DECEMBER 10, 2015
IMPORTANT: POLISH PASSPORT PROTIPS
Tl;dr: Dual citizens, use your Polish passport when traveling to Poland. Anything else may mean unpleasant border surprises.
Just got the below from the embassy. I’ll just summarize the (very!) important bits in English here: Poland is threatening inconvenience and possibly penalties like extra fees for Polish dual citizens who use their other passport to enter Poland. Additionally, if you are a dual citizen and something happens to you in Poland, Polish law applies first, to the exclusion of the law of your other country. This should only pose problems for people in sketchy situations, but it also brings to mind a Croatian friend who didn’t travel there for his entire 20s to avoid serving in the army. I’m only glad Poland doesn’t have conscription. Now that would be a surprise, eh: “Yes, everyone can go back except for Sławek, who’s actually getting on this other plane. Here Sławek, take this gun.”
I wish border crossings were as easy as this. We’re getting there, even if it’s like pulling teeth at times…
I don’t know how this works for arriving in Europe without planning to stop by Poland. Still, I always travel with both passports beyond the USA, using my Polish passport to enter the EU and the Canadian one to get into Canada. The rest of the time I play it by ear based on visa fees ($20 cheaper for Polish than Canadian in Turkey, protip) and perceived danger locally (Sometimes–often enough that I remember it–“Canadian” still means “rich and gullible” while “Polish” still carries with it a very convenient nondescript, post-Soviet mantle) and globally (if the region is unstable then I lean Canadian because I feel more secure with Canada’s might behind me, knowing the country is rich and reliable in assisting its citizens abroad). I still remember when I was jumped by two drunk thugs on a university campus in the middle of the day in Toruń and the police only perked up and really (pretended to) try to show they cared when I told them I came from Canada. Another protip: register when going abroad. This way the government knows you’re there and can reach you should anything go down during your stay.
How it sometimes feels at that border.
In the end, when I’m in Europe I don’t even show my Canadian passport anymore just because it’s such a huge hassle, funky stamps be damned. Especially not in Poland, where I sometimes feel an uncomfortable tinge of patriotism/nationalism/jealousy/suspicion from border staff layering on top of the already pretty hurtin’ customer service many of us have come to expect on trips to our second home (yes, it’s getting better and better almost daily, but you still see those drab, glassed-in grey faces pretty often). I know this post has a bit of a surly spin, but this just because any imposition of seemingly nonsensical authority makes my anarchist hackles rise. Still, after talking with my sister the ex-border guard, she clarified this probably has more to do with applying the right line of questioning to the right group of travelers, with guards being primed for the correct things to watch for, and, in the end, completing the correct paperwork.
In line with this trend, I recently went ahead and ordered my national ID to make this process a tad bit easier on me (passports + pockets ≠ comfort). It takes about 2 months for it to be ready, and it seems like you can order it online now (when I ordered mine this past February, I didn’t have this option). However, I believe you’ll still have to pick this up in person still. With things like this Poland seems to be bounding lightyears with each leap in catching up to the rest of Europe in bureaucracy, so I suppose these new passport requirements are just another step in this direction. Still, I can’t help thinking of this hilarious Quebecois skit:
… and of the adorable Zootopia sloths:
Happy travels! Original text below with all the important bits highlighted, but you can read more on the original release.
Gdy posiadasz podwójne obywatelstwo sugerujemy Polakom posiadającym obok polskiego, obywatelstwo innego państwa aby posiadali polskie dokumenty podróży. Dzięki temu unikną kłopotów, a czasami dodatkowych kosztówzwiązanych z wyjazdem. W myśl obowiązujących w Polsce przepisów, głównie Ustawy o obywatelstwie polskim, posiadanie przez obywateli RP podwójnego obywatelstwa jest dopuszczalne, jednak nie skutkuje ono prawem do przedkładania obywatelstwa obcego nad polskie i w żadnym wypadku obywatel polski na terytorium Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej nie może żądać przed organami państwowymi, aby traktowano go jako obywatela innego państwa. Osoby posiadające oprócz polskiego inne obywatelstwo przy przekraczaniu granicy RP powinny zwrócić szczególną uwagę na wymogi obowiązujące w zakresie dokumentów uprawniających do przekroczenia granicy. W sytuacji, gdy funkcjonariusz Straży Granicznej w trakcie kontroli granicznej uzyska informację, że podróżny posiada obywatelstwo polskie, a nie ma ważnego polskiego paszportu, czy dowodu osobistego – w zależności od kierunku podróży, funkcjonariusz ma obowiązek nie zezwolić takiej osobie na przekroczenie Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej na wyjazd, nawet jeśli wjechała na terytorium Polski na podstawie dokumentu stwierdzającego obywatelstwo innego państwa.
— Aleksandra Kucy, Kierownik Referatu Konsularnego, Ambasada RP w Ottawie, +1 (613) 789 0468
OCTOBER 29, 2015
MASHA AND THE BEAR
I just received an invitation to watch a neat CBC video from Filip Terlecki, one of the most prominent voices early on in PISK’s developmental years. I was initially wary of the lightsaber battle because that’s just been waaay overdone, but when I realized the metaphor behind it, it suddenly didn’t seem as bad. Watch the short clip first because I write a bit of a spoiler at the end; I’m curious if you notice the same thing as me:
After seeing the video I immediately took to writing a quick note to Filip congratulating him on a job well done… but the ink just flowed. So I’m posting it instead; lots of rumination here. Grab a tea and off we go!
The video reminds me of my recent studies in Germany, where I saw just how Americanized they are over there. Reading up on German-American relations sheds lots of light on this, particularly looking at how much the US has helped Germany after the war. Artefacts of this special relationship exist everywhere, from Munich’s river surfing hotspot in the middle of the city (the story goes Californian soldiers posted there in the 70s first started this tradition), to Germany’s maintenance of their opinion that the US remains their most important ally in spite of the US spying on Merkel, to their having regular shows and expositions on this relationship (one was on permanent display at the museum in downtown Leipzig throughout the entire semester I was there), to even the majority of their social events. One day I remember seeing an 80s party advertised in the street in Nuremberg, and literally every single thing on the poster I knew from my own childhood, from Ninja Turtles to Power Rangers to Salt-N-Pepa.
Surfing the Eisbach. You’d think it was Vancouver with all the surfboards on the subway.
And this made me sad. Because this “liberation” from a dreary, oppressed world into one of vibrant colour and action presents a problem. Local culture can quickly fade as cultures of great empires take over, leaving in its wake whole swathes of people who feel very closely tied to — but awkwardly not completely at home in — the empire’s culture. After all, they didn’t really participate in it apart from merely gazing in.
I’m reminded of a Biggie vs. Tupac Christmas party we organized with an American friend while studying in Greece, with many foreign students in attendance. I found it hilariously strange how the Romanian, who made himself out to be very worldly and a huge fan of American culture in particular, didn’t actually know how to act when it came to even pretending to be of that culture. He tried to look a rapper, but ended up looking something like a farmer, with an undershirt neatly tucket into his jeans and a streamlined bike racing cap he couldn’t decide if he should wear backwards or forwards. Our Dutch friend knew that tats were big with rappers and so commissioned our Indian friend to draw a rainbow unicorn along the full length of his triceps. To this day we’re not entirely sure if this was some sort of joke or if he was serious. It was as if these guys knew all the words but not the tune. Of course, the Romanian continued blaring heavy rap music in his room for the duration of the semester.
There is also the worry that children growing up in such restrictive settings end up tying their views of freedom and even of life meaning to the culture presented in the “good guys’” media. These become new cultural norms, and people can quickly get caught up with this new value set to the exclusion of exploring other lifestyles (or even just values) that may actually be better, something that is especially true if it has been lived in the mind for years while the real world continued to oppress. Between growing up first-generation here and traveling quite a bit throughout these past few years, I started seeing that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies beyond our silver screen. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who didn’t really get that Gary Cooper Solidarność poster (“Why don’t they use their own guy?” I kept wondering).
Now I’m thinking of all the Polish families I know who came to Canada with nothing and who worked tremendously hard to finally buy a house, a car, furniture, appliances… and how many of these I now see almost addicted to the tremendous problems that are inherent in capitalism without even realizing it: overconsumption, exploitation of people and resources, apathy regarding the developing world… just to name a few quick but glaring examples.
A final thought on this topic is from when I was home and saw a huge billboard advertising a local lawyer. After seeing it a few times around town, I could easily name the lawyer and, worryingly to me, felt as if I knew him. I’d been thinking a lot about Dunbar’s number at the time and I quickly realized that what was happening here was he was trying to get into my brain as an acquaintance, taking up a spot even at the periphery of my 150. And he was succeeding. This, after a few days of mulling-over, led to the realization that business, and indeed culture, takes two forms of payment: cold hard support (cash and other more materialistic forms that allow it to grow), and attention — or even just awareness from an audience. The latter gives it a reason to keep growing, and both rely on the other. This is why it makes sense to shell out sizeable sums of your first pile, of cash or time, for example, for things like advertising or community engagement. Without your second pile growing at a matching speed, your first pile will inevitably wither away to ashes because no one will care about its continued existence. This idea neatly explains things like celebrity sex tapes, 24-hour news networks, and Donald Trump’s political campaign.
Flash forward to the media phenomenon in this video. It is very clearly a case of an exceptionally successful billboard lawyer entering a drab part of town. Everyone looks to him and knows a better life is possible, even if that better life is a dream right now. But of course, the billboard lawyer will not be advertising any of his failures through this window you view, no… and so he shines on with an otherworldly radiance. The whole scenario points to Dawkins’ interesting theory of culture evolving just as frenetically as biology, with memes of cultural behaviour constantly fighting each other for prominence and, in the end, existence. With empires’ ever-growing resources, their stories will inevitably become better and better: better crafted, better scripted, and now, better tuned to subtle cultural differences so they can more easily be consumed by an ever-widening audience. And the consumption of an empire’s culture goes hand-in-hand with the eventual recognition of that culture’s increased value in the eyes of the world.
This can be seen in recent years with Russia. Up until recently the country was openly viewed as something of an untrustworthy, quietly looming enemy, just biding its time for the right moment to cause more havoc in the world. Putin was called a whole rainbow of names, from dictator to fascist to the devil himself. Well, since the inception of Russia’s official, state-funded English- (and now Arabic- and Spanish-)language TV program in 2005, public opinion regarding the cold bear of the north has very much thawed, and criticisms of American imperialism and neocolonialism have started trickling into mainstream news, commanding a consistently increasing presence (despite the West’s continued denouncement of RT as an untrustworthy news source). Russia’s protection of Edward Snowden, its recent apparent victories in the Middle East, and how delicately the country sidestepped being painted as aggressor in the EU during the post-Crimean invasion years all point to their finally having mastered PR… and a key to this success is no doubt simply having their culture consumed by the other side, by us. That one of the top YouTube videos of all time is a Russian children’s story speaks to the success of this strategy.
Adorable. It makes you want to learn Russian, with close to a billion views encouraging this decision.
