2017 Summer School at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków

The Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures, at Macquarie University, prides itself in developing and delivering a range of programmes that facilitate the tertiary education of globally-minded students. Across a range of language disciplines, short-term overseas courses are made available to students who are undertaking language studies as part of a Bachelor of International Studies, a Bachelor of Arts or a Diploma of Languages. The Department provides an opportunity for qualifying Polish Studies students to attend, by scholarship, short-term courses at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Successful completion of the overseas program counts toward their Macquarie award program.

The academic benefits of studying at Jagiellonian University include exposure to different styles of teaching and the associated development of new learning skills, as well as the opportunity to learn a language first hand from highly professional native speakers in real, rather than imagined or recreated, interactions. Apart from the quality education that the students receive through a range of carefully tailored programs and the practical immersion in Polish life, Australian students enrich their cross-cultural experience by taking full advantage of extracurricular activities, including organised local excursions, visits to art galleries and museums, cooking and dance classes. In conjunction, such students acquire a linguistic/cultural capital by virtue of practising a language in a truly native context, whilst at the same time learning to understand a foreign country, its attached traditions, and the culturally- and socially-embedded mindset of its people.

Polish Studies awarded two scholarships for students to attend this year’s Summer School. One of those students, Ms Anne Marie Lopez, has just successfully completed her scholarship program in Kraków. In her report that follows, she provides a personal account of how her Polish language course at Macquarie University and her participation in the Summer School at the Jagiellonian University have led to life-changing experiences, in particular to the development of new professional and travel pursuits that the contact with Polish culture has inspired. Anne Marie shares the significance of her decision, as a practising Perth lawyer, to undertake Polish Studies and to go to Kraków to cultivate her Polish language-related interests. Already being an enthusiast of Poland and its way of life, her lively story is a testimony to just how committed she is to her goal of becoming a proficient speaker of Polish.

The Polish Studies program at Macquarie University is proudly supported by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Sydney.

For further information on international studies visit www.mq.edu.au.

For further details on Polish Studies, please contact me directly via email kamila.walker@mq.edu.au, or alternatively by phone: (02) 9850-7014.

Dr Kamila Walker



Anne Marie Lopez at the Wawel Dragon      fot. supplied

A few years ago I attended a year of Polish social, cultural, and historical lessons in Perth. The warmth of the people and their customs resonated with me. Polish Wigilia and Easter were particularly special for me as I could participate in those events within a large group of wonderful people. I had been introduced by a friend whose parents were Polish. 

The more I learnt about Polish customs and traditions, the more I wanted to learn and speak the language. I already had a Commerce and Arts degree from the University of Melbourne and a Law Degree from Deakin University, so I did not want to undertake another degree. I discovered that Macquarie University is the only university in Australia to offer Polish studies that I could undertake as a Diploma program. The fact that I lived and worked in Western Australia did not matter as Macquarie University makes Polish studies available online by distance education. Given that I work full time as a government lawyer, this mode of delivery was perfect for me, as I could manage effectively my learning outside of work hours.

Dr Walker facilitated my learning by providing Skype tutorials before I went to work, taking into account the two and sometimes three hour time difference. The contact time, whilst limited on Skype, is essential to learning how to speak and read in Polish, but in my case, it was also important for encouragement in learning such a difficult language.

I spoke Spanish as a child and then studied Spanish at the University of Melbourne years before desk top computers and online learning were in existence. When I first started to study Polish I had trouble organising my notes in an effective way as I found the language complicated, but over time I have developed a set of practical learning strategies. Having never studied a Slavonic language before meant that I had to learn a new way of thinking and expressing myself. In my first semester I had trouble understanding what was being said. The volume of grammar and intricacies of the language were, and still are, very challenging. Striving for perfection had to be put aside. As Dr Walker reminded me on more than one occasion, “The learning of Polish is a process that requires dedication, patience and acceptance of one’s mistakes with a touch of humour.”

I began creating endless tables of verbs with their conjugations, together with tables of nouns with their declensions. Sometimes I wondered if I was wasting my time, but I decided to trust the process, believing that by creating these tables the grammar would eventually sink in. The grammar is finally sinking in and I can now read simple newspaper articles, though not without some difficulty.

When I travelled to Poland to study for three weeks at the Jagiellonian University Summer School on a Macquarie University travel scholarship, I did not know what to expect. I did not know how my Polish would compare with that of other international students. All students had to sit placement tests, which were both oral and written. I was assigned to Class A1.2 along with 11 other students. All classes were in conducted in Polish, except for some instances when complex grammar expressions were explained in English.

My participation in the Summer School was a wonderful opportunity to meet students from around the world who also wanted to learn to speak Polish. Many were American and had a keen interest but no formal studies in Polish. During the course, I came to appreciate that the Polish units I had studied at Macquarie University were excellent, brilliant in fact, especially in the area of grammar. Although many of my classmates could speak some Polish, they nevertheless did not understand the grammar very well, which I felt slowed down their learning process dramatically. I believe that understanding Polish grammar is the foundation to being able to speak Polish well. More than once I heard the common phrase “Gramatyka języka polskiego jest bardzo trudna.” Thank you Dr Walker for proving that Polish grammar is not only manageable, but that it can be enjoyed as well!

Practising Polish in Kraków was daunting but also fun. One evening whilst walking in Kraków in the summer rain, from Przystanek Głowackiego to the Hotel Studencki Piast, I met and had a discussion with a Polish law student who was also caught in the rain. We had a discussion on idioms. I learnt that the English expression “like a drowned rat,” when you are soaking wet from the rain, is not translated literally but as “wyglądać jak zmokła kura”. Similarly, the expression “young at heart” in Polish cannot be translated directly as “młody sercem”. Instead, the expression “młody duchem” is used. One never knows what intellectual discussions one might have with a Polish stranger in the rain! 

Every day I would explore a part of the City of Kraków and other neighbouring towns – I visited the Stare Miasto, the Sukiennice, Kościół Mariacki, Mały Rynek, Oskar Schindler’s Factory, the Bochnia mine, the Tarnowskie Góry mine, the Czarna Madonna in Częstochowa, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I can’t even begin to express the richness, emotional significance and cultural specificity of these places.

I was also excited to attend sessions of UNESCO’s 41st Meeting of the World Heritage Committee as a media representative for Express Australijski. Poland was nominating the Tarnowskie Góry Lead-Silver-Zinc Mine and its Underground Water Management System to be listed by UNESCO. As a mines safety lawyer in Perth, this was professionally, culturally, and historically fascinating for me. I also discovered that Poland has fourteen other world heritage sites that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has recognised as worthy of protection for future generations – sites that I will endeavour to explore on future trips to Poland.

I wish to thank Macquarie University for granting me the scholarship to study in Poland. This opportunity opened many doors to learning more about Poland, its history, culture, people and language, and not through books, but through actual first-hand experience. My trip to Poland brought all my theoretical studies to life when I was confronted with the need to speak the language in a natural setting.

I feel extremely fortunate to be able to study Polish in Australia and to have such a professional and committed lecturer as Dr Walker. Her dedication to Polish Studies and her flexibility to accommodate students from all over Australia demonstrates how distance education can be intellectually rewarding when learning a new language. It is my personal belief that a quality university offers courses in fields beyond those that are linked merely to the economic development of the world. The Polish Studies program at Macquarie University is an excellent example of such diversification and how to be a leader in the provision of language learning in a world where multilingualism is the norm. 

Anne Marie Lopez