queen Anne.

The sounds of people talking over brewed coffee have always helped me concentrate. I like to linger over a cup and look at traffic or simply people reading. This almost decadent setting reminds me of the time I lived in Kraków. I’d love to eventually learn how to make coffee in a professional way, and I believe Seattle gives many opportunities for that.

When I’m not leaving the city to enjoy one of the many parks, places such as Discovery Park, Golden Gardens, and Green Lake boost my energy. It’s bound to the activities you can do there: cycling, kayaking or simply walking are great ways to get going.

Recently, I’ve started to play ukulele – it’s an amazing, happy instrument that provides the happiness in inverse proportion to its size! You can take it everywhere you want and have lots of fun!

And YES! I feel at home and I believe at this point in my life I couldn’t have lived anywhere else!

"Project SIS: Anna Sycz"
photo: Marta Bras “Project SIS: Anna Sycz”