With more and more countries realizing the power of global relevancy in changing global politics, I’m only curious when other voices will start emerging from currently exotic places, showing us they are the same as we are, and that maybe some of our own policies beg questioning. Have you ever had a chance to consume news from France, Germany, or even the Arabic world? Or even read the same Wikipedia article in a different language? It’s a real change, both the fresh perspective as well as the surprise that awaits you when you see what each linguistic community focuses on, and how they go about presenting their information. France, for example, has a huge amount of resources dedicated to African communities, something we never really hear about here unless there are pirates or starvation or rebellion or other such disasters… which, no doubt colours our view of that part of the world quite negatively. Conversely, Germany tends to have a very comprehensive, logical approach that makes you wonder where the balance in our news teams lies.
In the end, this culture-as-bridge phenomenon is great for linking us across communities. I’m reminded of the Iraqi lady who owns a kebab shop near my work. She has ladies working for her from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Syria… but whenever they can’t understand each other they switch to Egyptian Arabic. Why? Because, even though the Saudi Arabian variant is said to be closest to the “standard”, Egypt is the region’s Hollywood and so this culture is consumed by all others in the region… naturally becoming an immediate lingua franca, sneakily carrying with it many other trappings of Egyptian culture.
Now the spoiler: the shaking of hands at the end of that first video is an honourable, happy end to the bitter rivalry, not unlike what happens in a successful migration story. But that Reagan was shown being the underdog, then winning the lightsaber match, then suing for peace at the end just goes on to show how the “winning culture” continues being viewed as such, long after the conflict is over and new conflicts emerge. History quickly redraws into different polarizations, and happy reminiscences though watching American comedies in difficult times may be, it’s important to remember that everything isn’t perfect on the other side of that billboard either. For this reason I applaud the use of foreign culture as a bridge, but I remain wary of making that bridge my home.
To finish on a light note, Filip’s video was great in showing different perspectives of people growing up through oppression, really focusing on the solidarity felt by them in first believing that a better world is possible, then in making it so. I am grateful for people like this who share their stories; they show us that the struggle is not only real, but ultimately winnable.
MARCH 17, 2015
PPW: HERBAPOL ARONIA FLAVOURED HERBAL TEA
Here in Canada we had a tough winter this year and it seems that the cold weather won’t go away… or maybe I’m just too heated from spending a week in Costa Rica (blog post coming soon!). Thankfully in China in 2737 B.C, a leaf accidentally fell into a cup of boiled water and ended up inventing tea, a.k.a. the only way to stay warm during the winter. Don’t get me wrong, coffee is amazing and my first love, but there is only so much you can consume in a day without going crazy.
Recently, I started expanding my tea collection and stumbled upon the Herbapol brand which caught my eye. Although the packaging is pretty attractive, the name is what caught my attention the most. It contains herb and pol which created this vision of Polish herbata(tea) in my mind. Remember all those summers spent in Poland and all those visits to ciocia’s house na herbatę? That’s exactly what this tea reminded me of. All those times I sat in the kitchen, sipping on herbata, enjoying some Delicje cookies and catching up with my ciocia. So me being me — super exotic, I bought a box of aronia(chokeberry), malina (raspberry) and malina z różą (raspberry with rose hip) flavoured teas from my work to test out at home. After hearing all the buzz about how chokeberry is really healthy for you, I decided to try out that flavour first, which is the same one I am now reviewing.
When I opened the box, I was surprised to see the inside. There was a paper bag with the tea bags inside of it and a little note that said “packed especially for you – Urszula”… Talk about cute!
So I went on to make my tea following the basic knowledge of tea brewing. When it cooled down a bit and I had the chance to try it, the taste blew me away! It was so strong and tasted like the fruit itself, not water! It was surprising for me since with most other brands you have to use about 2-3 bags to get that taste. The only thing I didn’t like about the tea is that there was no string attached for easy removal, which is a big factor for me if I’m taking tea on the go since I don’t carry a spoon around in my purse. But the flavour won me over and I’m excited to get started with the others.
Tea overload per bag!
Top 3 Pros:
- Large concentration of tea in each tea bag since each one weighs about 3g.
- It’s easy to see what is in the tea bag and the abundance of dried fruits makes it look trustworthy.
- Double packaging helps to keep the tea fresh in smell and taste.
Top 3 Cons:
- The product line doesn’t have many exotic mixes, mostly just one-flavour teas.
- The bags don’t have a strings, so you cannot retrieve them without a spoon.
- The product line doesn’t offer pure teas like Earl Grey or Ceylon, only fruity or mixed flavours in the Big-Active line.
Product: Herbapol Aronia (Chokeberry) Tea
Packaging: 70g (20 bags x 3.5g)
Flavours: Check out herbapol.com.pl
Price: around $2 in various Polish stores in Mississauga
Eagle’s Rating : 4/5
MARCH 1, 2015
POLISH PRODUCT OF THE WEEK (PPW): SANTE GRANOLA
So I don’t know about you guys, but for me finding some good quality granola in Canada is IMPOSSIBLE. For some reason, every Canadian product looks like something that my Ciocia Helka would feed her chickens. All the “granola” products I have come across here are extremely bland in flavour and just basic oat flakes with minimal fruit or chocolate chunks. When I was on exchange in Warsaw back in Winter 2013, I was introduced to Sante Granola (a.k.a the love of my life) and every morning I still dream of eating some Sante Chocolate Granola with yoghurt for breakfast.
And lo and behold… I was at Wisla Deli on Wisla Plaza (Dixie Rd. & Burnhamthorpe, Mississauga) a few weeks ago and there, hidden between all the Knorr Kisiel, was my beloved Sante Granola in 4 delicious flavours: Chocolate (my favourite), Pomegranate & Blueberry, Berry and Coconut & Nut. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and grabbed as many packs as I could hold. After making my purchases (and obviously picking up a copy of this month’s Claudia), I hurried home to open up this heaven-in-a-small-packet to enjoy with some delicious yoghurt. I don’t remember the last time I was this happy — probably when I was invited to attend my first ever 3-day Polish “wiejskie” (village) wedding in Poland this summer.
So you must be thinking: what is so spectacular about this product? It’s granola just like it should be: nice, big, chunky pieces, slightly sweet in flavour, with an abundance of either fruits or chocolate for taste (it even says so in the Bible)!According to the website, the granola is actually baked so that is probably where the great taste comes from. Also, the brand says it all. For all you anglophones, santé means “health” in French or zdrowie in Polish. Wow, so why not just name it “Zdrowie”? Because “Zdrowie” isn’t enough. “Zdrowie” is POLISH healthy, “Sante” is FRENCH healthy which is much more upper-class and healthier, cause let’s be honest… the Polish food pyramid consisting of potatoes and smalec isn’t really healthy. Besides this beautiful product, Sante has a great line of various other healthy products, including granola bars, seeds, and muesli, if anyone is interested.
Top 3 Pros:
- REAL granola (big and chunky).
- Sweet and flavourful in taste with a great amount of secondary flavours (i.e. lots of chocolate if you bought this flavour).
- Small package makes it convenient for on-the-go, busy students/young professionals.
Top 3 Cons:
- Packaging is too big to fit nicely into an on-the-go yoghurt pack (but again, Polish yoghurt is a good size).
- The granola is delicate so it can get crushed and the bottom of the bag is usually made up of such crushed-up, small pieces.
- The 350g pack is not available (yet) in Canada (*wink* *wink* importers).
Product: Sante Granola
Flavours: Chocolate, Coconut&Nuts, Pomegranate&Blueberry, Berries
Price: $1.09 (Wisla Deli, Dixie & Burnhamthorpe- Mississauga)
Eagle’s Rating : 4.5/5
So what are you waiting for? Ditch your regular “granola” and try it out! Feel free to comment below with your own review of Sante Granola!
FEBRUARY 4, 2015
SUMMING UP 2014
Outgoing president, Adrzje Dąbrowski, with incumbent, Mike Kustra.
Dear PISKers and PISK supporters,
It was a great pleasure to serve you throughout 2013 and 2014 as both a vice president and president of PISK. We’ve had two successful Iskra conferences and we’re planning to continue this annual tradition. We’ve enjoyed several summer Kaszuby camping trips, parties, pub nights, conferences, a winter ski/chalet trip over Family Day long weekend, and much more. Our traditional Christmas parties often have a special warm and family atmosphere to them.
Many of our members partake in — or even help to organize — the Quo Vadis conferences for young professionals. We continue to enjoy a good relationship with the Polish consulate in Toronto, the Combatants Association (SPK20), and the Reymont Foundation. We continuously encourage youth to partake in Polish commemorations such as the 25th anniversary of Solidarity, the May 3rd constitution celebrations, remembering the Katyń massacre and Smoleńsk tragedy, and many other events.
We often visit schools so as to engage high school students in the Polish community. This is a tradition we will carry on for the foreseeable future. We discuss many of the Polonia organizations, our culture, history, and traditions. We also tell students how we can mentor them or direct them in continuing their studies, obtaining scholarships and planning their future careers.
Our previous long-standing president, Natalia Kusendova, has joined the administration of the Polish Canadian Congress (KPK). We hope that this, among other actions and events, will build and strengthen our relations with the older generations.
We’ve opened 2015 with a big pub night organized by our new, young president, Mike Kustra. This energetic master’s-of-engineering student plans to continue leading our group in fun, motivational community-building events and initiatives. I welcome Mike as our new captain in navigating the Polish-Canadian cultural waters!
We have reorganized our administrative crew, including both new and experienced members who will help to plan kick-ass events this year! There is always room for new committee members and young, active Polonia to partake in our initiatives!
PISK advisor (president emeritus
SEPTEMBER 18, 2014
PISK KASZUBY CAMPING TRIP
Many different things mark the end of summer in Canada. For some, it’s the annual ritual of shopping for textbooks, starting classes again. It’s getting a sweater out for those nights that are coming just a little faster and becoming just a bit colder. It’s seeing that single red leaf on the ground and thinking; oh no, here we go again.
And all of these things coincide, more or less, with the PISK camping trip in Kaszuby.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF KASZUBY
Polish people first arrived to the region, located four hours from both Toronto and Montreal, not more than fifty kilometers from Algonquin Provincial Park, in 1866. Finding that the area, with its rolling hills and many lakes, looked very similar to their homeland, they called it Kaszuby. They founded, Wilno, the oldest Polish settlement in Canada.
A second, more substantial wave of immigration followed after the Second World War. Different Polish organizations were initiated at that time, including Polish scouts, or harcerstwo, which remains linked to the area to the present day. Notable dates in the Polish history of that area include 1953, when Franciscan father Rafal Jan Grzondziel, a former chaplain of Polish Army, and a Monte Cassino veteran, came to Wilno from the United States. He purchased a vast tract of land, including an old farm from a local Kaszub. Today this place is well known as the legendary “Stodoła”. Father Grzondziel celebrated the first mass at the chapel of Matka Boska Anielskia by Wadsworth Lake, on the 2nd of August in 1953. The existing altar was built in 1956.
To this day, the area still has very strong Polish connections, with many Polish Canadians coming to spend their summers there, notably Polish youth involved in the scouting movement.
Starting in 2009, PISK has held weekend camping trips on the camp grounds of the ZHR oboz or campground. There is typically one in the summer and in the winter.
PISK 2014 SUMMER CAMPING TRIP
This year’s camping trip was very relaxed, with great weather, and a mellow (but still fun loving crowd) that was slowly graduating from student to full-time professional.
