Why I Learned to Embrace My Culture in College
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Politics and Activism

Why I Learned to Embrace My Culture in College

I'm Polish and I'm Proud

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Why I Learned to Embrace My Culture in College
Rachel Kleinwaks

Culture and heritage are a weird part of people's identity. Usually, people either embrace it (almost too much at times), shy away from it, or ignore it completely. I chose the latter two most of the time, aware of my Polish heritage, but not really going out of my way to learn more about it.

Now that I'm older, I regret not being interested in this part of my identity sooner. Maybe it was because I was more concerned with other things, or maybe it was because whenever it came up it usually wasn't in a positive light. I was relentlessly teased by some people in high school about being Polish-- ranging anywhere between jokes about stereotypes (being stupid or a binge vodka drinker) to jokes referencing the Holocaust and communism (yes, people really went there).

My mom and I are very close, and we always have been. She was born and raised in Poland, moving to America and starting a new life only a few years before I was born. Now that I take the time to ask her questions about what it was like to grow up in Poland, its absolutely amazing the stories that she has to tell. Growing up in a country ruled by Communism and the Catholic Church, she lived a life that was worlds away from the one I lived as a teenager. Yet she still shared stories that I could relate to about breaking the rules, dating, and having younger siblings. (Sidenote: my mom was and still is a badass.)

Being able to talk about these stories has brought a whole new dimension and fondness to our relationship. I get to learn more, while she gets to share with me, and look back and reminisce about her youth. A year and a half ago, when I studied abroad in England, my mom and I spent a few days together in Poland. We ate the typical Polish meals, and she showed me gorgeous places like Krakow and Warsaw. We shopped together, and I got to meet friends and family of hers that I hadn't seen since I was 5 years old. We even went to a bar together that specialized in crazy and creative shots.

Spending time in her hometown of Kielce was an amazing experience-- all of the stories that she told me were finally being brought to life. I now understood when she told me that there was nothing like fall on the countryside of Poland-- the colors, sights, and smells were truly indescribable. This is something I will be able to share with my mom forever, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Ever since this trip, my perspective on my culture has changed dramatically. I am proud to be Polish. Now I know that no one knows how to party and celebrate quite like we do. I know that we have amazing cuisine that people all around the world love. I know that we are smart, capable, and strong people (I mean Copernicus was Polish, and he was the only one to figure out that the sun was the center of the universe... and he was willing to die to defend his knowledge). I know that we are loving, caring, stubborn, and crazy at times, but fiercely loyal. No one can make me feel ashamed to be Polish, because I know it is nothing to be ashamed of.

I fully intend on going back to Poland, to see everything I missed last time. I downloaded the app Duolingo to learn Polish, because I want to be more in tune with my culture. My mom and I bond over this, as she helps me with difficult pronunciations, and laughs at my use of Polish slang that she teaches me.

If there's one thing I'm happy that college brought me, its the way I've learned to embrace and love being Polish. Na Zdrowie to all my other proud Polish people!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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