This summer, after many years, I will be returning to the Motherland: Poland!
My parents and I immigrated to the States in 1987; I was only four years old and have only three random memories from when I was little. I have been back to Poland several times: four times with my mom, and twice with my dad. But we’ve never gone back as a unit; my parents went back together a few years ago, and I was sad to not have been able to go with them. But this year, I was very adamant with them that this trip together had to happen. This trip back to Poland (the last time I was there was 2006) will serve several purposes: learning more about my own history through a study program in Krakow, visiting cities I’ve been to but this time through different lenses, introducing my husband to the country of my birth, and badgering my parents with endless questions about their experience in the Solidarity movement and working to end Communism in Poland while we visit together. Talk about a loaded trip!
I have to admit, that high school me would think I’m crazy. Back then, I very much considered myself an American, and American only. I scoffed when someone called me Polish-American. The United States was—and very much is—my home. I was—and still am—an American citizen. USA all the way, baby! I didn’t really give much thought to Poland; it was just a place I visited ever few years to see family I barely knew, and friends of my parents.
But ever since college graduation, a part of me has been nostalgic for Poland. And I want to use the Polish word here—tęsknota—because I feel it highlights the weird abstract feelings that I have. It’s a weird feeling to be nostalgic for a place that I barely remember and have only visited a handful of times. I grew up listening to the stories my parents would tell me about their childhoods and their experiences, and what their own parents had gone through to survive. This was the Poland I knew: the random bits and pieces of human and family history that were caught up in the greater part of World War II, post-WWII, and a Communist Poland. Two years ago, Josh and I were in London for a second time and one of the places I really wanted to visit was a Polish museum that was only open for two hours, a few days a week. We went there and got a wonderful tour of the building and the artifacts they had pertaining to the Polish government in exile during WWII and items even going back to the Napoleonic era. When we walked out of that museum, I turned to Josh and said, “I know so little of my own history. It’s embarrassing.” I felt so ashamed of myself. And that was when I knew I had to make a trip back sooner than later.
Which brings us to this summer and the big trip back to Poland, which is actually starting this weekend! I’m participating in a Polish study program for three weeks at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. There I will have language classes in the morning and two lecture-led classes in the afternoon, plus excursions on the weekends and other activities in the evenings. I speak, read, and write Polish, but honestly, I could be so much better at it. The lecture courses will be about history, culture, and literature. This program will scratch that academic itch that I have from time to time, but I will be able to actually learn and understand my own history better. Afterwards, Josh will join me and we will be visiting Krakow, Gdańsk (I’ve never been but it’s also where the Solidarity movement began), Warsaw, and Wrocław (where my parents met and studied). We’ll be meeting up with my parents in Wroclaw, and from there we go to mine and my mom’s hometown in Zielona Góra. It will be a trip that will be educational and emotional.
Remember how I talked about how quitting publishing has been freeing? Well, this is the prime example of it. In order to fully immerse myself in my writing project, I need and want to go back to Poland. I just know that when I get back at the end of the summer, my writing will really take off because I will have all this wonderful material and experience to use and reflect upon.
I have to believe that.