There was something for everybody; from catching up with old faces and making friends with new ones, to the traditional volleyball game (with a jump in the lake afterwards to cool off). There was lots of hanging out at the ognisko, complete with a game of Murder, story telling, singing and jokes. Other highlights include some crazy dancing at night, from everything from Hej Sokoły, passing by solid disco polo classics such as Jesteś Szalonaand Ciało do Ciała, to some Top 40 and sexy Latin tracks. And yes, we did a conga line.
A big thank you to the team in the kitchen for the excellent food (with a special mention to the excellent grzybki, handpicked the day before) and to the organizing team; Mike, Natalia and Andrzej!
Enjoy the pictures and I’ll see you guys all next year!
I apologize in advance if I have mistaken some of my facts. Please feel free to correct my Kaszuby history knowledge!
 I’ve found the answer for those of you who have wondered between the link of Wilno, that is Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and Kaszuby, the north-western region of Poland, more than five hundred kilometres away;
It appears Wilno was the birthplace of Reverend Ludwik Dembski. Father Dembski was a prominent community spiritual leader and one of the town founders, who would not have wanted the town named after himself. The townsfolk, grateful for his contributions, suggested the name of Wilno instead. Thank you Wikipedia.
DISCLAIMER: You just might find yourself in one of the pictures. If, for whatever reason you object, let me know and I will take the picture down, no questions asked! Dzięki!!!
JULY 21, 2014
WHEN IN ROME, DO AS THE CANADIANS DO.
That right there folks, that’s how dreams are made.
When I was nine years old my family and I went on a trip to Florida. In the days leading up to the trip I remember begging my parents to go to Disney World which was, in my mind, the only purpose behind the entire state. I’d seen commercials, read about it, heard about it, Disney World seemed like the most magical place on earth. A curious opinion for someone who, at that point, had seen a total of maybe four Disney movies in her life.
* * *
There is an old Polish proverb that says: “Wchodząc między wrony, krakaj jak i one.” Whether they intended to or not, blending in with cultures around me was the primary lesson my parents imparted on me during my childhood. Like many others in the Polish community I spoke only Polish at home. My parents, worldly multi-linguals themselves, included smatterings of German and Russian. Because why not confuse your child? English also took a back seat as I spent my childhood in an all French school.
Today I can change accents, languages, and etiquette across different cultures but there is one thing I still cannot do: Name more than 10 Disney movies.
To say that I don’t watch Disney movies because I’m Polish would be wrong; my experience isn’t universal across the Polish community. But my rudimentary level of knowledge about North American popular culture, especially children’s programming, is deeply related to a childhood of bouncing around different languages and cultures.
My summers were usually spent traveling, my Saturday mornings in Polish school, and my evenings getting intimate with Dr. Mrs. Vandertramp. I watched television but with a significantly older brother and parents whose childhood didn’t include most of what was available in Canada the shows passed on to me were the six o’clock news and Top Gear.
Not too long ago I explained this all to an acquaintance of mine whose only response was: “That’s so sad. You missed out on your whole childhood!”
Speak three languages. Sad because I couldn’t watch Recess.
I missed out on some pixels on a screen perpetuating gender and racial stereotypes, I hardly missed out on a childhood.
Nine year old me might have argued otherwise though. Nine year old me wanted to go to Disney World. My lack of interest in Disney was irrelevant, in my mind it was akin to a childhood pilgrimage, an aspect of our culture I wanted to enact. Something “western” children do. Something Canadian children do.
In what was probably a good decision for everyone’s sanity, we never did go.
“Home! Oh, does one know it?”
When people ask me why I enjoy living in Korea, implied in my answer is always “because I don’t fit in.” I’m not Korean. I know that, Koreans know that, other expats know that. There is no expectation of similarity, any that can be found is just a nice surprise to people.
In a country where non-native Koreans make up less than 3% of the population, just being from another country is enough of a commonality to form groups, clubs, and friendships around. However, the expat community is diverse enough in both ethnicity and experience to know that, beyond speaking English, no similarity can be expected or assumed. Because just as the German expat didn’t grow up watching Sesame Street, neither did I.
Unlike my brother I do not have “the excuse” of being an immigrant. Unlike my parents I do not have an accent to show that my roots are elsewhere. Unlike many Canadians I haven’t seen The Muppets. But I’m not worse off for it.
“Oh my God, you need to watch The Muppets,” I was told recently. I’m told the same thing about every movie I haven’t seen.
Mulan. Cinderella. Alice in Wonderland. Maybe part of a Canadian childhood, but not my childhood.
If you can pass this pop culture quiz…
Many a Polish immigrant child has grown up watching Disney and Sesame Street, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with spending my Saturday mornings in Polish school instead. Canada is a country full of immigrants and people of various backgrounds, part of its beauty are the unique experiences we all bring to the table. Unfortunately more and more throughout the years I’ve noticed these subtle ways in which there is a lack of acceptance for my other culture, the one I live at home. And the one I lived at school. Not by everyone, but enough that even in my 20s I am left sheepishly explaining to people why I’m not really sure who The Great Gonzois.
If only I’d seen The Muppets . . .
* * *
I’m curious to hear if others have had these moments, instances of not fitting into Canadian society for seemingly benign experiences that you haven’t had. Not just with popular culture. There are many ways in which we can be subtly reminded that we’re different, without being different enough for that to be a legitimate reason (i.e. grew up mostly in Canada).
JULY 5, 2014
POLONIA MID-SUMMER UPDATE
Previous update (April, 2014) | Lots of visuals this time for those who are frightened of text. First, events:
- QV Vancouver: register now! The deadline’s July 13th (that’s in just over a week, folks)! I will totally be running icebreakers so you know it’s going to be AWESOME.
- QV Madison is, regretfully, canceled, but QV Melbourne is still going strong in October!
- Good luck to everyone who got accepted into Poland in the Rockies — oh my goodness, this event will completely change your life. I am only sorry I cannot drop by this year. Have fun!!!
Next, media. Lots of amazing videos made their way across my desk this season. We’ll start with two hilarious shorts a Slavic studies friend shared with me (if you’re a fan of Mucha nie siada, hang tight!). The first is much funnier in Polish so try and follow along instead of just reading mindlessly:
Natalia Brożyńska — whose thesis you just watched — also lent her voice to this short which, in my opinion, is just as good as Pafnucek above (Polish only, sorry folks). Bogdan is hilarious:
Now settle down and grab a coffee as you check out the Polish Embassy in Canada’s latest newsletter. I loved how central a role Canada plays in it. Usually, political backdrops drip with American reflection; it was refreshing reading what Poland’s activity means for Canada. And plus, reading more about my favourite politician ever is always fun. Radek Sikorski’s minor scandal with those leaked tapes only confirms him in my mind as a man who’s not afraid to say what he thinks. What a guy.
Poland’s strong, careful stance towards Russia continues in the newsletter as Komorowski joins forces with Harper to make a stand on the Ukrainian front. With Canada being home to the second largest Ukrainian demographic outside the land of the trident itself, you can see why we’re a bit concerned with Russian expansionist politics… which have a way of spilling over into our Arctic.
Poland underpins this sentiment through granting its inaugural Solidarity Prize to Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Crimean Tatar known for his anti-Soviet dissidence — up to the point of spending 15 years in labour camps and performing the longest hunger strike in the history of human rights movements: 303 days (I know what you’re thinking. He was force-fed). Dzhemilev was deported to Uzbekistan with his family as an infant, only returning to his homeland, Crimea, decades later. He is currently banished from entering Russian territory (read: “Crimea”, aka his home) for five years. Strong historical Tatar-Polish links aside, this issue is disheartening simply from a humanistic standpoint.
The newsletter ends on a high note, with a great read on Toruń and on the man behind streetlamps, and an optimistic tone for Poland’s future. Seeing how well the country is carrying itself makes me really excited for the next twenty years (and thankful I was able to polish my Polish to the extent that I have). The embassy’s newsletter shows there is tremendous potential pent up in Poland, pulling back from the east and speedily cementing her spot in Central Europe (Poland Today continues to confirm)!
Next: maps. A solid, exceptionally comprehensive Polonia map has just been completed by Poland’s ministry of Foreign Affairs. Amazing. When you’re finished finding yourself on there, head on over to CosRev where Irene Tomaszewski’s been busy cooking up a storm of articles on the artistic front. My favourite piece is Agnieszka Tworek’s interview with Joanna Trzeciak on translating poetry.
Lastly, before I finish up, there is a new site out there for job-seekers interested in working in Poland. Haven’t read much on it but it was recommended to me by SLP and I trust that organization with my life.
And that’s that, folks. If you’d like to be personally notified of “Paul’s Polonia News You Can Use” as it’s hot off the press, shoot us an email. Now let’s wrap this up with some majesty. First, the kick-off in Poland’s new “Polska” rebranding campaign:
… and now: majesty. Maybe grab a second coffee because that first one’s cold.
If you let them, the cascading landscapes feel like a memory or a not-yet-faded dream:
packing for Vaduz, Vienna, Varschau, and Vancouver
JUNE 4, 2014
PISK PARTY AND THE ISKRA CONFERENCE
Hey party people and PISK supporters! On Saturday night we are having an PISK/Iskra integration party! Come out and party with us! We are of course also hosting our long awaited second addition of the Iskra conference this weekend. We are still taking registrations for high school seniors (university students are also welcome) or youth who feel they’d benefit from this epic mentorship and fun filled conference. Register now!
MAY 13, 2014
RED AND WHITE PARTY AND ISKRA REGISTRATION
Recently we hosted a small get together in the center of Mississauga. It was good to see old friends and some new faces. We are gearing up for our big conference in June. Let’s get those teens registered for the best conference of their youth!!!
Just some of the crowd you can expect to see at this year’s conference.
MAY 6, 2014
RED AND WHITE PARTY!
PISK and Iskra present the 2014 Red & White Party! It’ll be taking place on May 9th (the night after March 4 Life) at a hall close to Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe (3504 Hurontario St., Mississauga). All university- and college-bound Polish high school students grades 11-12 are invited to come out, network, and have a good time!
Party with us and support this great initiative. Invite your high school-aged siblings and connect with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Food and music will be provided. Official event page on Facebook.
Just some of the crowd you can expect to see at this year’s conference.
APRIL 18, 2014
All holidays come with their symbols. Not snowflakes on pine trees, prancing reindeer, or cute bunnies hiding chocolate eggs but rather intimate and personal symbols, which differ in how each person and family celebrates.
In my Polish family Easter revolved around celebrating Christ’s triumphant resurrection. And what better and more Polish way to celebrate than by eating copious amounts of food with everyone? On Easter Sunday, after returning from the morning Mass, we would sit down for a traditional breakfast; a “śniadanie wielkanocne“. The contents of the koszyczek ,or little basket, which had specially been blessed the day before at the Święconka,would be displayed prominently at the table. There would be pisanki — elaborately decorated eggs — traditional salt and pepper, bread, kiełbasa, and our little baranek, a small misshapen lamb made of sugar. We would later have żurek with białe kiełbasy, and boiled eggs (which I still don’t like — I was always careful to make sure that that particular plate was not too close to me). Then there were also the desserts: sernik (cheesecake), mazurek, pierniki and babka drożdzowa.
