Katarína Hybenová was born in Poprad, in northern Slovakia, in 1983. Her mother Daniela worked in finance while her father Ondrej was a civil engineer. Katarína lived with her parents and younger brother Martin in apanelák until the fall of communism in 1989, when they moved to a house in a more suburban neighborhood. Following the end of communism, Katarína’s father started his own business and her mother became the manager of a large factory in town. Growing up, Katarína was active in sports such as swimming and tennis, and she eventually became an accomplished alpine skier. Although she enjoyed gymnázium, Katarína notes that she didn’t have much choice in her high school classes, or in her future course of studies. Following gymnázium she moved to Prague and studied law at Charles University. Katarína filled her time in Prague with many creative pursuits, including writing, singing and acting. She also studied in Leuven, Belgium, for one year prior to graduating. After two years working in an international law firm in Prague, Katarína moved to New York City for a graduate law program at Fordham University. She arrived in the United States in August 2009.
Katarína says that her one year program was filled with a diverse, international group of students and was quite enjoyable. Upon finishing her program, Katarína moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick, took the New York bar exam, and began sending out her resume. She also began a blog documenting the daily life of her new home. Over time, Katarína’s blog grew and she has since turned the Bushwick Daily into a successful online magazine with several employees. Katarína completes other writing projects on the side and has had several short stories published. Today she lives in Queens, New York, with her husband.
“Even in ’89, things were slowly changing, but that doesn’t mean that everything changed from one day to another. For example, when I was in first grade – for the first time in history, probably – the parents of the kids had an option to choose whether the kids are going to be iskričky, which came before the Pioneers, and my dad said no, and all the other kids in the class were able to do it and they all received those cute uniforms and they were learning little poems and I couldn’t do it, and I was really pissed and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be one of them. So I remember that.
“And I remember Tuzex very clearly. They were very happy memories whenever I went there with my mom. I used to collect packaging from Western chocolates and everything that we bought there I would fold nicely and put aside and me and my brother would play with it. We’d play that we have a shop and these are the things that we have there. So that was very exciting to go to Tuzex. I remember then that after ’89, Tuzex changed into a store with musical instruments in Poprad and I was always kind of sad. It was such an exciting store.”
Family in Prison
“Growing up I never heard any stories or anything, and I simply assumed that my family’s kind of boring and they just didn’t put up any resistance or anything, and definitely when I was a teenager I was disappointed that they just took it and they didn’t say anything and were just really average citizens or something like that. But when I started to dig into it a little bit deeper, I realized that there were some of my family members that had problems with the regime. My great-grandpa was in a prison because he owned a small business and somebody called the secret police and he got into some trouble because of some taxes or some really completely absurd issue. He spent some time in prison and they kicked out his teeth and stuff like that. My great-grandma was alone with six kids – the mother of my grandma. So I guess there was a certain element present, and I’m realizing that maybe that’s why my grandma was the way she was and that’s why she brought up my mom they way she was, that they weren’t really up for any trouble.”
“Prague is fun; it’s great. There were a lot of young people where I lived and I became more involved with the art scene there, and I’m very creative so I was writing a blog for SME [a newspaper] and it was all good, and I attempted to sing with a jazz band for a little bit and I attempted to do some theatre, as an actress. At some point I even attempted to get into the theatre academy there, which I almost succeeded at but not really so I finished law school. But I was doing all these things which sort of fulfilled me from the creative side, but then as I started to work I had no time for anything like that; I actually couldn’t write anything. I had nothing to write about; I was empty.”
“I started this photo blog about Bushwick and my goal was to post one image every day, like something essentially beautiful of Bushwick, and I spent a lot of time walking around and talking to people and biking and on the way to the coffee shop and in the coffee shop when I was sending those resumes. So I started this blog on the side just to make me happy, and I started to spend more and more time doing that, and I then I was so fascinated with everyone who lived in Bushwick and, really, I have never seen a really creative, living, artistic scene; I was never part of it and for the first time in my life I felt like ‘Wow, I belong somewhere. I’m not the weirdo who has to wear lawyer clothes that don’t fit, and I don’t look like I should be wearing them. That I can just wear what I wear and be who I am. It feels great.’
“So I spent a lot of time developing this blog and soon it turned from only a photo blog into a regular magazine where I started to write about the people, just because of the pure desire to write about their stories and who they are and what they do. I was really, really fascinated. There were so many amazing people. So I started to do a lot of studio visits and I talked to a lot of artists, and it went from there. I never really tried to write it as a single person blog; I always wanted it to be its own publication with its own voice for the community. It wasn’t only my own adventures there, so I wrote it for the perspective of this is for the community about the community.”
View On Success
“When I came to New York, I really dove into exploration of what really makes you successful and happy. Because I learned quickly in Slovakia that being successful doesn’t necessarily mean to be happy. It can mean that you are really unhappy actually. I really dove into this exploration of happiness and what makes us really happy and fulfilled. And, being an immigrant and poor, on this very real basis I realized that what you actually like, that inner desire to do things, that’s what makes you the most successful, on this very raw basis. So I really started to explore and for the first time probably in my life asked myself ‘What do I like? What do I like doing? What is the thing that makes me really excited and very passionate?’ So I think that’s the probably the biggest gift, which is very, very important.”