By Alicja Biskupska-Haas
O’Melveny Associate, Investments Funds Practice, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
I grew up in a small town in Communist Poland. Life was not easy; everything was rationed and even then there was not enough to go around. Political unrest in the wake of the Solidarity movement, followed by martial law, meant that fear was a part of daily life. My parents worked hard trying to make ends meet, but there were months when food was scarce. My “bucket list” of things I wanted to do when I could afford it was rather long.
Poland was very much a patriarchal society. Women were expected to be homemakers, and not pursue careers. I was groomed to follow that path, so I became proficient in cooking, baking, and sewing, but I longed for so much more.
I came to the U.S. with one suitcase and a master’s degree in economics 16 years ago, taking a job as a project manager with a small law firm. For the first few months, I often sat in my apartment staring at my air mattress and bare walls, questioning the path I had chosen. But I also quickly realized that I felt at home here. I was not an outsider. I forged enduring friendships with people who were willing to open their hearts and homes to a stranger.
When I was finally able to enter a U.S. law school, it was a dream come true. My life for three years had a single purpose: to study as hard as I could. It didn’t feel like a sacrifice—it was a privilege and I was determined to make the most of it. Today, I work for a great partner and mentor in the investment funds practice at O’Melveny. My background helps me relate to our clients—at the very least, it makes for an interesting conversation starter. I have a wonderful husband, two terrific kids (my daughter and stepson), and great friends. I have done all of the things on my “bucket list.” This is my American Dream. Most importantly, I’ve achieved it without compromising my values, no matter what it cost me. Confidence in who I am and what I stand for, hard work, determination, and passion for life is what got me here.
Just as I was about to start my first job after law school, I opened the letter from INS approving my green card. Across the top of the letter in big bold letters was written “Welcome to the United States of America.” For me, those words meant: You belong here, welcome to the rest of your life.