We would have the same foods, served on our family’s best china, in the same order, year after year. These recipes were my great grandmother’s and had been in my family for generations.
Of all of them, my favourite was babka drożdzowa, a type of yeast cake. In fact, in Polish and most Eastern European languages, the words babka or baba refer to an older woman, typically a grandmother. The name of the cake surely arises from the shape of the pastry; a tall wide cylinder, with folds resembling a skirt’s pleats, presumably worn by an older woman.
Its very charm lies in its uncomplicated, unpretentious simplicity; the ingredients are yeast, flour, sugar, milk, eggs, a pinch of salt and a little bit of lemon zest, perhaps some vanilla sugar. It doesn’t have any fillings but raisins can be tossed in. A light sugar glaze, “polewka”, or streusel, “kruszonka“, can be used as a topping. In Eastern Europe, babkas are traditionally baked for Easter Sunday but also for other major holidays, and, in fact, are believed to be some of the oldest types of cake in the world.
I have many fond memories of both eating babkas as well as of the process of making them.
It is a very particular procedure. Firstly, the baker’s yeast is dissolved in warm, sweetened milk. SIDE BAR: It’s always a bit of an adventure, finding some baker’s yeast. This typically involves visits to local cafés and bakeries. I now know that Montréal’s Première Moisson carries it, although the local boulangerie is also a good bet, and the baker often slips me some for free with a bemused shrug, surprised that in this day and age someone still bakes bread at home.
Feeding on the sugar, the yeast begins to grown and the dull, clayish mixture bubbles and expands over the top. It is then tipped in our family’s big silver mixing bowl, which already contains the flour, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla sugar, and warm milk is poured in. The next step involves kneading these ingredients together. My dad would be the one who would have to knead the dough. I remember the huge silver basin and seeing my dad’s huge hands working through it methodically, opening and closing in a soothing action, again and again. Once the dough softened and became more elastic, butter would be added, and then raisins. My mom would adjust the consistency every so often; she would pour a little bit of milk to make the dough less sticky, or a bit more flour if it was too runny.
It was a very familiar, comforting ritual. My parents made the same comments every year. My dad would reminisce on how he would pick raisins out of the bread and what a treat they were. My mom would add that Christmas was the only time there would be oranges in Poland and that babcia would have to get up very early to go to the shops because there was only one boat with oranges that came to Poland. I’m still not sure if that was literal or not.
When the dough was ready, my mom would scrape off my dad’s fingers with the blunt edge of a butter knife. My mom would always make a comment along the lines of, “Ale masz duże łapy!” I then got to pick off as much of the dough from the basin before my mom would pour hot water over it and warn me of what a terrible stomachache eating it would give me.
The dough was covered with a cloth (a “clean cloth”, the recipe would always specify) and placed in a warm oven for about half an hour. After it had risen, it would be separated into different forms for different uses: some was for little bułeczki, some for the straight, rectangular layer-type ciasto, and some for the cylindrical form that was the babka.
The tasty, wholesome smell filled the entire house as the cake bakes… and this whole process is what symbolizes Świet — “the Holidays” — to me.
MAKE YOUR OWN BABKA DROZDZOWA
- 1 kg flour
- 5 eggs (3 yolks and 2 eggs)
- 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons of white sugar
- 200 grams of butter (melted)
- 1/2 L milk (can be a little more)
- 100 grams of live baker’s yeast
- 2 packets of vanilla sugar
- Zest of one lemon
- 2 handfuls of raisins
- Warm oven, to a temperature about 60°C.
- Sift the flour in a large bowl. Add eggs, sugar, and lemon zest.
- Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm, sweetened milk (2 tablespoons of sugar). Wait until the yeast starts bubbling and then growing. It should only take a few minutes.
- Once the yeast rises above the cup, pour into flour mixture, and add the milk.
- Knead dough together. Once it begins forming, add melted butter, little by little. Continue kneading.
- Add raisins. The dough is ready when it starts to separate from your fingers.
- Put the large bowl in a warm oven at 60°C. Allow time for the dough time to rise, so about an hour.
- Once it has risen, separate it into different forms, including the form for the babka.
- Increase oven temperature to 170°C, and bake for 30 minutes.
APRIL 16, 2014
IT’S ANOTHER POLONIA SUMMER!
Welcome to the second rendition of Paul’s Polonia News You Can Use for 2014. First, a special note inviting everyone to apply for this year’s Poland in the Rockies symposium — spots are selling out like hot cakes! If you’re successful in getting in, I assure you the event will change your life forever. In addition to spending almost two full weeks in this place:
… you will also have an exceptionally stimulating intellectual experience and will 100% make life-long friends. And all it costs is just $250! Spots are limited and there’s only two weeks left to applyso don’t delay!
Two more events, both in settings as iconic as in the above video:
- June 7-8th (Toronto, $125): Iskra’s back! Tell all your kid cousins to check this out. This will save them years of painful floundering in their late teens/early 20s. Registration is now open, and Winnipeg is doing it too!
- August 22-24th (Vancouver, $275): Quo Vadis 6 (fb)! This event needs no introduction; suffice it to say that all early bird spots are already sold out. Remaining are a few handfuls of admissions at the regular price. I’m excited to see Australia, California, and even South America represented this year — competition for spots is fierce so be sure to register now! This same event is happening a bit earlier in Madison, Wisconsin as well (August 1-3rd).
Next, a quick summary of what has come across my desk since January. You might remember April 2nd was proposed as “Pope John Paul II Day” by Mississauga’s Dipika Damerla, MPP. Well, it was passed into Ontario law just recently. The question now is this: how will we use this day? Now two more items before I wind down. First, the Cosmopolitan Review has come out with its Winter/Spring 2014 issue. There are enough articles there to get you all goosebumpy with pride, just perfect for a cup of tea on a cold, spring evening as the rain patters outside. Be sure to check out their bulletin board for a similar round-up of Polonian items as what you’re reading now. Related to this is a neat English-language publication from Poland I’ve just found, Poland Today. Pretty high quality stuff! Secondly, this:
Guernica Editions is looking for stories, previously unpublished in a book form, for an anthology centred around Poland and the Polish Diaspora. Open to Canadian writers of Polish origin and Canadian writers whose work connects with Poland or Polish diaspora in some way. Stories are to be no longer than 2500 – 3000 words. Royalties are in the form of two copies of the anthology. Please send electronic submissions as a DOC Word file email@example.com. Deadline: Jan 31st, 2015.
More information here. I know I’ll be submitting something — you should too. Take an active, literal part in writing our history!
And finally, the biggest item on today’s menu that I really wanted to share with everyone was my recent trip to England, to a student Polonia conference at Oxford. You can get a feel for what went down via the official post, but suffice it to say that the event was truly inspiring. Thank you, Oxonians (and the rest of you UK Poles) for your hospitality! We will definitely be seeing each other again.
In wrapping up, let me just also recommend a great piece on hitherto unknown Korean-Polish relations, written by PISK’s very own foreign correspondent, Paula Trelińska, writing direct from the Land of the Morning Calm. Here’s to this note finding (or at least leaving) you smiling!
Paul, in Leipzig
APRIL 15, 2014
We all remember hearing — if only in passing — of TVP’s 2008 series, Londyńczycy, chronicling the everyday life of young Polish immigrants to the UK. This show didn’t break any new ground and, in fact, received some heavy criticism for its negative depiction of life as a Pole on the Isle in the late 00s. If you have seven minutes, see what you think:
Like with many readers, I heard of the above show via parents and friends who watch Polish TV in Canada. And I was like, meh. Whatever. It’s another M jak Miłość or Taniec z Gwiazdami: something my parents will invite me to watch but I never will because Internet.
… and then I started hearing whispers. Whispers of Poles leaving Poland for better prospects, whispers of cousins settling abroad for longer than just to make some extra money. A waterfall of whispers, tumbling over each other, foreshadowing something big around the next bend.
In my mind though, these movements remained classified with the plethora of blue collar migrations my own family has undergone in the past century. Berlin to Paris, Yugoslavia to Sweden, Buenos Aires to Belarus, Vilnius to Tel Aviv… our story is as dotted with economic migration as any — there are even rumours of Japanese and Kiwi trails in the murky margins where memory meets myth.
But these movements left in their wake largely workers who were too busy trying to make ends meet to fully explore Maslow’s pyramid. Add in the two world wars, the atrocities of communism, the struggles that were the post-Solidarity years, and you quickly see how it wasn’t easy for anyone to worry about anything beyond feeding the children and getting some sleep.
So this was naturally what coursed through my mind whenever I’d hear of this new wave of Poles crashing over England and her neighbours.
Boy, was I wrong.
A BRITISH QUO VADIS
A very good friend kept on my case that, as I’m already in Europe, I should definitely come up to see what these UK Poles have been up to since 2006. I succumbed and attended what ended up being England’s answer to our Quo Vadis movement. Check it out:
Guys, it was amazing. Mind-blowing, really. I felt an immediate connection with the whole group from the moment my feet touched English soil.
These English Poles are so much like us! They are driven, opportunity-seeking youth, populating top-notch schools in top-notch programs, from which they spring into high-level careers. With strong ties to their roots, they neatly fall under the heading “invisible minority”, their speech unmarked by accent and their style unmistakably local. They have the same identity questions as us, the same hopes, the same dreams, the same Polish roots and the same anglophone branches. When writing of us — I feel empowered to use the collective because we really have that much in common — I’m reminded of the poem that became Québec’s rallying call, “Je me souviens que, né sous le lys, je croîs sous la rose”: I remember that, born under the (French) lily, I grow under the (English) rose. (Maybe our own variant: Rodzony pod makiem, do szkoły kajakiem?)
And even beyond this, just the number of times I heard Polish in the street like it was no big deal was astounding. Actually, the word “refreshing” comes to mind. This applies not only to Oxford and London, but to the northern capital of Edinburgh as well.
But let me tell you more about the conference itself. Just like QV, there were dry parts and there were good parts… but the good parts were really good. My favourite was, hands-down, comedian Steffen Möller’s biographical portrait of how he fell in love with Poland. From the cute transformations his name went through as it became a diminutive, leading him to suspect love (Stefek, Stefuś, Stefuniu), to his acute observation about how Polish goodbyes never end (Ściskam! Pozdrów rodziców! Koniecznie wpadnij! Buziaki! Pa!), his talk was an absolute riot to sit through, and an absolute feast to mull over. A close runner-up was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radek Sikorski, who, with his steely resolve and polished Oxonian accent, came off like a cold gun ready to fire with every response. When I asked him if there might be anything to fear from Russia given Poland’s recent history of siding with the great northern bear’s opponents — first with Georgia and most recently with Ukraine — he responded with just one tight-lipped word: “Yes.”
I knew right then that this man was alright.
And the end of it all — what a rush! We were treated to an amazing stand-off duel in the debating chamber, using none other than the world-renowned Oxford debating style. The speakers had us laughing and crying, and holding on with sheer delight as the pros expounded why Poland and the UK share similar goals within the EU while the cons pointed to all the bad blood and broken promises that would never see agendas fully aligned between the two. I have never seen anything quite like it. And the dinner! What a feast. The dessert alone was nicknamed “sex on heels” by our table. And so much lively conversation throughout, it even made paying attention to the gastronomy difficult. After followed a party, an after party, and an after after party. I didn’t hit the hay until 7am. The next lecture was at 9.
