International Student Seizes Opportunities After Emerging From COVID-19 Isolation

Ksymena Pawlowicz, an international student at Columbia College ChicagoPhotoKsymena Pawlowicz, an international student at Columbia College Chicago.
A native of Poland, Ksymena Pawlowicz leverages each and every opportunity at Columbia to realize her professional and personal ambitions.

Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic separated people from their loved ones and their communities. This divide especially impacted Ksymena Pawlowicz, an international student at Columbia College Chicago, who was unable to return home to Poland or enjoy family visits during the height of the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, Pawlowicz was a freshman majoring in Public Relations (PR) in the Communication Department. New to Chicago, she aspired to combine her love of fashion and entertainment with her PR degree and eventually open her own PR firm. At the time, she had big dreams, but few friends or connections in Chicago as her Columbia journey had just begun.

Thousands of miles away from her mother and her beloved Poland, times would be tough for Pawlowicz during the first isolating year of the pandemic, even though she lived in Chicago with a cousin. “It was definitely lonely,” she says. “I didn’t have a clue how to make friends at Columbia.” The America she envisioned and loved while growing up watching “Hannah Montana” and the “Wizards of Wavery Place” was nowhere to be seen in the COVID era of no classes and, later, remote school. But that didn’t stop her from leveraging each and every opportunity to realize her professional and personal ambitions with a no-regrets attitude—from finding friends and building a robust Linkedin network to taking leadership roles in student organizations to pursuing internships at PR companies.

“Going to a college that is located in a city such as Chicago was the greatest decision ever, especially for me as a PR major,” she says. “Columbia and I are together on the journey of the American dream.”

For Pawlowicz, who just completed her junior year, part of that dream entailed friendships. Hannah Montana’s Miley needed a Lilly, and Pawlowicz found her Lilly in a Zoom breakout room during a writing workshop at Columbia her sophomore year.

“In the breakout, we kind of drifted away from proofreading our work and began talking. Then we exchanged numbers, and it quickly escalated into friendship,” she says. “We have been really good friends since then and are inseparable.”

Describing herself as initially shy when she came first came to campus as a freshman, Pawlowicz began to connect more her sophomore and junior years. Through Linkedin, she developed the art of networking, researching companies that interested her and reaching out to company leaders for virtual coffees. She joined the Fashion Sustainability Club and became a Junior Executive Officer. And with the help of Jennifer Halperin, Internship and Career Advisor at Columbia’s Career Center,  Pawlowicz landed a summer PR internship at Agency Abron.

She also became involved with the Columbia College Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), and today, serves as the Columbia Chapter’s president. Pawlowicz credits her involvement with PRSSA to mentor Anne Marie Mitchell, an associate professor in Communication. This connection—as well Pawlowicz’s in-depth research on PR companies—ultimately led Pawlowicz to her current internship at the Zeno Group, a global communications company with offices in Chicago. As a member of PRSSA, Pawlowicz accompanied Mitchell the Plank Center's 2021 DEI Summit in November where they sat next to Zeno’s CEO Barby Siegel.

“I walked up, and I introduced myself,” Pawlowicz says. “I was quite overwhelmed; I felt starstruck because she's very well known in the industry.”

That first, scary step led to more introductions and eventually to her role as a Consumer Intern at Zeno, drafting media pitches and fine-tuning her writing skills. Zeno has also invited her to be part of an initiative to support the Ukraine—a role she would be honored to undertake as a proud Polish person with historical family connections to Ukraine.

Fully immersed in campus life in-person her junior year, complete with a job on campus at the Student Center, Pawlowicz is happy to put pandemic-induced loneliness and travel limitations behind her. This summer, she looks forward to her first trip in three years to Poland where she plans to join her fellow countrymen in aiding and supporting neighboring Ukraine. She will also travel and further build her multi-lingual skillset by taking an intensive Spanish language course at the University of Málaga.

“There’s a side of me that really likes to travel,” she says. “And after the past couple of years, I really need to travel.”