Eastern Europe and Mission Viejo may be poles apart, but two swimmers from Poland training in Mission Viejo are managing to bridge the gap between the two worlds, athletically, culturally, socially and otherwise.
Meet Artur Wojdat and Wojciech Wyzga, two young ambassadors from Poland now swimming with the Mission Viejo Nadadores and learning to adjust to life in America, Orange County style.
Here we have culture shock personified: Wojdat, 17, and Wyzga, 19, born and raised in comfortable-but-humble origins (by Western standards) now awash in the heartland of the California Dream, where the most visible personage is not Karl Marx, but Mickey Mouse, and surfboards reign in lieu of a hammer and sickle.
For Wojdat and Wyzga, visitors living and training in Mission Viejo since November, America comes across as, well, big .
Asked to name the greatest differences between their native Poland and Mission Viejo, the answers are similar.
Wyzga: "From TV we knew what it looked like, but you don't really know until you get here. Here everything is new, and in our towns it is older. The buildings, everything , looks bigger."
Wojdat: "Here each family has their own house. In Poland, a big house has three rooms and one building (home) will hold several families. And cars are so much bigger here, too. In Europe, most of the streets are narrow. Here. . . . "
You get the idea.
The two Polish swimmers are the first Eastern-Bloc athletes to train with the Nadadores. East German swimmer Jens-Peter Berndt also swam for the Nadadores, but that was after his defection in 1985.
Wyzga and Wojdat are learning to speak English. Wyzga takes English classes at Saddleback College, though he isn't working toward a degree. Wojdat is a junior at Mission Viejo High School. They communicate well--if deliberately--in English with others, but there have been moments of misunderstanding.
When Wojdat began his classes at Mission Viejo, a teacher asked him where he was from. Wojdat's reply was misunderstood as "Holland," and he was asked to say something to the class in "Holland".
Animated faces, of course, speak a universal language. The two look for all the world like average teen-agers from Mission Viejo, but they see America through Polish eyes.
They've been here about six months, so the abundance of this society is still occasionally overwhelming. Wojdat's face lights up like the character Robin Williams played in the movie "Moscow on the Hudson," when he first ventured into an American supermarket.
Said Wojdat: "In Poland, we have more stores, but they are smaller, neighborhood stores. We have only one kind of corn flakes. Here, you go into a store and there are 50 meters of different (cereals)!"
Such comments suggest that the pair are naive visitors directly off the farm, but thanks to their athletic backgrounds, they have traveled to such places as Holland, France, West Germany, East Germany, Hungary and Italy before coming to America.
And they come from families with what would be considered solid educational foundations in any society.
Wyzga is from Krakow, a city of 700,000 in south-central Poland, where his mother is a doctor and his father a scientist and engineer. Wojdat hails from Poznan, a city of 475,000 in west-central Poland, where his father is a university instructor and his mother works in a bank.
Wojdat and Wyzga are among the best swimmers from Poland, and each stands a good chance of representing his country at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea.
At the U.S. Swimming Short Course National Championships in Orlando, Fla., in March, Wojdat was instrumental in helping the Nadadores' senior team edge San Jose Aquatics, 348-347, for the men's title.
Wojdat's best showings were in the 200-yard freestyle, in which he finished second with a time of 1:36.66, and the 1,000-yard freestyle, in which he took another second in a time of 8:58.48. Wojdat accounted for 120 of the Nadadores' 348 points.
Wojdat and Wyzga's swimming potential is why they are in the United States, but it took a California businessman to get them to Mission Viejo.
Alexander Kuryllo, a Villa Park resident who runs a construction business in Orange, has formed a nonprofit group called the Polish-American Sports Foundation, which he says is aimed at promoting good will between the United States and Poland through sports.
Kuryllo had been one of the founders of an organization that was to host Polish athletes during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. After the boycott by most Eastern Bloc countries, Kuryllo formed the new organization.
On a visit to Poland last year, Kuryllo was approached about arranging to send some Polish athletes to train here.
Said Kuryllo: "The Polish Olympic Committee asked me to arrange for some swimmers to go to the U.S. to train for the international competition (World Championships) in Madrid, Spain.
"All I asked in return was that they send somebody with the ability to speak English so they could function here, go to school here."
Wyzga and Wojdat have been training for August's World Championships, where they likely will compete against some of their current teammates on the Nadadores. But Mission Viejo Coach Terry Stoddard doesn't see this as a problem.
Stoddard: "It's good for both programs. We've always been willing to train athletes who are willing to work hard, and these two are no exception. It's beneficial for our team, too. We get to swim against international competition every day (in practice).
"They've both adjusted well. Wojciech had some difficulties adjusting to the change in climate--he had some respiratory problems early on, but he's fine now.
"The only thing we stress is speaking English. We made sure we placed them with a family that didn't speak Polish."
The swimmers have been living with the Steve Darke family in Mission Viejo.
Said Darke, an Irvine Co. employee whose family has hosted foreign-exchange Nadadores swimmers from Denmark, West Germany and New Zealand: "Well, we buy more food. . . . a lot more food. They have very healthy appetites, but they don't eat anything fancy. They like stuffed cabbage, stuffed bell peppers, chicken fried steak--the usual stuff.
Wojdat and Wyzga have been fine house guests for Darke's wife, Barbara. "The kids are great . . . They never complain at all. They seem to appreciate everything ."
And that includes music. What type does Wojdat enjoys listening to here?
"What do you call it--metallic? Heavy metal?," he replied. "Motley Crue."
And what will he miss the most when it comes time to leave in August? Family, school friends, his teammates on the Nadadores, perhaps?
Yes, but . . .
"I'll miss MTV," Wojdat said. "My friends all say, 'You are crazy--you only watch MTV.' "
Spoken like a true teen-ager--American, Polish or otherwise.