The biggest thing that floored me, however, was just how integrated and successful this crowd was, and — to return to the previous point — how similar they are to us. This was followed by a second thought hot on its heels: why have we not connected yet? Why has our Quo Vadis movement not tapped into the tremendous resource that is British Polonia? I know three students from the UK made it to Toronto’s rendition, but the question still remains: how do we continue bridging this gap?. There are so many things we can learn from each other, even just looking at British Polonia’s answer to our YPCPA: the Polish Professionals in London, the Polish City Club, the Polish Psychologists’ Association, and the Stowarzyszenie Techników Polskich w Wielkiej Brytanii.
It is a strange coincidence indeed that, at the same time PISK was forming, our British counterparts were having their second nationwide conference. I hope this post helps our worlds collide. In speaking with not a few students during the conference I noticed many are certainly open to migrating even further, and with their strong English and even stronger academic credentials — not to mention tough-as-nails entrepreneurial immigrant mindsets — these folks would only make North America a stronger place were even a tiny fraction enticed to relocate. And imagine the cross-the-pond business potential for any Canuck interested in exploring the European market!
Now, I know what EU Poles are already thinking. “What if I show up but there is no work for me?” Well, don’t even worry about that. Our very own Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism (it’s the same man) recently visited Irish Polonia in hopes of bringing some of them back with him, because Canada needs skilled workers. Here, look:
To any British Poles now reading this, check out Canada’s Youth Mobility Agreements — we have one with many EU countries (Canada-Poland: EN, PL). If you find your way here, I’m confident Canadian Polonia will help you with the rest. A great person to contact is Calgary’s Tony Muszyński, who runs Euro Labour Infusion, a site geared specifically at bringing skilled labour in from overseas. Polish-Canadians already know and love Tony as the mastermind behind extremely successful programs like Poland in the Rockies. Also worth checking out: how to become a permanent resident in Canada. If you set up your paperwork properly, within three years of permanent residency in Canada you can even apply for citizenship!
Before I sign off, I need to quickly plug two other awesome British Polonia initiatives: Science. Polish Perspectives is a coming-together of the brightest scientific Polish minds in the Isles, and The Kings Foundation is a godsend for youth wanting to get into top universities — think Ivy League.
UK: check out Canada! As for me, it’s very probable I’ll be making the reverse journey. Anything to increase my chances of meeting Natalia Rybicka.
Basically all photos are the creative genius of one Tom Rydel. Thanks so much, Tom!
APRIL 12, 2014
QUO VADIS 6 VANCOUVER
In Blog Posts
MARCH 23, 2014
PROJECT ISKRA: WINNIPEG EDITION
Hi, my name’s Martyna. I’m a linguistics student and freelance journalist living in Winnipeg, the land of brutal winters and sweet prairie summers. I love independent media, outlaw country and music festivals. I’m a big believer in promoting local culture. This year, I’m going to be spearheading Project Iskra in Winnipeg, and documenting it as I go along. I’ll need support from all you fine folks who’ve already started it as well as something to hold me accountable. Now that I’ve said it, I’ve got to do it, right?
Straddling two continents is a term — and a concept — I’m familiar with. I feel it when somebody asks me what ‘flavour’ (ugh) my name is. I feel it when I’m somewhere with a Polish friend and we observe something that “wouldn’t fly in a Polish household/environment”. I feel it when I go to visit my family in Poland, and despite the fact that I look and talk like everybody else, I’ve got some pretty serious North American tendencies. I felt it most acutely this morning, when I went to church with my parents. There were young people; many of them my peers, dressed in traditional Polish folk costumes. I don’t really relate to people immersed in Polonia anymore, in the same way I don’t relate to people in the faculty of science. I’m just not there.
Enter my mentor/fellow lover of bad jokes and puns, Paul Sulzycki, and one of his many Polonia-related babies, Project Iskra. Project Iskra aims to integrate young people who haven’t entered university yet into Polonia, while providing them with a mentor. Granted, all parties involved should sign a waiver before I start handing out life advice.
This year, I want to start our very own branch of Project Iskra here in the ‘peg. This won’t be without its problems. First off, I’ve deliberately cut myself off from a lot of Polonia. For the past year, every time I’d show up somewhere, it would be with a bit of an eff-you attitude. If I’m going to get involved, it’s going to be on my own terms. Also, Polonia here is small, so it’s hard to gauge whether such a project will even be worthwhile. At the same time, I’ve been involved in many local, Polish-Canadian organizations. I’m very familiar with the dynamics of the community. There’s potential here, and it’s time we tap into it.
When I think about it, if I had somebody to guide me like Iskra is doing, in my teen years, my life may have been a little easier. If I could make another young person feel like they’re not the only one straddling two continents, this will be worthwhile. When I think about all the positive ways Paul’s influenced me, I would love for somebody else to have that.
Polonia in Winnipeg is strong, especially lately. Groups like the University of Manitoba’s PSA (Hi Guys, I love you!) have been making their mark and really coming together. Hopefully they’re following in the footsteps of places with a more vibrant Polonia.
MARCH 17, 2014
IN SOLIDARITY WITH OUR FELLOW UKRAINIAN CANADIANS
PISK, as a student and young professional association, is non-partisan and does not follow a political agenda. We serve the community, uphold our culture and volunteer our time for good causes. This past weekend, several of our members and friends, including Natalia Kusendova, Monika Wyrzykowska, Arkadiusz Kaminski, Matthew Samuelski, and myself, joined a peaceful march through Toronto with a group Ukrainian-Canadians and people representing Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Poland. There were some Tibetans and even Russians among us.
The march took the form of a peaceful protest, as we passed by various consulates in Toronto. The aim of the protest was to draw attention to current Russian attempts at taking control of Ukraine. It was also a protest against war, violence and oppression. As people of Polish descent, we remember with sad hearts Poland’s various partitions and what it felt like to lose control of our own country under communism. Showing support for Ukraine was not a political act but an act of friendship in solidarity with our oppressed Ukrainian friends. Although the two hour march in freezing temperatures may not directly affect great change, it does draw media attention and social awareness to someone’s suffering, and it shows the Ukrainian community that they have friends among the Poles. This event is one of many that will continue — follow us on Facebook for more updates.
MARCH 10, 2014
KIM KI DOK: KOREAN ORPHANS IN POLAND
When Patrick Yoka, a Polish director and screen writer, discovered the grave of 13 year old 김귀덕 (Kim Ki Dok) who had died in 1955 in a cemetery in Wrocław, Poland he told his friend and journalist Jolanta Krysowata. Naturally she had a few questions about how a young Korean girl found herself in Lower Śląsk in the mid 1950s. Together they set off on an investigation that uncovered the story almost 1500 Korean orphans raised in Poland between 1951 and 1959. An unknown bit of history. This is that story.
In May of 1951 – almost a year into the Korea war – the Democratic Republic of Korea‘s (DPRK) then Minister of Culture and Propaganda Cho Jun Suk turned to other countries in the Soviet Block and asked them to help Korean children who had been orphaned by the war. While about 1500 Korean children were raised in Poland, many attending schools with their Polish peers, the biggest group – from both sides of the 38th parallel – came to Płakowice, part of Lwówek Śląski, in the Lower Śląsk in 1953. Placed in a former German psychiatric hospital, the children lived in a complex of 13 houses, a hospital, administrative buildings, and a school.
The complex – out of the way of everything – has been largely and quite astoundingly kept secret throughout the years. This was not a small operation. In addition to hundreds of Korean children and their few caretakers, there were about 600 Polish employees at the complex including everyone from caretakers to teachers to cooks. While it was the middle of the 1950’s Stalinist era – life in Poland was tough and many things hard to come by – the children and employees of the Płakowice complex had everything provided to them. “It was like Canada,” one former caretaker said, “none of my friends would believe me.”
Life in Płakowice
When the children arrived many of them were sick and traumatized after years of war. Unfortunately none of the Polish caretakers spoke any Korean and none of the kids or their caretakers spoke any Polish. Initial communication took place via hand gestures and drawings. There were also some cultural barriers to overcome. The Korean children, accustomed to a much softer and quieter tone of voice, constantly thought the Poles were yelling at them. Some of the young female teachers also had troubles with the young boys who – raised to respect the much older and men – approached them with much reserve and had trouble showing them the respect they expected.
Eventually the caretakers learned a few words in Korean and the children, who followed a full Polish educational curriculum, began picking up Polish. In addition to the regular curriculum taught by Polish teachers, there were also several Korean teachers on hand at the complex to teach the Korean Language, history, and ideologies. Aside from these extra classes children followed the Polish school schedule exactly, including holidays. They were even taken on field trips and during holidays allowed to play with local kids who lived nearby.
Although the directives of the Korean Worker’s Party clearly stated that caretakers and teachers should not form any emotional bonds with the children, many of the kids and caretakers were inseparable. Directives are one thing but life is another. Wanting to help the children heal as quickly as possible from the trauma of the war, the caretakers and teachers of the school became substitute parents for these children. The female staff members were called “mama” and the male staff members “tata”. One teacher even told of sneaking candy and hugs to the kids. While neither one was officially allowed she often gave them some when no one was watching; it was her own way of taking care of them.
Kim Ki Dok
While life in Płakowice was very happy for these kids, many of them had come to Poland seriously ill and had to first spend a long time being treated. Among these was 13 year old Kim Ki Dok who suffered from leukemia. As her condition worsened and the only known solution was massive amounts of blood transfusions, Kim Ki Dok was moved to a hospital in Wrocław. There she received blood transfusions on a scale unheard of today. Much of the blood was donated by her own doctor, Dr. Tadeusz Partyka, who, despite the language barrier, managed to form a close bond with her. He treated her for three months but unfortunately she ended up succumbing to the disease.Kim Ki Dok, with no known family or relatives, was buried in a Wrocław cemetery. Until his death a few years ago Dr. Partyka was the primary caretaker of her grave and one of few people who would visit often. Today a few of the former teachers of Płakowice say they too visit the grave sometimes but the small headstone that gave birth to this story stands alone amongst Polish names.
Where are they now?
In 1957, six years after the first Korean children had arrived in Poland and only one year after his visit to children based in Świder, Kim Il Sung abruptly decided to call back to the homeland all children who were being raised abroad. No doubt the fractures in political alignment between socialist states contributed to this decision. And while most of the children had not graduated yet from Polish institutes of higher education, their education from abroad could be useful at home.
The kids, who somehow sensed that life back home would be much harder for them, didn’t want to go. They had already lost everything once and were now again being ripped out of an environment they knew and felt comfortable in only to be taken to a harsh land. Many cried, they tried to make themselves sick or somehow injure themselves to delay the journey. It was emotional for everybody. Unfortunately by 1959 the last of the Korean children had left Poland.
For a few years the children continued to write letters to their mothers and fathers in Poland. They talked about trying to escape back to Poland, attending school, and also working. Some worked in the government and other organizations that required their skills from abroad but by 1961 most of them were fired and moved to the country side. Their correspondences to Poland stopped suddenly and were presumed to have been blocked by the government. What had started off as such a promising project, giving life and an education to children who had survived the unthinkable, ended in them once again alone and cut off from what they had grown to know and love.
