2019 Prize Giving Ceremony at Macquarie University

This year’s annual prize giving event was held by Macquarie University’s Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures on 21 March 2019. The Award Night, beyond celebrating excellence through the recognition of the academic success of its current students, serves as a vibrant social gathering, in that it provides the opportunity to foster relationships and engage with international communities in Australia.

These prestigious awards acknowledge and commend the highest achieving students across the broad diversity of language disciplines offered by Macquarie. The academic community of the Department takes great pride in students’ efforts and their scholarly aspirations, and wishes to congratulate all the worthy recipients of their awards for work completed in 2018. At the same time, we would like to extend our thanks to all the esteemed guests – including international government officials, domestic and overseas politicians, representatives of community organisations, our media partners, and, of course, our dear families and friends – for their presence and support, making this event even more memorable.

The ceremony was jointly hosted by A/Prof Ulrike Garde, Head of the Department of International Studies and A/Prof Panos Vlachopoulos, Associate Dean Quality and Standards, whilst the awards for exceptional performance were presented to the prizewinners by heads of language disciplines and their associated patrons. In our area, award certificates and accompanying prizes for excellence in Polish Studies were presented with a warm handshake by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland, Mrs Irena Juszczyk, and the President of the Polish Studies Foundation, Mr Tom Czarnota. The first award, The Krystyna Singler Prize for Proficiency in Polish Studies, was received by Dr Michael Skiba. The second, The Zygmunt Wszelaki Prize for Proficiency at 300-level Polish units, was received by Mr Grant Kynaston. On behalf of the Department of International Studies, I wish to congratulate both students on their well-deserved success, and personally encourage their future intellectual development through further encounters with the Polish language and the culture of Poland.

Below the award recipients share their experiences of learning Polish at Macquarie University and speak about the value of their journey at both academic and personal levels.

L-r: The Consul General of the Republic of Poland, Mrs Irena Juszczyk, Dr Michael Skiba, Dr Kamila Walker, and the President of the Polish Studies Foundation, Mr Tom Czarnota Photo supplied

I was born to Polish parents who came to Australia in the terrible aftermath of World War II. It was a home where Polish language was spoken and culture expressed, but building their new life in North Queensland of the 1950s was a very different reality from the one they had known. By the time I came along as the fourth child, and a very late surprise indeed, they were well and truly Aussies. I went away to study medicine and left being Polish behind. Or so I thought.

I have had a long and successful career as a General Practitioner, with a special interest in mental health, diagnostic challenges, skin cancer surgery, and the management of chronic disease. It has not been until recently that I have had the time and opportunity to reflect upon my heritage.

My first visit to Poland early last year had a profound impact on my sense of identity. I have never known my grandparents, uncles, aunts or cousins and have always harboured a sense of loss because of it. In Poland, I instantly found an inexplicable sense of familiarity and belonging. I was surrounded by so many people who looked both like my dad and myself, and I never once had to repeat or spell my name! But it wasn’t until I was welcomed with open arms by a complete stranger into the house my mother lived in as a little girl that I truly felt a connection to that place. I was home.

This surprising experience however was lessened to a degree by my inability to converse easily and comfortably. Outside the major cities, my limited language skills proved a barrier to my search for relatives. I enrolled in Polish Studies at Macquarie University to remedy this inadequacy, and I began to learn not only the language, but also about the rich culture and traditions of Poland. I have found this course to be a highly stimulating intellectual exercise, and an emotionally rewarding one too, especially when a word prompts a fond childhood memory. Indeed, the very sound of the language inspires in me a feeling of contentment. This contentment is further increased by learning of the cultural context in which the language is situated, which, thanks to my studies, I can now access.

My true home will always be here in Australia, but I am proud to say I am also a son of Poland.

I know that when visiting Poland in future my enjoyment will be heightened by my ability to converse so much better with locals, and perhaps further my search for relatives. My adult children now also know a few Polish words, and enjoy some traditional food as well. I hope one day they too will be inspired to learn more about their heritage.

