Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, is known for her leadership style, her controversial Twitter feed and her no-nonsense take on politics and business.
She also loves to travel.
For over a decade, she and her husband bundled their two sons up four times a year and whisked them away: to the steamy Amazon, over rocky seas to Antarctica (“the glaciers are the most amazing things one could ever see in a lifetime”) and even the last refuge of the strange and wonderful; the Galapagos Islands (“I’d go back in a flash”).
They’ve visited over 80 countries together, including Wierzycka’s birthplace, Poland, which she describes brusquely as “not a mainstream tourist destination”. Compared to the descriptions of her other trips, it’s clear Poland is not a country of happy memories for her; in 1981, her family escaped the communist regime and found refuge in South Africa.
Many of the moments Wierzycka plans for her children are a foil to the experiences she had growing up. Their trips are also crucial parent-child bonding time, especially with Wierzycka working demanding hours as a CEO.
She says in a telephonic interview with FORBES AFRICA: “When you’re traveling with kids and then taking them to exotic locations, it means they are very reliant on you. If you go to a beach they couldn’t care less. They’re on their iPads or phones most of the time. But if you travel, they have nowhere to go except where you’re going. So they have to have every meal with you, they have to interact, there are a lot of things to discover: you hike, you canoe; which means you spend a lot of time together.”
The family’s five-week trek across India was one of their more significant and meaningful trips, with the bulk of their adventure taking place across The Golden Triangle, comprising New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur; the most visited tourist spots in northern India.
It’s named ‘golden’ for the cultural and historical richness of each city. The Wierzycka family started their 2013 trip in New Delhi with their then 13- and 15-year-old sons.
“The first time we were thrown into India, and the very first thing we did which petrified the living daylights out of us – you couldn’t have had greater exposure to anything – we did a bicycle tour of New Delhi… There were monkeys and there were cows and the four of us on bicycles. I just remember being petrified of absolutely everything about it,” she laughs at the memory.
“It was kind of the most bizarre thing we’ve ever done and in hindsight, a very dangerous thing, because you were thrown into chaos, absolute chaos.”
But it wasn’t the chaos that made India memorable for Wierzycka. It was traveling from temple to temple, and consciously demystifying religion for her children.
“I was brought up very strict Roman Catholic, and I had only had my kind of ‘aha!’ moment when I learned the truth at the age of 12 or 13, when suddenly instead of thinking of Jesus Christ as a God, I read a book which portrayed him as a man, and prophet, and I just thought I don’t want my kids to grow up to the age of 12 to realize [only then] that there is more than one religion. I never wanted them to have that moment I had,” she explains.
After this experience in her teens, shaking away institutionalized thinking was a pressing priority for her as a mother; the one way she had done that, years before, was by taking her children to Vietnam to see the other side of the famous war.
“If you’ve ever been to India, you learn that there is a religion about everything. [India] is effectively a way of learning where religion originates from, and it’s kind of demystifying religion for everybody.
“[I noticed that] all religions started in the same way: it might have been thousands of years ago, but it always started with someone who had a particular vision or theory and then created a following around a particular concept. [My sons] have a deep understanding of different cultures and different religions, and a very high level of religious tolerance. The only thing we don’t tolerate in my house is intolerance! You don’t have this kind of religious intolerance.
“Because coming back from Poland, growing up in Poland, there was only one religion – and that was Roman Catholic. There was no such concept as not believing – we had to go to church every Sunday, we had to go to confession, and God was always looking over you…
“And so… giving [my children] diversity was essential to me. First of all, that they grow up in a completely tolerant household that stretches across every boundary…”
Wierzycka’s disillusionment with the indoctrination of her youth drives much of her excursion planning.
“I think all of our trips have been a way to show them the reason ‘why’. All our trips have had that built into them, whether that is looking at museums, or going to Cambodia and looking at the Khmer Rouge regime and looking at the atrocities committed. I want my children to learn not to take things at face value. Analyze things.”
Now, with one child in Columbia University and the other hopefully headed to Harvard, family trips are going to be harder to coordinate, but they’re not going to stop. Their next destination? Alaska.