Polish students connect through shared heritage

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Photo Credit: Karen Pinilla | Daily Texan Staff

Though Poland is an ocean and half a continent away, UT students have brought some of Polska to campus. Now, they bond over uniquely Polish traditions such as eating paczki and going to Polish mass.

Founded in fall 2015, the Polish Cultural Association makes campus feel more like home to students of Polish heritage by allowing them to share their culture with the University. At meetings, students share stories, discuss Polish traditions and get to know one another over a hot cup of tea, a popular drink in Poland.

Business freshman Martha Czernuszenko created the club after a fruitless search for a European heritage club on campus. Czernuszenko and some friends later became involved with Austin Polish Society but had trouble finding people in their age group. 

“Everyone in Austin Polish Society is like 25 years older than us,” Czernuszenko said. “I thought, ‘What if we start something that’s young so we can all hang out?’”

Czernuszenko became fast friends with other Polish students at UT, and eventually, they decided to form a club to celebrate their culture. Members met with Polish professor Bernadeta Kaminska, a native Pole, to make the club official.

“It makes them more visible here (now) that they have their own association,” Kaminska said.

The club is also a place where native speakers can converse with one another.

“It’s so nice just to practice (communicating),” Czernuszenko said. “I really look back on some of the conversations we’ve had.”

Kaminska said she is proud that her students have more opportunities to practice speaking Polish with each other and have a larger voice on campus.
“It’s a good way to promote the language,” Kaminska said. “I’m hoping, through the Polish club, more students will find out that Polish is offered at UT.”

Members such as electrical engineering sophomore Marek Rajtar, who was born in Poland and came to the United States in fifth grade, joined the club to make Europe feel less distant. 

“I was looking for some sort of club, at least a European club, but I couldn’t even find that,” Rajtar said. “I thought it would be kinda cool to interact with people of my background.”

Other students such as English freshman Rachel Rosinski use the club to connect with their family roots. Rosinski said the club is a welcoming environment for newcomers and they hope to expand it in upcoming semesters. She said even  people without Polish roots are welcome at club meetings. 

“You don’t have to be Polish to join,” Czernuszenko said. “We’re open to anyone — you don’t have to be Polish, you don’t have to be European — as long as you have an interest in the Polish culture and just want to to learn more about it. We’re excited and hope to grow.”

In the end, Czernuszenko said the goal of the club is to get students excited about their heritage.

“When we’re here and with each other we really connect,” Rosinski said. “It’s kind of a family. The second you meet anyone new, everyone sparks up a conversation. Everyone is genuinely interested in each other’s stories, and I think that’s what’s really special about our club.”