“Julia, you are our family. You are Polish.”
These were the words my wujek (uncle) said to me on my last night at our family’s farm in Poland. What he said to me left me feeling… happy. In a tiny village in northeastern Poland, I was eating leftover ciasta (cakes) and drinking herbata (tea) with my family, and I felt completely content.
Over the summer, I decided to go to Poland to take a stab at learning one of the hardest languages in the world, which also happens to be my family’s native tongue. For six weeks, I lived in Krakow, a city in southern Poland, where I studied at the Jagiellonian University. It was here that I met other students who were, like me, people of Polish descent who wanted to learn the language better.
I struggled with my Polish identity for as long as I could remember. As a second-generation Canadian, my tie to the “Motherland” is stretching further and further away. My grandparents came to Canada after the Second World War but passed away before I was born. Although both my parents speak Polish, as a family we spoke English to each other, with the occasional Polish sentence thrown in. My Polish skills had never been the best.
Even though I grew up hearing Polish spoken (from Saturday school, and listening to my relatives and parents speak), participated in Polish traditions and customs, attended Polish events — heck, I even worked at a Polish/Eastern European grocery store — I still didn’t feel like I belonged to the Polish community. I felt like an outsider. I was longing for a connection that I never really had. It wasn’t until this trip, during which I immersed myself in the language, that I found it.
Although it was my third time in Poland, this time felt different. It felt like I was coming home.
After my program ended and I finished gallivanting across Poland, I made my last trek in a rented car alongside my dad, who had also flown to Poland. We were on our way to visit his side of the family. When we pulled up to our village and I saw my ciocia (aunt) after five long years, it was as if I had gone back in time. Nothing had changed and it was perfect.
I felt an attachment to Poland, one that I never had before. In a village that has housed the Kaminski family for hundreds of years, I felt my name being called everywhere I looked. It was in the rustling of the stalks of wheat, in the soft “moos” of the cows, in the storks’ nests built high up. But most of all, it was when I spoke to my family in broken Polish and looked at their bright blue eyes and dark eyebrows, exactly like mine, that I truly felt like I was home.