Finding a Voice & Heritage in Poland

Jennifer Polasek
Jagiellonian University, Poland
Writing Major
Gilman Scholarship Recipient

Follow Jennifer’s adventure on her YouTube Channel

How did a GVSU writing student find herself presenting to Polish students and citizens at the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland? Over four generations ago my ancestors immigrated from Poland. With each generation, less and less of our Polish culture was passed down. It wasn’t until I begin taking Polish language courses at GVSU that I felt reconnected to my own heritage. My desire to continue learning Polish was what first sparked my interest in studying abroad. After receiving a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, my desire to go abroad was finally feasible. I began my semester abroad studying at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, in October 2016.

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Receiving a Gilman Scholarship afforded me opportunities that broadened my perspective of rhetoric. I became a frequent guest at the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland, because of my award. The highlight of my experiences was volunteering weekly as a presenter for the English Language Club and for school visits to the consulate. Engaging with a variety of Polish citizens ranging from ten years old to middle aged adults with varying English language abilities was incredibly humbling.

The group that left the biggest impression on me were students from a local elementary school in Krakow. They visited the consulate in late November 2016 and stunned everyone that day. As I was prepared to give a presentation on American culture with two of my American peers, the students surprised us with their own quick presentation. They decided to turn the tables on us and quiz us over well-known locations in Poland. The five young students that presented this quiz were absolutely captivating! They spent weeks practicing this presentation to ensure their English language skills were up to par. However, what they didn’t realize was that their English language skills were far superior to any other group we met from both programs. Not only were these young ten-year-old children great at communicating in English, but they understood the language so well that they delivered a humorous and somewhat sarcastic presentation! We were incredibly astonished because it was amazing to see such young students be so knowledgeable about communicating in both Polish and English so flexibly.

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Towards the end of their visit, one of the young girls in the class came up to me and began asking questions after learning I was a writing student. She expressed her own interest in writing fiction and wondered what the best way would be for her to pursue her interests. “Do you think I should study in Poland, or should I go to the United States to study?” As I looked at her sweet face I realized we had been contemplating very similar questions. “I think as long as you are passionate about writing you’ll be successful no matter where you are.”

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Being able to communicate effectively in any language can be a challenge. So being in a country where a language barrier is present amplifies it even more. However, it’s especially inspiring to engage with others who are breaking down these barriers and overcoming such obstacles. When I look back on it now, it makes me realize how powerful it is to be able to communicate effectively. I hope that those students come to realize how incredibly talented they are.

 

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