My next hero is Marty Pikiewicz who is a very joyful, positive and an absolutely fantastic character. He is full of energy, half Pole and half Irish who really brings loads of positivity into everyone’s life. Let's meet Marty and find out more about him.

Hi Marty, Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.

DG: Could you tell us a wee bit about yourself and your roots? Where do you come from and what do you do for living?

MP: Thank You Daniel for your kind introduction. Basically Daniel, my father was the son of two Polish refugees, who unfortunately were unable to look after him so he was adopted. However later in life he reconnected with his birth parents and from that he took a deep interest in his Polish roots. My father was born in England, but he met my mum in the 70s in Belfast, while he was there working as a teacher. My father took his Mother’s last name, therefore giving me my Polish surname Pikiewicz. So from a young age myself and my family would go to Poland often, sometimes for 6 or 7 weeks at a time on holidays, it was during this time I really developed an interest in the Polish language. I was the only one out of my brother, sister and me, who really had an interest in the Polish language, and I wanted to be able to communicate in Polish during these holidays we would go on up to twice a year. Along with my father, I had a great enthusiasm for the Polish culture, and I have always been in favour of embracing my Polish side.

 Marty Pikiewicz is interviewed by Dan Gebski
Marty Pikiewicz is interviewed by Dan Gebski

When I was 18, I lived in south east Poland for 6 months. I worked in a special needs school as well as teaching English. Then when I was 22, I lived in Krakow for 2 months also. Now I usually visit Poland twice a year. I have often thought of moving to Poland, maybe getting a job there and teaching but I have so much on here at the minute I don’t think it’s the right time. 

I currently work as an interpreter for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. I can be based anywhere, different locations daily. Every day is totally different. In one day I could be in maybe 4 or 5 different settings or situations. The way the trust works is, if they have a patient that can’t speak English they have an obligation to provide an interpreter. This is a difficult job to get, as you have be on a list of registered interpreters, you also need to have to do a conversion course which covers the ethics behind being an interpreter. In order to get on the conversion course you need to have done OCN Level 4 in community interpreting. You have to wait a long time to get on these courses. I was very lucky to get in when I did in 2012, as they needed Polish interpreters at the time. I have been doing it for 7 years now, and although the work is on a self-employed basis, I have always had a high volume of work all over N.I. It is not just about having the language proficiency, a large part of the job is being emotionally intelligent as some situations can be uncomfortable or sensitive. 

As well as interpreting I also teach English three times a week in a local community centre, I have done this for the past 3 years. Recently I have also been teaching English in Coleraine which is organized by a lovely Polish woman as part of the Causeway Council. 

DG: Have you ever come across any unpleasant situations during your work translating? What part of your job is difficult and what part is the most joyful?

MP:To be honest, for me I do not like a lot of the cases related to social work that I have dealt with. Some can involve abuse etc involving children and I hate to hear what some of them have been through. A lot of the time I work with families that have maybe neglected their kids in some way and only have limited access to their children as a result. This is distressing for me at times because I don’t like hearing the details so that is definitely one of the most unpleasant part of my job. Also it doesn’t happen often but there has been times when I have had to convey bad news, or a bad diagnosis to a patient or a sick individual and that is difficult. There have been occasions where I have had to interpret a doctor or a consultant telling a patient that their treatment hasn’t worked or they have a terminal illness. It actually happened to me very shortly after I had started this job where a Doctor had told a patient on his rounds that his cancer was incurable and after relaying the information he simply walked away. It was done very badly, and the patient was left with no support whatsoever. 

DG: Do you consider yourself Polish or Irish? How often do you visit Poland?

I was raised here so I would have to say I do consider myself Irish. My Mum’s side of the family are very culturally Irish, they are not political but definitely very cultural. Some of my Mum’s family speak Irish, they are involved in Irish dancing, Irish music etc. However, I do embrace the Polish side of me. I love Polish culture, and I love visiting Poland. I love the Polish Mountains and I enjoy hiking in Poland which I try to do at least once a year. I love Polish food, I love the climate, the hot summers and cold winters. My identity is definitely made up of a lot of Polish characteristics, I do embrace it. My work for the past seven years has made me embrace it more, as I work with Polish people every day, sometimes when I get home I even think in polish as well. My identity is tricky as there is a lot of Polish elements so I would say a certain percentage of my identity is definitely Polish. 

DG: I also know that you teach Polish English language in a private school. Are we Poles good learners? And why?

