By: Maya Modzynski
Once upon a time, I used to resent the fact that I was Polish. To many, this is a confusing and absolutely atrocious statement. To me, it was something that unfortunately was a reality as a child and then as a teenager. The resistance on my part was likely due to a need to fit in and go against familial authority. This meant not getting involved in anything extracurricular that included Polish activities, or refusing to speak Polish in the house with my parents. Having grown up now, it makes me feel uncomfortable thinking about how dangerously close I was to losing an aspect of my life that has shaped me to excel in ways I didn’t think were possible.
The evolution was a slow one, but started in university when I met a group of people which consisted mainly of Poles. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well I got along with them and thought that our nationality was simply coincidental. Within those four years I saw how unifying it actually was in the start, and how beneficial it was as a social tool. My Polish affairs began to increase annually when I (hesitantly) joined the McMaster Polish Society, an endeavour that allowed me to participate in events and activities put on by the group. It was shocking, how quickly I made friends and connections through the society; even more incredible was that fact that some of these individuals were not of Polish descent. The real key to success here was not nationality per se, but the cooperation and acceptance of various individuals.
When it came to my final year of university, I had made the decision to continue studying art history in graduate school. I met with one of my professors who helped me brainstorm what I could propose to my unknown future educational institution; what could I bring to the table that was interesting and innovative? I remember that exact moment when we were both quiet for a moment, attempting to fill the content for a statement of intent, when finally she looked up at me said, “You’re Polish, aren’t you?”. It was at this point where the professor had helped me to make the decision to study Polish art, with the knowledge that I could speak, read, and write in the language. It was also in that moment that I had realized that my nationality had put my foot in the door of my own potential career in art.
In February of 2010, the University of Alberta accepted me as a Master’s candidate in Art, Design, and Visual Culture. This was the biggest challenge I had ever taken on, but it was one that I intended to succeed in and I am continuing do so now. Since my move from Ontario to Alberta, the information I had been taught in my undergraduate years through embracing my heritage and active participation has been applied to all areas of my life.
If it were not for all of these life lessons, I would not be here right now acting as the administration and volunteer liaison of Quo Vadis Calgary 2012. Although I have never attended the conference in the previous years, I don’t believe that my lack of participation in the past will hold me back. Rather, my involvement this year will be just as much a chance to me, as it will be for our delegates to learn something new and useful. It will put our foot in the door, whatever that door may be. My awareness and acceptance of being Polish-Canadian was a process that required baby steps, from absolute refusal to open-armed reception; I did so by allowing myself to get involved and be a part of something. My story is unique to my situation but not unfamiliar. Let this blog entry be an encouraging push to all of those potential delegates this year who may have reservations about signing up. Try it! Because what you learn at Quo Vadis will be a stepping stone for further opportunities in your own lives.