A tall woman with a mahogany braid that falls below her waist, Ewa Romaniuk-Calkowska perches on the couch, ready to share the journey from her birthplace Poland to her new hometown of Winchester, MA. She and her husband came here as an adventure, he on an internship at Princeton in computer science and she having just earned a PhD at the Warsaw School of Economics. They both liked the Boston area and found jobs here, first renting and then buying a home on Pond Street. They have three daughters. The adventure has now lasted well over 11 years, with dual citizenship for the entire family, and another advanced degree for Ewa, an MBA from Boston College.

Immediately, Ewa felt an affinity with Winchester. Living here felt good, reminding her of her childhood home in Parczew, Poland. She had grown up in a small town, green and rural, with family nearby and close friendships. She saw the beauty of Winchester’s tree-lined streets and from new acquaintances heard a familiar ring in their stories about shared experiences and family gatherings.

Ewa found a possible advantage in being an immigrant, a clarity of vision. She has enthusiasm for Winchester’s strengths rather than a passive acceptance, insight from an angle that sees opportunity, and a view of possible improvement rather than an attitude, of “well, that’s how it’s always been.”
As an educated white European immigrant who came by choice rather than necessity, she believes that she has not experienced the discrimination and even trauma others have. Perhaps she has found Winchester more welcoming and open, as she recognizes the privilege race and education accrue.

Challenges To Be Met

Yet, there are challenges to be met.

Retaining her self-identity was one. A choice: to shorten her name to fit the space allowed on a driver’s license by choosing her maiden name Romaniuk. Another choice: to retain the feminine “-a” gender of Polish in her surname. She and her daughters are Calkowskas.

Another challenge was settling in with two cultures and two languages. Fitting in as Americans without losing her heritage was a struggle she shared with other friends. Some chose to speak only English, believing that confusion and slowed educational achievement would result in not completely assuming an American identity. Ewa knew this would be a hard balance to maintain yet did not want her children to lose access to their Polish language and heritage. And the balance does require effort and has had good results, with her daughters doing well and the oldest winning an English Department prize in high school.

Ewa believes in the richness of knowing more than one language. She finds that one becomes increasingly aware of precision in describing experiences, expressing meaning, and being aware of emotional connotations.

A further challenge is the distance from her family with long flights and infrequent vacations. Her children are not growing up with their cousins and spending time with their grandparents. That soft hammock of support needs to be built. And she is doing just that.Winchester is, thus, both harder and easier. Although she no longer has the support circle of family and friends, an advantage may lie in not having to follow the expectations of her town of origin, people thinking they know who you are.

There are those small moments of outsider awareness. Ewa, generous in spirit, recognizes that it is human to find patterns, to categorize, to stereotype particularly in a town of “whiteness” with a nearly non-existent, invisible immigrant population. As a young woman with an elementary school child standing in the midst of slightly older women, one asks, “Are you the nanny?” There are these occasional small micro-aggressions to absorb.

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Finding a Place in the Community

While living in Princeton, NJ, Ewa had enjoyed the company of a small group of graduate school wives. Once re-located to Winchester, she immediately Google-searched for a similar group.

She found the Network’s International Connections group and began to participate in the Thursday drop-in coffees, getting to know local people, as well as immigrants from many countries. At that time the coffee group met at Café Dolce; today it continues at Bruegger’s. The Network provided a setting in which anyone could come into a circle without “application forms” or conforming to a strict schedule.

Within Winchester, Ewa has been a leader in “One Winchester, Many Traditions,” collaborating with the Winchester Public Library in an initiative supported by the Network. A small committee– including within it women of Chinese, German, English, Romanian, Polish heritage, and more–reviews international films for evening presentation as well as setting up once a year whole-family Saturday events. Recently featured countries were Korea with a lecture, food, and crafts and Russia with a history of matryoshka , wooden nesting dolls, and participants painting their own.

The OWMT film series serves as a great way to start a conversation, see diverse worlds, and extract how we are alike and how we differ. Some audience members come to every film, others only occasionally to those that hold appeal. The beauty of this project is the diversity present in so many dimensions: the film genres, the Chinese grandparents able to fully participate and now outside their usual group, the long-time residents mingled with newer immigrants. All of this takes place in a comfortable venue, our library. No membership card required.

An Inspiring Woman
Ewa continues to find inspiration in her Grandmother Helena’s life. Living beside Helena in a family duplex, from birth through high school, Ewa had the example, stated simply, of a good woman. Although Helena led a busy life, she always had time to read with Ewa, pray together, and recite poetry. She illustrated in practice the talent of seeing small needs and effectively taking action to create well-being with neighbors, friends, and family. This is the constructive tone to which Ewa aspires.

An opportunity she sees, living now far from her family, is to match children with “grandparents.” There is the loneliness and isolation of elders and the needs of younger children whose parents may be working. Connections between generations are valuable.

Reaching Out To Others

Being an immigrant is not easy, and as a newcomer she has had to actively reach out. She recommends volunteering at your child’s library or joining one of many volunteer-led organizations in town. At school drop-off and pick-up informal conversations develop friendships. She observed that we humans like to project positive stories and a response to “How are you doing?” will be “Just fine! All is well and here is a bright, shiny thing in my life.” Ewa’s response may be, “Oh, that is so great. And I am having a little problem with…” Then, the reply often becomes, “Oh, I have the same situation with…” and a connection begins. Of course with smart phone ubiquity, she now may have to interrupt texting to say hello.

And we all can reach out to her with questions about beekeeping and fruit trees, crocheted elephants and cats, and stained glass!

With fresh eyes, a newcomer will see possibilities for change. Work on change—if you see something, do something. Ewa found a powerful way to know her neighbors was knocking on doors with a petition. Pond Street needed traffic calming. After four years of energetic community organizing work and gathering a hundred signatures, there are new traffic lights, blinking cross-walk lights, and narrowed traffic lanes.

Commonality Within Diversity

She and her family have traveled to many of our 50 States, and in describing the impressive exhibition at the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art, a lesson of shared community life appears. Rather than displaying objects by countries of origin, the museum directors have grouped items by topic and genre. Themes and colors emerge. A vibrant commonality across cultures establishes itself.


Watch this space each Friday this March for another of our five Women’s History Month 2019 honoree.