Jolanta Krysowata wrote a book on this topic called “Skrzydło Anioła“. I’ve not read it but the reviews are really good. If you have time and are interested I also highly suggest watching the above documentary. It tells the story of Płakowice in more detail including many more anecdotes than I was able to include here. The last 10-15 minutes are especially moving with the caretaker reading letters from the kids after they went back to Korea. You also get to see one of the kids come back to Poland 44 years later. Unfortunately it is only available in Polish and there are no subtitles. As far as I know my account above is the only one to have been written in English.
FEBRUARY 25, 2014
Every two years the nations of the world gather together to compete at sport’s largest scale: the summer or winter Olympics. Representing your country, your culture, and your identity are among the highest honours a citizen could fulfill. The amount of effort put in by these athletes is infinite and exhausting, but simply having the opportunity to participate must feel gratifying. The broadcast is so exciting for us to watch as different athletes compete against each other to be the best.
Regardless of who wins though, the universality of the Olympics can also be seen as a time where all humans can be proud of how far we have come. Human history is filled with conflict and suffering and the Olympics are a time where we can, in a good-spirited manner, competitively challenge our nation’s best athletes. It is a great tool that provides motivation to every athlete to perform better and at the same time brings the world’s people together. The Olympic event displays the beauty of cultural diversity. Our planet is filled with people of different cultures and different histories, and this global event allows all of us to cherish that. This is especially obvious as the host country, Russia, put on an incredible opening ceremony that was quite intriguing. It showed Russia’s history through the works of dance, art, and symbols. The choreographers made sure to show all of the pinpoints of Russian history, good or bad.
The diversity of the Olympics makes me think that this really is an ideal time for all of us. We live in a relatively peaceful and joyful era and watching the Olympics we all gain a sense of pride in our identity. Events like the Olympics are prime examples of successful cultural diversity. Despite our historical or current differences, we can come together and compete under good faith. By just watching I get a feeling of being a better citizen of not just Canada but the world. That said, once the Olympics end, we shouldn’t stop here. We should always strive for diversity regardless the scale. Here at university we have tons of cultural student groups and in our multicultural society we should look to grow more acceptant of all cultural differences present.
Student cultural associations should always seek having common events together regardless of how different the respective cultures are. This way we can easily learn about each other and become a stronger campus community. As a member of The University of Manitoba Polish Students Association our recent success in hosting an event that was based on an expression of one’s culture was remarkable. We held an event called Euro Tour 2014, structured as a party social but the theme was for people to “rep” the country or culture they felt fully represented them. This focal point helped shape an image of cultural diversity here at the university and in general it was a great time. The party scene was completely positive and fun, in the purest sense. It has built a foundation for us as a student organization and has showed our willingness to strengthen the very notion of “diversity” here on campus. The Olympics are the grand stage for competitiveness but also bring this idea of human cultural diversity to the fold, making us proud of our own culture and of everyone else’s. Even within the two-year period in between each Olympic year we ought to be always working together to stay culturally respectful and diverse.
JANUARY 20, 2014
POLONIA NEWS YOU CAN USE
Every few months I send out a newsletter of neat things happening in Polonia. These used to be primarily Ontario- (and, later, Canada-)centric happenings but they’ve since come to include anything cool I’ve come across since the last update. Ever since attending Szkoła Liderów Polonijnych in 2012, Europe is a lot more represented as well as events following the now international Quo Vadis conference circuit. I never put two and two together but, at our president’s suggestion, we thought this might be a good thing for PISKers not on the mailing list to know about. So, without further ado, I present to you Paul’s Polonia News You Can Use. Email us if you want thisdirectly from the horse’s mouth next time.
Hello Polonia! Lots of great things happening this year so I’ll cut right to it. On the international front: the latest SLP reunionhappened last November and included a meeting with Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs (watch for the next edition (fb) — (almost) all expenses covered). There, 50 of our most active Polonia leaders from around the world met to share current projects and to bounce ideas off one another. Two of these were particularly interesting: Ireland’s “Vote! You are at home” project, encouraging Irish Polonia to have their voice heard in local politics, and Oxford & Cambridge’s “Science. Polish Perspectives” conference, bringing together the brightest Polish minds to talk things scientific. This last is tied to The Kings Foundation, an exceptionally vibrant network of young academic mentors who are more than happy to guide Polish youth to places like Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, MIT, Princeton… it’s a long list.
Next up, youth affairs: Poland in the Rockiesis back! Under new management, it will be small and snug this summer. As a proud alumnus I cannot recommend this program highly enough. Other PitR alumni out there: join the PitR Alumni Society or, better yet, help the program along! In a related vein, Quo Vadis is happening in Madison, Vancouver, and Melbourne late this summer. More information as these unfold but I can already tell you the series will be a huge hit this year, having hung out with Vancity’s own Julia Buczek not two weeks ago (she’s attended every Canadian QV since its inception and is now bringing it home for the first time). And now some PISK news: Remember last year’s Iskra Project? Well, it was so nice we’re doing it twice. Detailed outline attached. Before then we have Family Day skiing February 14-17th. We also discovered a neat Canada-Poland youth mobility programfor anyone who’s 18-35 and wanting to get away from it all. Last on this front: please let me know of any student opportunities (jobs or otherwise) so I can put them up on our board. Last year alone we helped a student get a fully-funded trip to the World Congress of Polish Engineers in Warsaw and a recent graduate land a sweet 4-month internship with the Polish International Parliamentary Exchange Program, also based in Warsaw but involving lots of traveling to neighbouring cities and countries. It pays to be active!
Third, with Iskra properly aflame, I’ve teamed up with Toronto’s Kasia Kamińska for the next step in Polonia development: Piórko. The inspiration behind this e-penpal program for Polish schools across Polonia can be found here and here. The premise is simple; we’ll be connecting Polish school teachers around the world so they can work in tandem, sharing curricula and, more importantly, connecting students. We will be matching schools in such a way so that the only language students will have in common will be Polish, thereby (a) intrinsically motivating students to learn the language, (b) proving the language’s usefulness and relevancy in today’s global village, and (c) encouraging the formation of a wide Polonia network early on in Polish students’ lives. To this end, if you know any Polish school teachers, please connect us! We can’t do this alone but we can certainly take care of it from there. We already have two classes (so 30 students) pumped about this project from Scarborough and Hamilton (Ontario, both). I have opened up a thread on the SLP alumni portal for whoever has access to the site. I will close this part of the update with a great motivational clip from Toronto filmed not that long ago. Think about this when you think of Piórko:
Nearing the end, Pope John Paul II Day looks like it will be a reality in Canada! April 2nd has been chosen as the tentative date, it just has to make it through the Senate as far as I understand. For an interesting debate on this topic, which is immediately controversial owing to its religious trappings, check out this CBC radio interview (all the more interesting because the pro side features a priest; the con a Pole). Also, be sure to spend some time cruising through the latest edition of the Montreal-based Cosmopolitan Review — this issue’s tagline is “The sun never sets on the Polish diaspora”. And check out this amazing program I found for Polish youth on the Net some time ago: Szkoła pod Żaglami. We need more of just this sort of stuff!
And that takes care of this update. Hope the sun is shining in your corner of the world!
Paul, packing for Greece
JANUARY 11, 2014
PISK FAMILY DAY BE MY VALENTINE TRIP
We have 30-40 spots available. There will also be a 2-night option for $140. Ski passes will be extra but we will negotiate group rates.
In terms of transportation. We will have an 8-passenger van going and the rest are advised to carpool. We will look into the possibility of another van rental if it is feasible. Order tickets now!
In Blog Posts
JANUARY 11, 2014
Happy New Year everyone!
Several weeks ago we celebrated a traditional Polish Christmas dinner together. It was a wonderful and fun social gathering without any dancing or partying. We hope this becomes an annual event. Thank you to all who came and brought tasty meals for all to share. Several Admin members helped a lot, especially Jola D, Natalia K, Mike K, Paula,Madga A, Jarek S, Magda S, Piotr W and all others who contributed.
We graciously thank the Gasztold family for their attendance and generous donation. It was great to see people bring their parents, the Wyczolkowskis, and Natalia’s father, who helped us prepare food :). Thank you again!
DECEMBER 11, 2013
PISK AROUND THE WORLD!
Most of you love our shirts. Don’t just tell us. Show us! Take pics in cool places around the country and around the world. Then send them to us. We will put them up on the site for all to see. Show us how creative and adventurous you can be! Click here to see where we’ve already been.
Especially with Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, some of you are considering travelling to warm tropical destinations… don’t forget to bring your PISK shirts with you and take lots of cool pics!!! Here, look at some of us at RBC’s “Run For The Kids” marathon in T.O — I’m sure you can beat it with more exotic pics! Do it!
DECEMBER 11, 2013
ISKRA PRESENTATION: HAMILTON, 2013
It is encouraging and fulfilling to see lots of young Polonia eagerly learning about their roots and culture. Pani Karpinska’s students in Hamilton enjoyed our presentation and immediately responded to our questions! When asked, “Who will lead Polonia?”, hands shot up instantly!!! That’s what we like to see — Go Hamilton : )!
DECEMBER 1, 2013
ISKRA: RISE OF THE YOUTH 2013-2014 (SCHOOL VISITS)
There is no future or continuation of a community without the rise of young leaders. In this way our ancestors counted on us, as we count on those who come after us. Our Polish and Canadian governments know this as well as all our aging Polonia groups, just as we all know it. We need young people to continue our culture. “Iskra” is a project which enables this.
Parents send their kids to scout groups, dance groups and Polish school. Then they’re done… so what gets them involved in Polonia later on? YOU! Actually what motivates them are parties, conferences, chance meetings and, of course, school visits. This year PISK has begun visiting Polish schools across Canada. On November 30th Andrew Dabrowski and Nadine Wyczolkowski visited John Cabot CSS in Mississauga (Canada’s largest pool of Polonia). Speaking to over 120 polish school students, we planted the seeds which will hopefully grow into engaged and inspired Polonia leadership of tomorrow. We invited students to visit our website and to attend our conferences, and in general to explore their roots and their culture.
We are excited to have grown from a Toronto-based initiative in 2009 to a truly Canada-wide network not even five years later: PISK has in places such as London (Ontario), Ottawa, Montreal, Kitchener/Waterloo, Oshawa/Peterborough, the Greater Toronto Area, and even Manitoba, British Columbia, and Alberta.
Iskra will continue to feed active university student Polonia into this network. As with last year, we are preparing for our second edition of the very successful Iskra University Boot Camp conference. The tentative date for it this academic year is the second weekend of June, 6-8th, again at the University of Toronto. More updates on this as they happen. For now, keep up the good work people, and keep motivating your youth!!!
The 2013-14 Iskra project is officially underway!
NOVEMBER 10, 2013
The other night I was enjoying a drink with a girlfriend, who also happens to be Polish. We were going over over a recent project we had just wrapped up. It was Halloween and we were both dressed up. After not too long, a guy saunters up to us and asks us where our boyfriends are. I was dressed as a mime, so I motioned toward my name in a newspaper then pointed at myself as means of an introduction.
