Aligning Traditions with Family Values

Reorienting myself to this new city has been a challenge to say the least. Usually, I am good with directions; however, the difficulty of the Polish language has been the greatest barrier thus far. Thanks to the two Chicago colleagues, Sabina and Dominika, the other guys in the program and I have been able to get along pretty well, commonly asking them (who speak fluent Polish) to assist us with ordering our food.

With the program that I am taking, we were given the option to take a two-week intensive Polish language program with Jagiellonian University in Kraków. This has been a godsend, as I only knew Americanized phrases in Polish, such as “tasty” or “go home and go to sleep.” Some of the many things for which I am grateful were the traditions and partial language pieces which were passed down through my maternal family—wigilia, babcia, dziadek, etc. These translations through generations have been the most eye-opening aspects of my childhood. The words became common, the traditions became continuous, and the family became closer. I guess I would make a great speculation when saying this; however, I believe that immigrant families who practice ethnic traditions or dine with ethnic foods have some of the strongest bonds within families of today. Whereas, I can also say it’s difficult to argue against participating in these traditions unless it echoes a sense of apathy or distaste, as it directly defines the individuals at hand.

People question how my interest in genealogy originated quite often as I show them scans of my paternal great-grandfather’s inventions or maternal great-grandfather’s immigration papers. In total, I would have to say these traditions are what defines this drive. The connections with ancient festivals focusing on family values or bonding over food has always been a commonplace which strengthened that connection.

I enjoy the bustle of the city as I walk into my classes each morning—while groups of people try to either run me over with their bikes or cars. I find that Kraków is more of a touristy city than what I had expected. St. Michael’s observation day was this weekend, and so, because they’re super Catholics, there was a huge festival in the square and people from all over Europe came. It’s hard to imagine that in a week there will be 250,000 students moving into the city to start classes again. Truly a college town as the population may only be one million in total.

However, the population may be much greater than good ol’ New Wilmington or New Castle combined, I feel at home. Poland reminds me of the Polish-American festivals I attended with my family throughout my childhood. It reminds me of the delicious foods we eat during the holidays. And it reminds me of my family constantly, as I stated the other day, “Why does everyone look like my mother here?”

Czy jesteś moją matką? (Are you my mother?)

I guess this may be a portion that I should say about how much I miss my family… So, yes, I do find myself missing the most important people in my life. Tomorrow is my mother’s 60th birthday and I was so happy to have FaceTimed her and everyone yesterday to wish her and my little cousin, Karina, a happy birthday! Sto Lat!

As the son of a business owner, it is also difficult to not be there to help my father with anything that may come up. This summer, I found myself living at home and sometimes coming home to a stack of papers for me to read through, researching what the best option might be for the business. Together, as a family, we have worked on a potential transformation of the company in order to assist with my father’s “retirement.” And so, I find myself in a difficult situation, whereas I am trying to balance my study abroad while life’s challenges are right behind me in line at the airport.

In total, my family means the world to me. I am continuously worried about my mother, my father, and my siblings, albeit their health or professions. The traditions which were bestowed throughout the generations of my family are what brings me to care so deeply and to instill them in generations to come. But, for now, I live day by day, awaiting what the next adventure may be.