Men’s tennis coach talks immigration, transferring and his final countdown as a Saluki
SIU men’s assistant tennis coach Pawel Poziomski’s six years in the United States have been nothing short of a roller coaster. As it nears its end, he prepares for his final two weeks before returning to his home in Poland.
“Throughout my time in the U.S., I have been through three schools, taken 26 credit hours in one semester and lived in a hotel for six months,” Poziomski said.
As an international student-athlete, he had several experiences that would drive some to insanity, but not this 26-year-old.
Born in Gdynia, Poland, Poziomski came to the U.S. as a timid but headstrong teenager with a tennis scholarship to Northern Illinois University. After just one spring semester there, his turbulent journey began.
Poziomski wanted to transfer from NIU amid a coaching change, however the athletic director and new coach refused to give him the release.
“Leaving NIU without the release, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy because I couldn’t go directly to Division I. I knew what I wanted so I was ready for this long journey,” Poziomski said.
Now ineligible for Division I tennis for one year, he had to pay to go to a community college in order transfer, so he went to Laredo Community College in Webb County, Texas.
Deserts, cowboy boots and pine forests were as far away from Poland as Poziomski could be.
There, he was told he needed to graduate from Laredo in one year to be eligible to transfer back to Division I, which required him to take 26 credit hours in his second semester. After pleading his case to advisers, they would not approve taking so many credit hours.
“I had to go to the president of Laredo College to explain my situation,” he said. “After some convincing, she approved the 26 credit hours.”
Poziomski would spend the next 16 weeks in classes from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with few breaks during the day.
“It was hard because I also had to find the time to practice while keeping up with all the classes and labs,” Poziomski said.
Poziomski lived in a hotel near the often violent Mexican border for six months during the spring semester.
“I thought to myself, I have a bed, a bathroom and a microwave, that’s all I need,” Poziomski said.
One of his most interesting experiences in Laredo came when walking back to his hotel, he was detained by Border Patrol and interrogated about his immigrant status.
Taking Poziomski’s ID as well as all his possessions, Border Patrol called Laredo officials who, by mistake, said they could not find Poziomski’s name within the school system.
After this, police — guns in hand — broke down Poziomski’s hotel room door and ransacked his room to look for his passport and visa.
“I was very disappointed with the Border Patrol,” he said. “I wasn’t scared because I knew I was legally in the country, but the way they treated me was ridiculous.”
At the end of a grueling semester Poziomski ended up with seven As and one B, then transferred to Purdue University to get back to playing D-I tennis.
“When Pawel joined Purdue he was a different person; he had so many good and mature experiences finishing up junior college,” Purdue men’s tennis coach Pawel Gajdzik said.
Poziomski would begin graduate school at SIU in fall 2014 and became the men’s tennis team’s assistant coach. His main role is to lead and advise the team under head coach Dann Nelson.
“Pawel has a great work ethic, any time someone asked for help he would be there for you. He pushed the guys very hard, and to do great things you need to be pushed,” Nelson said.
For the first time in program history, the men’s tennis team tied Wichita State for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season conference title.
“From everything I have experienced in the U.S., I would say I have learned not to worry about the little things,” Poziomski said. “I think being in the U.S. you need to be open [to] the culture, otherwise you will be unhappy.”
Athena Chrysanthou can be reached at [email protected]