My name’s a doozy, a good old-fashioned Polish name that intimidates non-Slavs. He takes a look at my name and his eyes light up. “You’re Polish?!” he squeals. I reply that yes, my parents are Polish, but that I was born here so I consider myself Canadian. He laughed and said, “So BOTH of your parents are Polish, but you’re Canadian?” I mumbled something about being “Polish-Canadian, I guess”.
Cultural identity is a personal thing; it’s something I’ve grappled with for the last little while. I’m finally at a place where I can identify with my parents’ motherland and with my own home. I have an appreciation for Polonia, but I’ve detached myself from it in some ways. Having somebody ridicule how I identify with MY culture doesn’t sit well with me. Sure my parents are Polish, and I’ve spent some summers there. I speak the language better than I let on. When I go to Poland, I’m fluent enough that people just assume that I’m from a different part of the country. In Poland, I can appreciate being surrounded by people who have similar names to mine, who pray the same way and who know Polish history and folklore. This summer, I plan to get a Cepelia tattoo (Hi, Dad).
I used to folk dance, I go to a Polish church with my parents. I choose to spell my name with a y instead of an i to avoid going back and forth. My closest friends often call me Martin-uh, not Marteen-a, adopting the Polish pronunciation. I have many Polish-Canadian friends from childhood and yes, I’ve dated a Polish guy or two.
But I was born in Canada. I appreciate the opportunities I have here, I’m in love with my hometown and I think in English. I love being Canadian. Nowadays, I don’t feel a huge need to go to my parents’ native country. There’s so much I haven’t seen here in Canada that I want to see first. Lately I’ve been identifying with the Canadian side more and more strongly.
Now, on top of disregarding my very deep (giggle) thoughts on cultural identity, this guy was clearly under the impression that we were bound through our background and would.not.leave. As a feminist, it bothers me when a guy won’t leave me alone because I’m not “spoken for” by another man. Winnipeg feminist extraordinaire, Jen Zoratti, articulated how I feel about this better than I ever could:
“We live in a culture in which ‘I’m not interested’ doesn’t always work. We live in a culture in which ‘I have a boyfriend’ doesn’t always work… Why is it my responsibility to school a dude who doesn’t get it — and potentially put myself in danger doing so? Fuck that noise.”
I wasn’t looking to educate this guy or for a long-winded conversation. I kind of just wanted to go back to talking to my friend, darnit.
My girlfriend, quickly offers the “just because she’s Polish doesn’t mean she’s married” line. He launches into some story about how he’s a quarter Polish and once dated a Polish girl. He loves Polish girls and it quickly becomes clear he’s looking to land another one. He proceeds to butcher cutesy words like księżniczka and słoneczkoin an attempt to impress us Polish gals. We play along not to be rude, and he then goes on to tell us how his last girlfriend was Polish and how they went to Poland but that she wasn’t proud enough of her culture and he learned Polish just for her and they went on vacation in the Polish mountains with her Polish family and he paid for all her expenses like the good Polish boyfriend he is. I get a little tired. It’s pretty clear that this guy is looking to keep the bloodlines pure, so to speak.
Now don’t get me wrong here, I know plenty of awesome Polish guys. They respect women, are hardworking and have all kinds of interesting hobbies. They see the sacrifices their parents made by coming here to make better lives for their children and fully appreciate them. Some of them date Polish girls, some of them don’t. Some of them choose to date only Polish girls and I know some ladies who do the same. I’ve dated guys who were neither Polish nor willing to shove their own cultural traditions down my throat and this didn’t make them any less awesome. To be clear, my Polish man friends are amazing people and I’m not looking to bash them in any way, shape or form. For me, this encounter just raised questions about dating from within and from without one’s own culture.
This isn’t a groundbreaking issue, The Atlantic ran an article last week called “Convincing Millenials to marry a ‘Nice Jewish Boy’“. Millenials are us kids born between 1980-2000. It’s no secret that we are marrying less frequently, and marrying outside our own culture or religion is becoming more and more acceptable.
““Would you ever marry a non-Jew?” Sharon asked from the backseat. Answers varied; one person said she wasn’t sure, while another said she might consider marrying someone who was willing to convert. Debates about intermarriage, or marriage outside of the faith, are common in the Jewish community, but her question still struck me as remarkable. Here were four twentysomething women who hardly knew each other, already talking about the eventuality of marriage and apparently radical possibility that we would ever commit our lives to someone unlike us. This conversation seemed very “un-Millennial”–as a whole, our generation is marrying later, becoming more secular, and embracing different cultures more than any of our predecessors. If the same question had been asked about any other aspect of our shared identities–being white, being educated, coming from middle or upper-middle class backgrounds—it would have seemed impolite, if not offensive.”
Not surprisingly, studies showed that couples who married in the faith were twice as likely to raise their children as Jews. It’s safe to assume the same idea carries over with culture.
I can see why people prefer to date fellow Poles, especially among children of first-generation immigrants. Nothing’s going to get lost in translation. If you date another Pole, there’s a good chance you’ll have the same group of friends as well. I know that for some people, this is very important. Naturally there’s parental pressure as well. How many of us have had parents ask us why we don’t just settle down with nice Polish boy (or girl)?
But this guy at the bar didn’t see sharing a culture as a bonus. He saw a potential Polish wife with traditional values. He didn’t care that I’m ambitious and creative. Nor that I love fashion and yoga and the local music scene. He also didn’t give a shit whether I was actually looking to be married or even to date anyone anytime soon. Not exactly Polish boyfriend material, if you know what I mean. Cue funny YouTube break:
Culture doesn’t really factor into who I date. We live in Canada after all, where people are from all over and race doesn’t really matter. So tell me, is being Polish an important factor in the person you date? Or like some of my friends, are your parents pressuring you to settle down with a nice Polish boy/girl? Or do culture and race not factor in at all?
NOVEMBER 2, 2013
18-35? WILLING TO RELOCATE? DISCOVER POLAND.
A great friend sent me this. If I wasn’t traveling already I’d definitely look into it. What’s stopping you?
OCTOBER 30, 2013
IMPORTANCE OF STUDENT GROUPS
I always hear students say, “How can I use my time more wisely?” Well, I used to ask the same question over and over again, until I finally found the solution: join student groups! As a student I found that my time in school was more than just going to class and doing well on tests. It was about maximizing your experience and wringing all you can from your valuable time and tuition. I’ve joined many groups that interest me and found a way to use my time efficiently while still enjoying my student life. My exposure in these groups caused my interest in the subject to grow, and surprisingly also brought me closer to my culture. This engagement taught me many life skills regarding personal interactions while also building up myself-confidence as an individual. Through joining my cultural student group my own cultural awareness grew through connecting with people who shared my background and further developed my cultural competence among other cultures. Living in a country of many cultures, this is a great characteristic to have. Having cultural-specific groups around is a great option for students seeking to reconnect with their culture and can act as a safe haven for many to explore their roots in a comfortable, supported environment.
In general, student groups are important elements in institutions of higher learning. They create a community among students and allow us to come together to display – and draw on – our own interests and preferences. The fact that these groups are free to join and open for all is just icing on the cake. These groups are an essential part of the student experience, as they grow connections and friendships. University administrations even recognize this; taking part is displayed on your transcript and looks so good on your resume.
Universities also support having a wide array of student cultural groups, as doing so represents Canada at the university level, with our particular uniqueness and diversity as a multicultural country. By definition, being Canadian means I respect the multicultural society we live in and believe it is a great cornerstone for our country. That being said, I should also be able to understand the cultures around me. Also by definition, especially as a child of immigrants, I also have a great passion for my roots and a tremendous pride of the story that my family represents. With Canada being a country of immigrants, this should be a shared quality we all share.
These cultural groups can be a step in finding others who are culturally the same and provide a sense of pride for those involved. As a Polish student, having an organization such as the University of Manitoba Polish Students Association (PSA) around is great for broadening my Polish culture and spectacular for making new friends. Many see it as a place to seek refuge in a foreign country – many international students feel lonely and shy in being in a new country, especially in an overwhelming place like a university where the crowds and pace may scare some. A willingness to keep their cultural custom is an essential part in feeling comfortable with new surroundings, and the U of M PSA definitely helps!
The problem across many universities, however, is that these groups are either relatively unknown or seem to vanish. I for one wasn’t even aware of my university’s Polish group for two years! I’ve heard over and over again from many people that they weren’t aware of these student groups. A lack of formal structure and presentation is an issue for many or for some a lack of membership to be recognized by the respective student unions. To grow cultural competence and awareness at the university level, cooperation is key. It’s not a competition among the groups but a collective understanding of people’s identities. If anything, groups that are closely related or share a similar quality (ex: Polish, Ukrainian, German, etc.) ought to celebrate together rather than apart. Organizing events together will provide benefits for all and allow everyone to learn from one another and hey, even grow our friends lists!
For my personal friends and students who have yet to join a student group, I’ll tell you that joining these groups can only bring an overall positive result. Since being more active in student groups, I’ve gained invaluable learning experiences and matured as a young adult. Joining my own cultural student group has engaged me in the university experience more and has helped me be aware of my own identity a Polish-Canadian.
OCTOBER 21, 2013
SOME UPCOMING PISK EVENTS
Oct. 26-Halloween Party with Fc Fire Polish soccer team -cost $40 incl dinner-location Shevchenko Centre, Etobicoke (message me for tickets ASAP)
Nov.2 PISK pub night and call to Action 7pm at Chopin Restaurant, T.O
Nov.16 Windsor Polish Business Dinner
Dec. 21 PISK Christmas party- Venue TBD
I’ve had some trouble loading the events on this site, but I will do so shorty. Please message me with details for any of the events listed above or any PISK inquiries.
SEPTEMBER 30, 2013
ALADDIN AND IDENTITY
My brother and I grew up watching Disney movies. Polish was our first language and my parents didn’t hesitate in building us a pretty impressive collection of video cassettes to get us practicing English. We loved those movies, for their funny characters (good and bad alike), the comfort of their happy, redemptive endings (typically after that one good cry). We loved dashing Lumière and uptight Cogsworth, the hilarious duet of Timone and Pumbaa, mouthy Iago and the grandiose Genie, and who can forget all those uncountable Dalmatians? We spent one memorable afternoon recreating the fighting sequence where Rafiki beats off the hyenas in The Lion King. Someone should have filmed us.
But as a really sensitive and imaginative kid, it was the images and words of the songs that really reached me. I loved the parading teacups and dancing cutlery welcoming me to be their guest. I remember being awed by the grandeur and majesty of the Circle of Life as the entire jungle and savannah prostrated itself before the new king. I couldn’t shake off the carefree swagger of Hakuna Matata.
Years later, I still marvel at how clever the lyrics of these songs are, with their references to Shakespeare, current events as well as history, while still being so incredibly catchy. They were enjoyable for both kids and adults, and had lovely, human themes that really captured each moment perfectly.
Going to Poland during the summertime to visit my grandparents used to be a staple of my childhood summers. I never really noticed how it shaped my values; it created an attachment to Poland, deepened my mastery of Polish and fostered a sense of family with people that didn’t necessarily live in Montreal. It’s really only now when I go back, unfortunately not every summer anymore, that I see how these things are a part of me.
