Like many international students, Katarzyna Stepien uses her time at school under the title of graduate assistant. Unlike many international students, she comes home under the title of mom.



Stepien has two children, Natalia, 10, and Adam, 6. Both of her children were born in her home country of Poland.

Like many international students, Katarzyna Stepien uses her time at school under the title of graduate assistant. Unlike many international students, she comes home under the title of mom.

Stepien has two children, Natalia, 10, and Adam, 6. Both of her children were born in her home country of Poland.

Stepien is the only student at Pittsburg State from her home country of Poland. That is, she was. She graduated in December. Roughly 40 countries are represented at Pittsburg State.

Katarzyna met her husband on a bus trip to Italy that showed monuments throughout the country. At the time, the two were just friends. but at some point, the two started dating. The two dated for two years long-distance, since Katarzyna was in Poland at the time and her husband, a Polish-American, was attending the University of Purdue in Indiana. On vacations, one would cross the Atlantic to see the other. Eventually, they married and her husband began working for his father in Indianapolis.

Eventually, he got a job for Audi in Germany. So Katarzyna packed up and went with him. They moved back to Poland for a time, and then back to Germany. Her two children were born in Poland but were raised in Germany.

“When my daughter lived in Germany, she didn’t know the language,” Stepien said. “In preschool, she picked it up after a year. When we moved to America, she picked up English in four months. For my son, it took longer because he was younger. For a year, he couldn’t communicate.”

Now, Katarzyna’s husband works for KMT Waterjet in Baxter Springs. The Stepiens reside in Carl Junction, Mo.

“He’s in charge of all international sales for both North and South America,” she said.

Stepien said the transition to America was difficult for her and her family.

“It was at the beginning not so easy. I had two kids as well, and I didn’t know anybody,” she said. “I had to figure out everything myself, like which school district to send my kids to. That was hard. I have been to the United States many times before, though, which helped.”

Also helping in her transition was her knowledge of English, which she first learned in elementary school.

“I took private lessons. In high school, I had extended hours of English, and it focused on people and how they talk,” Stepien said. “I went to England for a week on vacation, and I visited my husband in the United States.”

For all that she has had to get used to, Katarzyna has seen plenty of differences between Poland and America. She is from the capital and largest city of Poland, Warsaw, which also made for additional culture shock to the small-town feel of southeast Kansas.

“It’s very different here,” she said. “Poland is less mobile as a nation. If you are from a big city there, you have no incentive to move out of the city, because the best jobs are there. For an international career, you have to look beyond the country. Most people just stay where they are.
“Everything is different here. Everything is mobile, so long as you have a car to commute. In my country, you have all different kinds of transportation.”

Another strange difference between the two countries is political. Poland, Stepien said, is more liberal than America.

“In my country, religion is a private thing,” she said. “No one will come to your door and ask what religion you are. We’ve had a few people come to our door and ask me and my husband what church we go to. I find it strange.”

Like many international students, Katarzyna is confused by American ways of cooking. Or rather, by the way many Americans don’t tend to cook.

“The first thing I noticed is that people here don’t usually cook on a regular basis, they go out to eat,” Stepien said. “... It’s not all bad, but it depends. There is a variety of food, but the majority of people eat the same kinds of stuff. They eat very unhealthfully. I try to avoid that.”

But there is one advantage Stepien has seen in her times in America -- hospitality.

“People are nice here,” she said. “In my town, people are rushed all the time, in a hurry or rude. It’s typical of a bigger city. People will stop in the middle of the road and help if you get stuck here. That doesn’t happen in my country. Nobody cares if that happens.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.