Karol Sith, born 1983
Karol Sith was born in 1983 in Bratislava. His mother, Anna, worked in a hospital as a nurse, and his father, Peter, was a mechanical engineer. In 1986, when Karol was two years old, he left Czechoslovakia with his parents and his sister, Petra Sith. They traveled to Yugoslavia for vacation and remained there in refugee camps for one year. They then spent nine months in Traiskirchen refugee camp in Austria before obtaining visas for the United States. A relative of Karol’s father sponsored the family to come to America and found Peter his first job in a tool factory. They settled in a house their sponsor owned in Fox Lake, Illinois.
Because Karol was so young when he arrived in the United States, he says that he did not have any trouble adapting. Karol’s parents, however, were unable to find the same jobs they had held in Slovakia. His father continued to work as a tool and die maker while his mother became a nursing assistant. Karol says that his family kept up a few Slovak traditions, especially at Christmas, which they celebrated on December 24th with a late-night dinner of Slovak dishes. Karol’s father regularly cooked Slovak food, and Karol himself enjoys making sviečková.
Karol attended Grant Community High School and recently graduated from Lewis University with a degree in Aviation Administration. He hopes one day to start his own charter flight service. Karol has been back to visit relatives in Slovakia and is looking forward to spending more time there in the future. In 2009, he became an American citizen. Today, Karol lives in Melrose Park, Illinois.
Karol spoke mostly English while he was growing up
“English, primarily. Very little Slovak. The only time I heard Slovak is when I was getting yelled at.”
Why do you think your parents didn’t speak Slovak to you?
“I think they felt it would be better for me to learn English and become assimilated into the culture in America, that it would be a little bit better time. I think it probably would have been better if I had learned both languages, if they spoke 50-50 each. I understand a lot of Slovak but it would take me a while to form a sentence together. I speak Slovak like I’m two years old, exactly how I learned Slovak when I left the country.”
After immigrating, Karol’s parents were not able to find the same jobs
“In Slovakia she [my mom] was a nurse. I think she was a post-surgery nurse, any kind of surgery. Mainly she worked in the neurosurgery wing, taking care of people that just got brain surgery. But when she got to the United States, they didn’t recognize her nursing degree, so she would have to go for three more years in college in order to get her nursing degree back, and we didn’t have the money to do that, so over here, she works as a CNA, a certified nursing assistant. Back in Slovakia as well, my dad was a mechanical engineer and over here he’s just a regular tool and die maker. They had so much education and really couldn’t do anything with it.”
Karol talks about his heritage and identity
“I don’t think it’s really where you grew up, I think it’s more your attitude. I’m sure I could have kept up the Slovak culture and felt more Slovak than American myself. I think it’s more of a personal decision – what you want to be, that’s what you’ll be. If you feel like being more Slovak, you’ll be more Slovak, if you feel like being more American, you can go that way.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History