Friday, September 20, 2013

Returning To The Motherland

This weekend I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be in Warsaw, Poland attending my Alma Mater's bi-annual European symposium.  I attended my first symposium in Torino, Italy two years ago and loved it.  From the moment it was announced that this year's get together would be in Warsaw, I knew I was going to be there.  It is difficult to describe the intellectual stimulation I experience by being in the presence of so many smart and worldly women.  (In fact, I feel this way any time I attend anything that is related to Mount Holyoke).   Conversations are always lively, critical, and eye opening.  Even after all these years a part of me feels intimidated in the presence of these women and I still sometimes wonder whether my admission letter was a mistake.  As was the case with the previous symposium, the attendees tend to be older than me but age really doesn't matter since the Mount Holyoke sisterhood transcends age and generation.  It also gives me a peak into what I hope my future holds for me.  I am simply in awe of these women who are twenty, thirty, even forty years older than I am yet have the energy to travel all over the globe while having the desire to continue learning about the world around them. I can only hope I am half as energetic and worldly when I am their age.

And then there is the fact that this year's symposium is in Warsaw.  Poland is the country of my father's parents and my earliest memories involve my grandmother gossiping in Polish with her siblings, speaking fondly of the old Polish neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts (her parents immigrated to America shortly before her birth), and of course the delicious Polish food she would laboriously cook.  As a typical second generation immigrant my father eschewed his cultural heritage and thus, during my younger years I did the same.   Growing up in a solidly "American" community where it seemed as though every one's families had lived there for generations, I often felt like the odd person out with my ethnic sounding name and lack of local roots.  It college it was different and it was there that I started thinking about my own history.  (Again, thank you Mount Holyoke).  As I've grown older I've become increasingly intrigued about the land my ancestors called home and had been wanting to visit for some time.  And this weekend my wish became a reality.

So in many respects, this weekend is a dream come true.  I've been sharing in interesting conversations with worldly women, swapping college memories that transcend class years, admitting that despite my very Polish name I don't speak a word of the language, and yes, explaining what the heck I am doing living in Albania.  I've also been eating real Polish pierogi, wandering the streets of Warsaw's Old Town, and thinking about my own family's story.  I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know as much about it as I should but I'm now determined to do something about that.  And while that wasn't the point of this Mount Holyoke symposium, just being in the presence of all my fellow alumnae has inspired me to do some research and to expand my own horizons by learning a little more about my family story.  Thank you Mount Holyoke; the education you gave me just keeps on giving.

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