“It only made sense to choose Illinois. [My scholarship] has allowed me to become independent at age 19. It’s made the difference of a lifetime to support myself and pay my expenses.” — Krystyna Madel, recipient of the Mathy Family Scholarship
Krystyna Madel was a recipient of the Mathy Family Scholarship and was interviewed during the 2020-2021 academic year. View stories from this year's scholarship recipients at the giving stories page.
Home sweet home for Krystyna Madel is sweet home Chicago; however, the fabric of her identity isn’t so straightforward. You need only eye her computer screen or even her phone to find her story is a bit more extraordinary.
Madel’s parents moved to the Chicago area months before she was born. The new parents had little time to adjust to American culture before Madel was learning to talk and, a few short years later, entering school.
“The first years of my life were as if I was in Poland, because my parents only knew that culture,” she explained. “I was born in Chicago, but my parents spoke very little English before I went to preschool. I still have a very strong connection to Poland though I’ve spent the majority of my life in Chicago.”
Madel’s first language is Polish, and she spent her adolescence traveling to Poland to visit family. As an Illinois freshman, she makes great attempts to maintain her connection by tuning into Polish politics and news, reading in Polish when possible, and even setting her default language to Polish on her electronics.
“It’s a part of my life; it’s a part of me,” she said. “I grew up for so many years existing in this Polish frame. At the foundation, I’m Polish. I think it’s important to maintain that, and I’m very lucky to have that. I don’t know how I’d feel about losing the way I grew up.”
Madel is a Spanish major who speaks four languages–Polish, English, Spanish, and Russian.
“I’m a logical thinker,” she said. “I do well with a methodological thinking, and I believe languages fall within that.”
While weighing options after high school, Madel applied to six schools and ultimately made her decision to attend Illinois based on the university’s proven success and the opportunity for financial support through scholarships. As the child of immigrants, Madel is the first of her generation to navigate post-secondary education in the United States.
“It only made sense to choose Illinois,” she explained. “I didn’t have any older siblings to tell me how to navigate that. Expenses at home would make it really tight for my parents to provide any funding for my college education. Coming here to college has been the best year of my life so far. Overall, the Mathy Family Scholarship has allowed me to become independent at age 19. It’s made the difference of a lifetime to support myself and pay my expenses.”