Courtesy Photo / Shawn Wooster
Polish Club Members

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / Shawn Wooster Polish Club Members

Anya Zentmeyer

Twelve members from Grand Valley State University’s Polish club, Klub Polski, aren’t spending today in classrooms, but rather with hands-on educational trip to Chicago for the group’s second trip to the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland, which is based there.

Organized by Polish language professor Eva Lewak, students visited the consulate for the first time over the winter holidays for a dinner shared with students from other universities.

“We met with other schools and other students from Northwestern — mainly Chicago schools,” said Jacob Szocinski, president of Klub Polski and a GVSU senior. “… I think we were the only out-of-state school. The consulate only sponsors a few schools; they don’t sponsor every school with a Polish Club. That’s why our professor did a really great job, she helped set us up with that connection and I know they’re providing books and games and other things for the club and classes.”

This time, students from Klub Polski will take a tour of Chicago’s consulate and meet the new consulate there, followed by a meal at a Polish restaurant with authentic food, as well as shopping. Gary Stark, associate dean of GVSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will attend the trip as well to meet with the Polish diplomats.

Szocinski said the trip is significant for Klub Polski members mainly because it gives students a chance to immerse themselves in the culture as well as establish connections.

“Last time we were there I went to the store and just got to see a lot of the people around there speaking Polish,” he said. “It’s kind of almost like being in Poland, in a sense, without actually going there. But you get to see all of the food they eat — a lot of the food there is imported from Poland — and you can see what a grocery store looks like in Poland.”

Outside of the club, the Padnos International Center at GVSU administers its own study abroad trip to Poland, a partnership between the university and Cracow University of Economics, that has been in existence since 1975.

“When we talk about exchanges, we’re talking about sending students to Poland, their students coming here and also there’s an exchange on the faculty and staff level,” said Meaghann Myers-Smith, a study abroad advisor at PIC. “So, we have a history of having sent GVSU faculty and staff to Cracow University of Economics and they have faculty and staff coming here, so it’s the exchange of ideas and teaching and so forth happening at that level as well.”

Students can take semester-long or academic year-long trips there, and although economic, business and international relations majors might benefit the most from Cracow University of Economics in particular, students can still knock out theme requirements through the program, too.

Myers-Smith said GVSU has a very flexible study abroad policy, so students who might not find GVSU’s program the right fit but who still want to study in Poland can do so through other organizations where they would still maintain their student status at GVSU and receive credits for their time, but they wouldn’t have to pay any university costs for the semester than they are in a non-GVSU program.

“One of the cool things with studying in Poland, is that the Polish government provides a stipend to students studying there,” Myers-Smith said, adding that stipend money comes out to about $330 U.S. dollars, to help cover the costs of living while there.

But for students like Szocinski, whose parents are from Poland and whose relatives still reside there, studying the language, culture and customs is about more than just the extra cash.

“I speak (Polish) at home,” he said. “We talk on the phone in Polish — I mean, my whole family is over there, so I have to communicate somehow with my grandparents.”

Szocinski started Klub Polski in the fall and they’re already up to about 20 members. He said anyone can join the club, even if they don’t speak fluent Polish or aren’t Polish language majors.

“Pretty much anyone can join,” he said. “We’re trying to promote the culture, in a sense, and that’s kind of the main thing. We also want to form a group of students that are close with each other that share the interest.”

Recently, the Klub Polski attended a Griffin’s hockey game with Grand Rapids’ Polish Heritage Society. Come next fall, Szocinski said they’re taking their biweekly meetings on the road — spending less time in the classroom and more time actually experiencing Polish heritage in the area.

“So next year, we’re planning on going to different places for our meetings; more trips together, to kind of become closer as a club,” he said.

Students who are interested in joining, or learning more about Klub Polski should contact Szocinski at [email protected].

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