It’s a blessing and a comfort to know where your family comes from and I’m fortunate to have been enveloped in my mother’s Polish background while growing up. I’ve called my grandpa Dziadzia, ate Polish food at family gatherings and heard stories from my mom about “Busia”, my great-grandmother. As I grew, I realized that not all of my friends celebrated their roots as much as my family did, and I became more interested in learning about our Polish background from relatives and through my own research. At Ohio State, I discovered the Polish Club and met fellow Polish-American Ohio State students. I enjoy attending the club’s events and witnessing a culture take form with such a young group of people. Last year, I was awarded a grant to study abroad and immediately opted for the Eastern European program.
During my study abroad program, I visited Warsaw. Our studies focused on the culture and history of Eastern Europe. We learned about Poland’s rich history from the country’s changing size, its role in WWII and today’s modern culture. Immersing myself in my ancestral region helped shape my entire experience in Eastern Europe. I felt connected to my roots and though Poland is much different than it was back when my relatives lived there, I nevertheless felt a strong sense of identity during my visit. It was an incredible experience to put stories my great-grandparents told my mother into context. The Poles were thrilled to meet us and each had a story regarding a family member or friend who lived in the States. Their genuine interest in my life as an American was both unique and endearing to me.
This experience became even more special to me this past fall when my Dziadzia, Bob Jankowski, passed away. The loss was difficult for my family yet I feel blessed to have shared a few special months with him bonding over my experience in Poland. I shared trip photos and stories with him, and although he was a man of few words, during those moments, I made a connection with my Dziadzia that I hold close in my heart. I brought him back a hat embroidered with “Polska” from Poland. It now sits on my dresser and not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of him.
To me, having a Polish-American heritage means having deep connections; a connection with my Dziadzia and the great man he was; a connection to my ancestors; and a connection to a global community that culturally ties us through our Polish roots, forming instant bonds. The Polish friends I’ve made in Columbus are the same as the Polish friends I’ve made in Warsaw in the sense that we all enthusiastically share and appreciate our heritage. I’ve found the Polish community to be wonderfully open and passionate about their culture. The food is delicious, the history is fascinating, the Polka is fun, but the people, including my Dziadzia, are what make my Polish heritage and honor and a true blessing.