First Posted: 9/16/2014
Jakub and Yvonne Jasinski had never heard of Clarks Summit back in the early 1980s in their native Poland. The long and difficult journey that brought them here was one forged through courage, luck and the kindness of strangers. Living in the area for almost 30 years now, they continue to feel blessed by their good fortune.
Back in her hometown of Gdynia, Poland, Yvonne was always fascinated by the beautiful travel posters displayed by the State Travel Agency. It was her escape, to look at places she could only dream of visiting. One day she asked herself a life-changing question.
“Why am I just dreaming?”
She and her husband were young and the concept of emigration was not new to them. In moments of frustration, they had entertained the idea of leaving before, but never seriously. This time, they both felt strongly it was the right thing to do.
They had endured martial law, curfews, sealed borders, the disconnection of telephone lines, labor strikes, food shortages and poor housing conditions. Many peaceful protests ended in bloody confrontations. The couple witnessed military tanks in front of their house, the government’s demonstration of power against its own people. They saw people running from police bullets, coming to their house for shelter. The couple became involved in anti-government actions as time went on, and they too had to run for their lives.
Their fear and hopelessness peaked in 1981 when Jakub was arrested by government agents while at work, teaching mathematics at the University of Gdansk. He spent three months in prison. After his release, the couple had a glimmer of hope when they learned that Jakub had received a research grant in the United States. Unfortunately, the Polish Communist Party denied his exit visa. They both felt defeated and imprisoned in their own country.
The way to leave Poland for good was to buy a trip to a location outside the communist bloc. Their next step would be to apply for political asylum. They planned a camping trip to Florence, Italy and were surprised when their tourist exit visas were both granted. Leaving their families behind was difficult, but even at the risk of being reported to authorities, they threw a farewell party for their family and friends.
Getting by a frightening customs officer, living with giant cockroaches in an Italian refugee camp and sharing a filthy, communal bathroom were some of the trials along their route, but the Italian sunshine gave them hope. Jakub’s doctorate degree and his desire to continue his research were a ticket to a slightly better living situation while they waited for their visas to their chosen home, America. Idyllic pictures and movies showing the wide open spaces and open roads of the United States had captivated the couple. Close friends of Jakub’s parents, immigrants living in New York, offered to sponsor the couple. Nine months after leaving Poland, they arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport.
Their sponsors opened their home to Yvonne and Jakub and loaned them a car, and the couple set out to find jobs. They spent their days at the public library, researching universities where Jakub might teach and then using the copy machine to produce letters and resumes. He mailed more than 200 job applications to various universities throughout the country and, within weeks, was hired by The University of Scranton.
In August 1987, the couple completed the last chapter of their migration; they arrived in Scranton. Yvonne put her Masters degree in Economics to use and quickly found a position in the business office at Friendship House. They built a home in Scranton, bought a brand new car and had a child. In 1999, they chose to move to Clarks Summit to give their son, Daniel, the opportunity to attend the Abington Heights School District. He is now a student at Boston University, majoring in Mathematics and Economics, with a minor in Biology.
The couple feels their independent life in Pennsylvania is a pure example of the American dream. In addition to finding freedom and prosperity, they are also fulfilling their dream of travelling, finally experiencing all of those wide open spaces they had seen in the pictures.
“We felt imprisoned in Poland. It was grey and depressing. Pictures of the western countries were cheerful and colorful,” said Yvonne. “My father died at the age of 47. All his life he said that when he was finally done working and when the kids were settled, he would travel. That time never came.”
As soon as the couple had secured a home and employment in Scranton, they set out. They bought a $40 tent at Kmart, an air mattress and a couple of sleeping bags. That first year they traveled the entire east coast in their time off from work: from Quebec to Florida, from the Adirondacks to Acadia National Park in Maine. In New Hampshire, they hiked Mt. Washington, known as the most dangerous small mountain the world. Inspired by America’s unique scenery, they never wanted to stop.
Since then, they have visited hundreds of amazing outdoor destinations. Along the way, they both picked up a love of photography, documenting the beautiful sights. Jakub’s work has won awards from UNICEF and has been published by National Geographic.
“I like to take photos,” Yvonne explained, “but my photography is more about capturing memories. After each trip, I put our pictures onto a slide show. I carefully add music to match them. It is nice to come back to these trips once in a while. I have one camera and sometimes I even take pictures with my phone as long as the moment is captured.
“My husband Jakub is more about the art of photography,” she continued. “He wants stunning pictures and would spend hours taking one. He has a lot of equipment and he studies photography to improve his work.”
Yvonne found a way to reduce the cost of their trips. Six years ago, she started to pay attention to credit card plans and the travel benefits they offer. Her Master’s degree in Economics was put to work as she figured out how to make these offers work for them. There are sign-on bonuses, points towards travel and awards. By using the cards, paying off the monthly balances in full and always on time, they can reap benefits. In six years, they have not paid for one night in a hotel, one plane ticket or one rental car. She even reimburses herself for excursion costs and meals by blogging about her journeys and getting paid by the post or the number of views. The couple takes at least two big trips to remote locations, and approximately four drivable, long weekend trips every year.
Yvonne obtained a travel agent degree in Scranton soon after her arrival. She is now offering her services to help plan trips for others. She uses her 25-plus years of travel experience to research and find the best deals on rental cars, flights and hotels. She advises people on interesting destinations and helps them select exciting excursions.
In addition, Yvonne is gathering people to start a regional hiking club. The closest ones are in Allentown and the Poconos and she would like to see a group closer to home.
“Fall is coming,” she said. “I would like to be more active outdoors. It’s so much more fun in a group. When the fall foliage starts, there is paradise here, many places to see just a short drive away.” Her hope is that some people who hike would also be interested in travelling to hiking destinations in a group.
“Our next big trip, maybe in the spring, will be to hike the 10 miles down into the Grand Canyon, to camp at Havasu Falls. This is a dream of mine and I need to get into shape to make it happen.”
Yvonne and Jakub’s trek to their new home all those years ago paid off in unforeseen ways. Not only were their prayers for a better life answered, but in addition, the communist bloc collapsed and they are able to travel freely back to Poland. They often visit family and friends there, but are always happy to return to America, their chosen and true home.
By following their dreams, they have not only established thriving and successful careers, but also live a life full of wonder, awe and adventure, traveling to the most beautiful and often remote destinations on our continent.
“Don’t postpone your life,” Yvonne said, reflecting on the lesson of her father’s early passing. “Live it while it’s happening.”