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Student's Long Journey to Culminate at Commencement
She came to the U.S. from Poland 15 years ago
CAMDEN — Many college undergraduates are faced with leaving the comforts of home for the first time to live on their own. It can be as challenging as it is exciting.
For Jolanta Figon, leaving home at 20 years old meant dropping out of school, living in a new country, and leaving family and friends more than 4,000 miles behind.
Figon, a senior accounting major at Rutgers–Camden, left Poland to come to the United States 15 years ago to pursue a career and an education. She’ll graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May.
“The decision to come here was about seeing if I could manage things on my own and becoming independent,” Figon says. “In Poland, I had a lot of support from my parents and my family, but here in the U.S., it was all up to me. It made me a stronger person.”
Now a 35-year-old mother of two children, Figon, an Eastampton resident, is a full-time student who is glad she took a chance.
“I didn’t think twice about it then,” she says. “I was young and knew I could do it. I would do it all over again. The U.S. has given me so many opportunities.”
When she arrived in Trenton in April 1996, Figon lived in a Polish community and took a job as a housekeeper. Six months later, she enrolled in an accounting certification program at the Cittone Institute and worked at the school as an accounts receivable clerk. Later, she took a job doing some bookkeeping and payroll management for a restaurant and even opened her own travel agency in Trenton to serve the Polish community there.
“Those jobs gave me good experience, but at that point, I wanted to go back to school,” Figon explains. “I wanted a degree. In Poland, I had my high school diploma and was enrolled in University, but dropped out to come to the United States. I needed to go back to school.”
Figon attended a local community college before coming to Rutgers–Camden in 2009. While she’s just months away from finally achieving what she set out to do 15 years ago, Figon is nowhere near finished.
“I’ll be job hunting soon and I hope to find a job that will be challenging,” she says. “Then, the next step is my CPA exam and in a year or two, I want to come back here for my master’s. I’m always looking for challenges.”
While she admits that being a full-time student is hard work, it doesn’t stop her from being fully invested in her children, Peter, 12, and Victoria, 9. Her son is on a swim team and wants to become a veterinarian. Her daughter is passionate about dance.
“I want to teach them how to give back, which is very important to me,” Figon says.
Family remains a crucial part of Figon’s life, who credits her husband, Jacek, with helping her pursue her goals. Jacek is also from Poland, but the couple met in the United States. When they met, they discovered that their homes in Poland were some 300 miles apart. But geography wouldn’t keep them apart in America. Jacek was Jolanta’s next-door neighbor in Trenton.
“My husband gave me a kick to go back to school,” Figon says. “He encouraged me to get my degree and supported me with all his heart. I’m really grateful, because I wouldn’t be here if not for my husband, my kids, and my parents.”
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse