Feel the energy

A Korean-born Canadian fully embraces living in Poland, revelling in its ‘energy of unpredictability’ to ultimately develop an innovative solution to the world’s plastic waste problem.

By the age of six, Susan Kim-Chomicka had crisscrossed the world, living in four different countries and cultures. She was born in South Korea but lived in Japan and Vietnam as a child before immigrating to Canada where she grew up. After finishing her degree in economics at Smith College in the US, she managed a portfolio of corporate pension clients at Aetna Capital Management in NYC. She returned to Canada to pursue life as an entrepreneur, growing a family business of properties and restaurants. In 2002, she moved to Seoul, Korea where she met a Polish diplomat who was posted there. The two married in 2004 and moved to Warsaw, Poland. When her husband was posted as Ambassador to China, the family moved to Beijing for 6 years. Upon returning, she started a consultancy company which helped Chinese businesses invest in Poland. Susan is now the CEO of Handerek Technologies, which has created a cost-effective method of converting plastic waste into high-quality fuel.

What can you tell us about your startup, Handerek Technologies?

We have developed a groundbreaking patented solution for chemically recycling non-recyclable plastics into liquid hydrocarbons. These liquid hydrocarbons are basically, petrochemical products, which can then be used as a feedstock to produce virgin plastics or used as low carbon alternative fuel. There’s a tremendous amount of interest from various industries because plastic waste is a global problem. Our goal is to bring our technology to the world, make a real impact on recycling rates and create a successful Polish brand.

What’s the best thing about Poland?

Life in Calgary, Canada, where I’m from, is quite predictable. It’s a fantastic place to live if you want to enjoy nature, spend time with family and have a calm, easy life. Poland is not quite so predictable. There’s still this energy and drive to develop and grow as a country. With my startup, I see that people strive to improve and everybody works hard, there’s this energy of wanting to get somewhere and I really appreciate that.

How have you embraced living here?

I’m a Polish citizen and I’m probably more of a patriot than a lot of Poles. When my husband was posted abroad as an ambassador, we represented
Poland. As a foreign-born spouse, I feel a great sense of responsibility to learn the Polish language, history, culture and even cooking. Although I don’t have an official position per se, I was often on the ‘front line’ which is why I’ve probably indoctrinated myself with Polish culture more than most. I am grateful for the warm welcome I have received by all the Poles I have met.

Handerek Technologies was established in January 2018 but its R&D team members have over 30 years of experience developing patented technologies. Headquartered in Warsaw, the technology company develops innovations which can effectively break down waste’s molecular structures and efficiently convert their building blocks into clean fuels, chemicals and other resources.

What’s your take on Polish food?

I love Polish food, especially the soups. We go to my mother-in-law’s every Sunday and she always prepares a feast. The food scene in Warsaw is quite good. The quality and diversity of food has improved a lot from the first time I visited in 2003. My feeling is that due to the 100+ years of partition of Poland and then the occupation of the Soviet Union, there was this push against foreign influence on food because it was about preserving the culture, but now that Poland has a secure place in the world, it’s more open for diversity in its food.

How has Poland changed you?

Poland has made me appreciate culture and I love how it’s blended into everyday life. In Canada, we would go to the philharmonic maybe once every six months and it’s a special occasion. But in Poland, we go to concerts in the park, photographic exhibitions, music festivals and all sorts of cultural events regularly, which are often free.

What’s your advice would you offer to foreigners in Poland?

I would tell foreigners that if you expect things to be the same as in your country, then go home. Sorry, this is not your country. This is Poland, so there are things that are better, there are things that are worse, but it’s all about your attitude and you can’t take things personally. For example, I lived in a place for six months before the clerks in the shop across the street smiled at me. But I didn’t take it personally because that’s just how they are. But in Korea, salespeople constantly bow and crowd around you. Thus, there’s a big difference, but I understand that it depends on the society’s mentality and customs.

January 03, 2020
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Written by: Monica Zielinski

Monica Zielinski is Poland Today's online editor and social media manager. After earning a journalism degree in the US, she moved to Warsaw to reconnect with her Polish roots and work in her field.