I am honoured to receive the Krystyna Singler Prize, and wish to thank the Polish Studies Foundation and Macquarie University for the award, and specifically the Consul General of Poland for presenting it to me. However, my greatest thanks go to Dr Kamila Walker, whose efforts and expertise have educated and inspired me to perform to the best of my abilities. Michael Skiba 

L-r: The President of the Polish Studies Foundation, Mr Tom Czarnota, the Consul General of the Republic of Poland, Mrs Irena Juszczyk, Grant Kynaston, and Dr Kamila Walker Photo supplied

Polish was not the first language I turned my mind to, but it has certainly been the most significant to me personally. My undergraduate studies focused on Latin and Classical Greek, and I sought out Polish studies due to the language’s similarly complex morphology, as well as out of a desire to better understand Slavic languages and cultures. The benefits of studying Polish have far exceeded these expectations. Beyond its linguistic features – knowledge of which has helped me immensely in studying both historical and modern Indo-European languages – Polish has introduced me to a country and a people with an endlessly interesting history, and a distinctly beautiful culture. I have been lucky enough to travel to Poland on several occasions during my studies, most recently for a uniquely beneficial three-week language course at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. While studying in Poland, I have seen the Tatry, listened to the music of Chopin and Szymanowski, and learnt the wandering streets and individual characters of some of Europe’s most impactful towns.

The greatest thanks for all this must go to my Polish teacher at Macquarie University, Dr Kamila Walker, who, in addition to her dedicated and enthusiastic support, has provided me with access to Polish literature in its original language. As my studies in the Classics have impressed upon me, a language’s canon – however defined – provides an invaluable window into the minds of its speakers, and by exposure to a wide range of Polish authors – from Mickiewicz to Miłosz, Sienkiewicz to Szymborska, Prus to Lem – I feel I have developed a heightened appreciation for the very soul of the Polish nation. It is this appreciation I plan to take forward into graduate studies in Classics overseas, into my future professional career, and of course, back to Poland itself. Grant Kynaston

 Clearly, for Dr Skiba as for Mr Kynaston, the most distinct outcome of learning Polish has been their acknowledged sense of intellectual growth, and an expressed desire for continued engagement with the broad concept of Polishness. Learning Polish, for these two outstanding students, has not been just about getting to know a foreign vocabulary, nor even about learning how to navigate their way through the dense texture of grammatical tangles. Alongside the lexical and semantic complexities, they have each discovered the lives of the Polish people, with their culturally specific mindset, beliefs, values, as well as national and personal histories as expressed in literary and non-literary contexts.

This is precisely what the Polish Studies program aims to cultivate: an informed exploration of cultural patterns and perspectives of native speakers, in order to better understand, form, and live by, one’s own. With this goal in mind, this distance education program engages with the interplay of language, culture and literature. The range of Polish units is offered as a Major under the Bachelor of Arts program, as well as the Bachelor of International Studies with a specialisation in Polish. Additionally, a Diploma of Languages can be completed either in isolation or alongside a degree in another field, whether by an ambitious high-school leaver or by a highly skilled postgraduate. Particularly beneficial and exciting is the opportunity to participate, with the support of Macquarie International, in short-term residential programs at the Summer School of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Beyond the potential for improving language proficiency, through the combination of inbound and outbound study, students can acquire a range of transferable skills, such as effective communication, ethics of autonomy and collaboration, critical and analytical thinking as well as problem solving, which in turn enhances their employability and intercultural awareness as part of active and responsible citizenship.

Aware of the impact of language learning on the development of a diverse, yet inclusive society, and the importance of the Polish language within the Australian context, the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Sydney, along with the Polish Studies Foundation, have long supported Macquarie University’s learning and teaching initiatives. Our special thanks go to the Consul General herself, Mrs Irena Juszczyk, for her ongoing support and annual donation toward the maintenance of the Polish Studies program. We would also like to extend our gratitude for the financial aid provided by the Polish Studies Foundation and acknowledge its President, Mr Tom Czarnota. Macquarie University appreciates the efforts invested by both the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland and the Polish Studies Foundation toward the continuation of the Polish Studies program.

If you have an interest in learning Polish at Macquarie University, please visit Polish Studies at www.mq.edu.au. Should you require any further information, please contact me directly via email kamila.walker@mq.edu.au, or alternatively by phone: (02) 9850-7014. I welcome all inquiries.

Dr Kamila Walker

The Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures at Macquarie University wishes to acknowledge and thank
the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Sydney for their ongoing financial support
oward the maintenance and delivery of the Polish Studies Program.