Tampa LPN graduate Aneta Bigos, like most of her college classmates, decided to attend college in pursuit of a better life. What sets her apart from many others though are the literal and figurative lengths to which she has gone to reach her goals.
This is the story of how a Polish immigrant, who spoke little English when she arrived in America, overcame every challenge she faced on her way to earning a nursing degree.
Making the move
Growing up in Communist Poland during the twilight of the Soviet Union’s reign over Eastern Europe accustomed Bigos to doing things the hard way. She recalls spending an entire day in line at the store to buy a single bunch of bananas—a once-per-year delicacy at the time.
The transition from communism to a market-based economy during the early 1990s alleviated things like food shortages, but unemployment grew as the economy attempted to stabilize. The lack of employment opportunities led Bigos to take the huge step of immigrating to the United States.
“I came to America like most immigrants—with big dreams to make money and buy [my] own house,” Bigos says.
Her dreams met head-on with reality shortly after arriving in New York City in 1998. Bigos spoke rudimentary English, so, at first, her employment options were far from glamorous. She spent six months working as a housekeeper before briefly moving back to Poland.
“I never worked so hard in my entire life, but it was worth it,” Bigos recalls. “I came to make as much money as possible and I didn’t care what the job was. It was the best I could do at that time.”
Chasing the dream
When Bigos returned to the U.S. a year later, she knew she needed to level the playing field if she wanted to achieve her dreams. Her first step was to enroll in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes while continuing to work housekeeping and nanny jobs. The transition to life in the U.S. was challenging for Bigos, who says it was like starting life over at 28 years old.
“Even if you’re an immigrant and don’t speak the language, if you’re willing to put in the time and energy you can make something of yourself.”
“I was always telling myself ‘never give up’—I believe if you really want something [in America] you can do it,” Bigos says. “It’s easier to say it than do it, but you can do it.”
Bigos took another big step when she enrolled in a Certified Nursing Assistant training classes, but after her first day her resolve was tested. She says she approached her instructor after the class wanting to quit as she felt she was in over her head, but was convinced to stick it out at least until her first test.
The results weren’t exactly great for Bigos—a D-minus—but the passing grade was enough to build her confidence. As her confidence grew, her grades continued to rise and by the end of her CNA training her instructors pointed to her as a positive role model for other students.
Going from CNA to an LPN
Bigos, now a licensed CNA, moved to Florida and bought a home with her husband in 2004. Her time spent working as a CNA was beneficial in more ways than just a paycheck—she learned how much she enjoyed caring for patients and even received an informal English education in the time she spent visiting with them each day.
Bigos says she cherished the time she spent visiting with her patients.
“I really loved my job. It’s not like even [a] job because they were kind of like part of my family,” Bigos says.
So when one of her ‘family’ of patients told her she’d make a great nurse, the idea stuck and Bigos began the process of earning a nursing degree. After completing some general education classes at a local college, she began researching the nursing programs at Rasmussen College and liked what she read in online reviews. She met with an advisor from the school and decided the practical nursing track would be her best bet given what she considered a limited grasp of English.
“When your child tells you, ‘Mom, I’m proud of you,’ it means a lot.”
There’s a lot of information for nursing students to digest while in school, and the piles of information didn’t get any smaller for Bigos as a non-native English speaker. She says she would regularly get up before dawn to study because of the extra time it took for her to fully comprehend the material.
Bigos’ family, particularly her children, motivated her to continue through long days even if a medical dictionary and textbook were likely the last things she wanted to see when she’d wake up at 4 a.m. to begin studying.
“I always try to be a good example for them,” Bigos says. “Even if you’re an immigrant and don’t speak the language, if you’re willing to put in the time and energy you can make something of yourself.”
That strong work ethic served her well. Bigos says she doesn’t consider herself a smart person, but her hard work resulted in grades—A’s and B’s—that surpassed her expectations
“[Rasmussen College] sees potential in everyone,” Bigos says. “I’m always nervous that my accent and being from another country will make things difficult, but at this school they saw potential and as long as I tried and worked hard they would help me.”
Bigos’ devotion to her family has been her greatest motivation. “When your child tells you, ‘Mom, I’m proud of you,’ it means a lot,” she says.
Bigos earned a practical nursing diploma in spring 2014, but still has a few more steps to complete in her nursing education. The most pressing hurdle is the upcoming NCLEX exam—she says she’s studying regularly but admits she’s a little anxious.
“Sometimes I have dreams about [medical terminology] like 'hypertension' or 'thyroid' and I’ll be worried because I don’t remember this or that so I’ll wake up and start studying,” she says.
The medical terminology dancing in her head isn’t likely to go away soon, even if she aces the NCLEX exam. Bigos says she wants to return to Rasmussen College as soon as possible to earn a professional nursing degree.
Whether she’s earning a degree or living out her version of the American Dream, it appears there’s very little that could stop Bigos from succeeding after making it this far.
Chase your dreams
Earning your nursing degree may seem like a dream right now, but it really is attainable if you’re willing to put in the work. Aneta Bigos’ story goes to show that with the right attitude and work ethic any obstacle can be overcome. If you’re ready to make your dream a reality, click the ‘Request Program Info’ button above to find out more information.