Growing up was no walk in the park for Magda Wierzycka. In the face of an economic collapse, she lived in a two-bedroom flat shared with her mom and dad, sister and brother, and grandmother, in the Polish town of Jastrzębie-Zdrój.
Following the imposition of martial law in Poland, Wierzyca and her family moved to Austria in 1982 where they lived in a Polish refugee camp at Traiskirchen. Her parents, who were both medical doctors, were forced to dig ditches to keep their family afloat.
Reminiscing about what dining with her family was like at the time, Wierzycka said, “I remember mealtimes as we were all kind of squatting around a small coffee table, and it’s because there was no space for a dining room table. So it was, you know, a humble start. The positive side of it is everybody was in exactly the same position. We didn’t have any rich people”.
The family later moved to South Africa in 1983 when she was just thirteen years old. With only $500 in savings, the family settled in Sunnyside, Pretoria, where she attended Pretoria High School for Girls. Wyierzyca found herself in a new environment where the language was a barrier, as she couldn’t speak either English or Afrikaans, which was the primary means of instruction in South African schools. She had to learn those languages as quickly as possible. While in high school she supported herself by working at a supermarket selling cheese and cold meats.
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