Returning to one's roots

Craig teen plans to rediscover the land of her ancestors as an exchange student


Like any other high school junior, Samantha Janiga will be taking many different classes this fall .

But day-to-day life for the 16-year-old Craig resident will be a constant lesson in social studies.

Janiga will be leaving Aug. 26, after a short stop in Chicago, as an exchange student to Poland.

And while a trip overseas for any student might be exciting, it has special significance for Janiga.

Janiga's parents, Karol and Maryla, take strong pride in their Polish heritage and have passed that pride to their daughter.

"They want me to get a glimpse of how hard it was to live there and get a glimpse beyond Craig, Colorado, and America," Janiga said.

Janiga was born and raised in Chicago, immersed in the large Polish community there.

She speaks fluent Polish and said she plans on learning how to read and write the language during her stay there.

Initially, because she had studied French, she thought maybe France would be her first choice.

But, coming from a family in which Polish traditions and culture are continually celebrated, the land of her ancestors became her first pick.

Her parents came to the United States 18 years ago but didn't come over together and didn't know each other at the time, Janiga said. The two met in a Chicago college where they attended to learn English.

"They realized they had to learn English to get better jobs," she said.

Her father was born in the southern part of the country and her mother was born in the northern part so, she said, she has relatives scattered throughout much of Poland.

Janiga has visited Poland on two occasions when she was three and when she was eight.

During her second trip, she spent a month with family there.

Her journey there when she was eight opened her eyes to the physical differences between the two countries.

"Seeing the difference between Chicago Streets and Poland's streets it's a totally different culture."

But Janiga said she was prepared for the difference because of the large Polish community that lives in Chicago.

"I was raised as if I was in Poland," Janiga said. "Through the Polish traditions and culture my manners and upbringing."

She said she is looking forward to going to school in Poland but has been made keenly aware of how difficult it will be to adapt to the school system there.

"I'm concerned about the school being tougher there," she said. "But I'm also excited about meeting new people and seeing new things."

The town she will be staying in is called Grudziadza, which is located in the north central part of the country. Grudziadza was chosen through the Rotary Club because it had a host family available.

"I see it as a big opportunity to learn more about the language and, all around, it will be a good experience."

She said the school she will be attending is highly regarded for its educational standards.

Knowing the Polish language was a requirement in order to become an exchange student to the eastern European country.

She will leave for Poland on Aug. 26 after a brief stay in Chicago and school in Poland begins Sept. 2.

"It's not like here where one school starts on this day and another school starts on another day," Janiga said. "The whole country starts school on the same day."

Her first few days in Poland will be spent getting to know Grudziadza and meeting the principal of her new school.

"But once school starts, it will be all school," she said. "It's basically going to be school, school, school. I know I'm going to struggle but bring it on, I like a challenge. I am not intimidated."

When she does get a moment away from school, she said she would like to meet more people of Poland and get a better understanding of how my parents grew up.

"And come to a better understanding that there is a bigger world out there," she said.

She said she also would like to see how teenagers live in Poland.

She will be returning to Craig in the beginning of July.

One of the sons of the family that she will be staying with is also a foreign exchange student who will be coming to Lander, Wyo., on Aug. 23 and the Junigas will be picking him up in Chicago.

Her parents this year will be hosting a student from Switzerland.

"I'm getting anxious ," she said. "I'm getting tired of packing for a whole year. I just want to get there. I want to go."

She said she would like to thank the people who gave her so much support so far, including those who wrote letters of recommendation to the Rotary Club, and "especially

my parents."

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