This summer, I had the chance to attend my cousin’s wedding, “cousin” becoming an increasingly looser and more flexible term in my life, going back one, two, three, four generations wedding.
Of course, it was beautiful; the (very, very) happy couple, the lovely bride in her splendid dress, the stunning cathedral, all the guests in their absolute finest. It was followed by a lovely reception; with a bountiful spread of both food and alcohol, a live band, dancing late into the morning. The same was repeated a second time the next day during the after-party: poprawiny.
But what really made the wedding special was what ran deeper than what our cameras captured. It was being there as a family, not just the nuclear, my-mom-and-dad-and-brother kind, but a family that branched even further out; to aunts and uncles, first, second and even third cousins. It was nice to put faces on names I had become acquainted with as I made our family tree, and it was nice to have them around me eating and drinking, dancing, laughing, telling their stories and their jokes.
I remember looking around the room, spotting the shelf-like Władysiuk chin that appeared every now and then. I looked at little Natalka, the spitting image of her grandmother, with the same brown eyes and eyebrows, but in a face more than sixty years younger.
I looked at the older generations, with their flair and gallantry, the men with their splendid, cared-for moustaches, their big dreams and hard work, close escapes, faith, sensitivity, generosity, their sense of humour and obtuse stubbornness. I thought about how those very same qualities had been somehow passed on to be a part of me. They came from somewhere, from someone. They didn’t come out of nowhere.
Another, very different, image comes to me from my last visit to Poland.
Drohiczyn is a small town of about two thousand, a hundred and thirty kilometres from Warsaw. It has four churches including an Orthodox one, a high school, a Biedronkaand a marketplace where people mill about their day, all saying hi to each other. The houses are well-kept and tidy, with beautiful gardens, with fruit trees, abundant flowers and dogs of varying sizes barking by each fence.
The cemetery is to the south-east of town. It’s a beautiful, picturesque place in an already beautiful, picturesque town. It’s peaceful, slightly elevated, with a view of the Bug river snaking through fields that have been growing wheat, buckwheat and rye for generations.
The hill rises and I know that my grandparents are right at the very top, by the fence. All the Władysiuks are, in general, to the left of the dirt road that crosses the cemetery, the one that passes by the 19thcentury crypt dedicated to Lili Ushakova, who died in 1896 at ten years old, leaving her parents completely heartbroken.
The cemetery has been well maintained, there’re flowers and large candles by the graves. It really feels like the buried here are resting, in the clean country air, far away from any kind of noise other than that of the wind.
I look around to find more of my family, of Władysiuks and Pykałos. I recognize familiar names on granite tombstones, all with a cross above them but belonging to other people, from other generations; I see Wiktors, Józefs, Antonis, Stanisławs, Marias, Annas, Teresas…
It brings to mind that one Disney song, from the third Aladdin movie, Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Aladdin has just found out that the father he thought dead is in fact very much alive. Aladdin explains the conflict he feels in seeking his father out to Jasmine, his betrothed, mentioning how difficult it was to grow up in the streets of Agrabah fatherless. Jasmine encourages him to delay their already-delayed wedding to seek out his father, saying “people like you don’t come out of thin air”.
And that’s really what I was feeling. What a richness, what a privilege to know my ancestors; to be able to walk where they once walked, to see what they once had seen, even just knowing their names and where they are buried, the smallest bits of their lives.
It was walking through the Drohiczyn cemetery that I realized that I didn’t come out of thin air.
There have been more than forty Disney songs nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song or Best Original Score. Twelve songs have gone on to win, including; Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from the Lion King.
SEPTEMBER 2, 2013
REFLECTIONS FROM A TRAIN WINDOW
Poland, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia… I’ve got bits and pieces of my family everywhere. When you think about it, it’s pretty extraordinary. We’ll see each other maybe once every two, three years but it’s like a long distance romance. After the separation there will be an intense get-together, where normal life stops and every hour feels like a day. There are presents for the kids, we take pictures, eat big, rich meals and drink bottles and bottles of wine well into the night. We talk about family gossip, new relationships, marriages, divorces, births, deaths, latest achievements, graduations, jobs, travels. Anecdotes and funny pictures from the years resurface. I don’t feel like much of that closeness has been lost; the essence of the same person comes out, we’re still the same people.
It’s a wonderful thing to know that so far away from home there’s a network of people whom I love very much, who love and wish me the best, in different places all over the world. It gives you an interesting perspective. I might be Canadian or Polish or Polish-Canadian, but I also feel like a citizen of the world. I believe in multiculturalism, immigration, bilingualism, honouring past values but also absorbing new ones, respecting different cultures — all intimately Canadian values. When you have family all over the world, it’s easy to feel like a global citizen.
Having these strong connections in different countries has given me many opportunities to travel. I’ve been to Poland many times; as a child I used to spend my summers swimming in the Baltic Sea. I know my way around the Trójmiasto, I love taking the tramwaj and I won’t be ripped off at the farmer’s market. I also know what it’s like to go swimming in a Swedish lake at that magical time in the evening where everything is really, really still, except for the delicate skeeter bugs that skip across the surface of the water. I’ve even been Down Under, played two-up on Anzac Day, eaten kangaroo and had lunch by the Opera House. It’s an extraordinary blessing.
But today I’m sitting near the window on the Skövde-Gothenburg train, looking at my twelve year old cousin Natalka and my Wujek Janusz. There’s that particular ache in my heart; that feeling you get when you really don’t know the next time you’ll see someone. I know I’m leaving a little piece of my heart behind with the girls, with Wujek. What I wouldn’t give to have all of us together, in the same place, same city, same country, for always.
AUGUST 21, 2013
CULTURAL AMBASSADORS: POLONIA IN KOREA
Moral of my musings: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
There is an old Korean proverb that says: 콩 심은데 콩나고, 팥 심은데 팥난다. Pronounced “kong simeundae kongnago, pat simeundae patnanda”, its literal meaning is “beans come out where they are planted, red beans come from where red beans are planted.” The English equivalents could be “you know the tree by it’s fruit,” or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
These sayings are usually used to indicate that you can judge a man by his surroundings or that a child is like its parent. If you put them in a wider context though they can also reflect the culture someone is brought up in, beans – the regular boring kind – come from amid other beans while red beans – the better kind – come from among red beans. Cultures breed certain attitudes, values, and characteristics that the individual is a reflection of and testament to everyday.
In Canada there is a tendency to consider all cultures except American as “red bean” cultures but, since the rise of the nation state, several hundred years ago, many countries have become mono-ethnic and mono-linguistic, developing/strengthening prejudices, stereotypes, and just plain ignorance toward others of different ethnicities and/or language groups. The same way Canadian society – not a nation state – tends to hold certain stereotypes and beliefs about races as a whole, other countries tend to hold stereotypes and beliefs that apply to all westerners, more or less defined as all white people. Korea is one of those countries.
I came to Korea as a Canadian, I teach English as a native speaker, and hang out mostly with Americans. But I also came here as a Pole. It may be less obvious on a daily basis but my Polish roots are not something I allow to stay hidden for longer than about 5 minutes in a conversation. “I’m from Canada but I’m Polish,” I tell people, “I grew up in Canada but my parents are from Poland.”
The reaction I get from Koreans is varied; some happen to have an interest in Poland or European history and know lots about the topic, others have nary a clue as to what I’m talking about, but all have heard of Lech Wałęsa and Fryderyk Chopin. When it comes to historical facts, Koreans as a whole are infinitely more informed than most Canadians I meet; when it comes to culture, I may as well be an American.
I have nothing against Americans but let’s face it, the world over they’re not exactly considered to be red beans. And besides that, even if they were, Poles aren’t Americans, that’s an important distinction to make. Canadians aren’t American either, a less important but equally valid distinction. When it comes to representing Canada I often have my work cut out for me; when it comes to Poland, I have more or less a blank slate.
The same way that in Canada I’m forced to explain to people that white British history is no more mine than it is a black Canadian’s, in Korea I’m forced to explain that Poland has nothing to do with hamburgers, loud people, or world domination. I am often the first and only point of contact these people have with Poland.
Canadian and American Polonia has been well established for many years. We grew up in a community of people just like us, Polish kids who were either born in or moved early to Canada. Polish stores that sold Kubuś and Mamba instead of Coke and Fruit by the Foot. And parents who tried to bridge those gaps for us. Our parents may have had more work to do than us but even they came into what was an established community. Canadians already had experience with Poles, opinions and stereotypes had already been formed, and often served our parents well (mine were able to stay in Ontario after finding a rental because “Polish tenants are good tenants”).
It’s nice the stereotype isn’t uniformly accepted, as Jimmy Carr points out (and Marcus Brigstocke agrees):
Korea has two Facebook groups devoted to Poles in the country. With much overlap in members one has 156, the other 174. A few of these are also Koreans who are in some way connected to Poland. It’s hard to say but I would estimate the total number of people who actually identify as Poles at about 200. I’ve met a few American and Canadian Poles but they mostly seem to have come here as American/Canadian and have given up on this different idea of Polonia. That different idea is that most of those 200 people spent their whole lives in Poland and are just beginning the first wave of real Polish expats in Korea. There is no dedicated Polish school, there are no Polish stores, but there is a monthly Mass. Catholicism and Poland, they still go hand in hand.
I might be wrong, there could more, but either way the numbers aren’t large. I am one of about 200 ambassadors for our motherland. I am one of 200 people who are able to introduce Korea to a nation in the heart of central Europe trying to fight its way onto the world stage. I am one of 200. Not one of a million. One of 200 people the rest of whom largely have very little experience in Polonia.
To say that there is more pressure here in how I represent Canada and Poland is an understatement. It’s not about ascribing some grand importance to my existence in the country, but about realizing that every single thing I do will determine whether the Koreans I meet end up thinking of Poland as a red bean or as just another regular one. I try to dispel myths and misconceptions, but I also try to be a living example of what I want people to take away from my culture(s). They think we’re American, I’m here to show them we’re not.
My big breakthrough came a few months ago, in April. I had been talking about possibilities for the future. I mentioned attending Oxford law, learning Korean, and working for Samsung. Later, at a school retreat I joined a group conversation a little bit late, this was what I was told: “I was just telling the vice-principal about your plans. She’s really impressed. We’ve decided that Polish people really are different than Westerners, you’re so hard working, dedicated, and ambitious.” Yes!
Of course it’s sad that they can’t seem to think of Canadians, Americans, or any other Westerners that way, because certainly I know many who are hardworking and dedicated, but you can’t win every battle. For now I’ve raised the status of Poland among the staff at my suburban elementary school. And that’s enough for me.
The truth is that beyond Europe and North America you will often be one of very few Polish people. The world over we have a responsibility to our people but in some nations that comes out more so than in others. For all the great work that diplomats may do, the true ambassadors of a country are those who identify themselves as a part of it, because we connect with people across the world, across cultures.
It’s easy to believe that all cultures are red beans, but people don’t often think that way. If Korea has taught me anything, it’s that being the minority means always representing your people. Making people believe Poland is a red bean culture isn’t about standing up and proclaiming its greatness, its about every day espousing those values and beliefs that we want to share with the world. You come from and represent the culture you were raised in; red beans come from where red beans were planted.