Theresa Dowker at the rooftop garden on top of the University of Warsaw's library, July 2016.

Polish food was always a part of my family gatherings as I was growing up. I giggled when I learned about the czarnina (duck’s blood soup) my mom used to eat. I stared at the “golumpki” swimming in tomato sauce, which I later learned were actually called gołąbki. I happily consumed kid-friendly potato-filled pierogi we got from the supermarket freezer section. This was the extent of my exposure to Polish culture and language before enrolling at the University of Michigan.

At freshman orientation, they told us we needed to fulfill a two-year language requirement. I already took Spanish in high school, and I’d had enough of that. If I had to take more language classes, why not make it a fun one? I considered Tagalog so that I could talk to my aunt in her native language… but then I settled on Polish with an oddly firm level of certainty. Slavic languages felt exotic, exciting, and this was a way to connect with my grandma and show my family that I valued our heritage.

In my first semester at U-M, I stepped into Polish 121 with Paulina Duda and also decided to try out Slavic 225 with Professors Carpenter, Toman, and Eagle to fulfill another requirement. These ended up being my favorite courses of the semester! I learned about the colorful dichotomies of Bruno Schulz as we read The Street of Crocodiles, and delved into the horrors of the Holocaust as we read This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. I perfected my Polish pronunciation and grasp of difficult consonant clusters under Pani Paulina’s wonderful tutelage. I also made friends who would struggle with me through subsequent years of Polish language classes.

As I progressed in fulfilling my language requirement, I began attending the Copernicus lectures and Slavic animation nights, and I took classes with Pani Ewa and Pan Piotr. Pani Ewa always puts so much effort into her teaching, and Pan Piotr has such a passion for Polish rock music, and both are so incredibly, unfailingly kind to their students, that there’s no way I could have turned my back on the Slavic Department. Declaring a Polish Studies major has, without a doubt, been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I sincerely hope that many more students take the plunge in the future to study Polish and find their home in our tiny department, just like I did.