MP: Well Daniel I would have to say it all depends on the individual if I am honest. There are a lot of factors which have an influence on whether or not you are going to progress. Age is definitely a factor, my younger students learn a lot faster as we know it is harder to learn new things the older we get. As you know Daniel, Polish schools did not teach English until the 1990s so any of my students that were in school before that time are coming to me with zero English,  then those that learnt early on in the 90`s have seriously poor English as the teachers at the time were not fully developed in the language themselves. So in truth a lot of the adults that come to my classes have little to no knowledge of the English language at all. So definitely age is a factor, whether you have experience of English is also a factor but the biggest factor is motivation. Now, a lot of my group classes are more successful than my individuals as the group classes are more interactive they last two hours and there is the ability to learn more in that environment. The students boost and encourage each other in the group class and they progress really well. 

Dg: Unfortunately you probably know that there are some of low minded groups of Poles who can be sometimes intolerant in certain aspects of life. Can you see any changes in the Polish peoples approach and attitudes towards homophobia or racism? 

MP: I personally haven’t encountered any homophobia from the Polish community. I would assume most of my clients either know or guess I am gay but they are just thankful for the service I am providing. As you know I have travelled to different parts of Poland, and I haven’t come across any homophobia. I have even been to rural towns in the mountains and not had any issues. I think perhaps in certain situations maybe in small towns and bars I wouldn’t declare my sexuality, because I know the government in the past has introduced some homophobic policies that I would be cautious of. 

However, you did mention racism there and on that topic I have witnessed some disappointing things in regards to the Polish community in Northern Ireland. I am sure you remember about 4 years ago there was the refugee crisis in Europe. Now we are aware that there were minimal refuges came to Ireland, and at the time some Polish were sharing quite horrid propaganda on social media, which mostly was based neither on facts or truths. This really disappointed me that there was this explosion of racism online, from Polish people were in fact that immigrants themselves. It was sad to see such things, why couldn’t they accept other minority groups when they themselves had come here as such? They expected respect for themselves but wouldn’t give that respect to the refugees. I thought it was extremely disappointing if I am honest Daniel. 

DG:Do you notice any differences between Northern Irish and Polish peoples attitude to work, in general? 

MP: Yes I do, a lot of the Polish people I know are very happy to work hard, unsociable hours and in unpleasant conditions, in comparison to local people who expect to work jobs they may not even be qualified for. The Polish community are simply happy to get their pay check weekly and pay their bills and live a simple life. I don’t think many of them want to progress and better themselves unfortunately because they are simply happy with the status quo. I do believe the local economy benefits from this as they will work in jobs that many locals would not be happy working in for example factories etc. 

Polish people are really good with their money, they can save a lot by not wasting money unnecessary things. I have seen Polish families move to Ireland and buy a house within a few years whereas I’m 36 and still have not bought a house. Once they have their homes, jobs and families they are happy and do not want for more. 

DG: If you had to move to Poland tomorrow and live there forever? Could you do it?

MP:Yes I could. I would love that. If I was given a job offer in my field I would love to. There is a reason why I go back to Poland every year. I love Poland, I love to walk through Krakow on a hot summer’s day when its 30 degrees and you can smell the food and coffee. Or hiking up a Polish mountain at  -10 degrees, you just can’t rely on those things here. There are so many reasons why I could move, it’s not just because of the family connections. I genuinely love Poland, I love the nightlife in the cities. In terms of being gay in Poland today, I follow a few gay guys I know from Poland on social media, and they have a great life. Very similar to my life in my 20s, lots of friends and partying etc. so I don’t think that would be an issue for me. I could definitely do it, I could move there. 

DG: What advice would you give to any Polish people wanting to speak or better themselves while living in Northern Ireland? Do you think we Poles need a voice in politics? Media news? Social media? And why?

MP:My advice would be to not be invisible. Become part of the community, learn English, and speak to your Irish neighbours. Let yourself be known do not hide away in your homes or in the workplace. We don’t have a voice in politics right now and although there are parties that care about the Polish communities they don’t have any Polish speaking representatives so there will always be that barrier. There are people out there that might want their voice to be heard, to them people I say if you want to run for council then do it. If you want to attend a policing meeting if you have concerns then also do that. You need to develop yourself, we need more Polish to become fluent in English as it is the community language we speak in this country. There are opportunities to learn without spending money, i.e. Read children books in English, watch English and maybe buy local newspapers. I would say to the Polish community, this is now your home, embrace your surroundings and this culture and be part of it. Try and be seen and be heard, join groups and don’t fade into the background. Try and break out of the mould of going to work 5 days and week and then retreat into your family bubble. 

Thank you for the interview, It has been great hearing about your views and thoughts on these topics. I wish you all the best of luck in your career and good health.


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