What role do the Polish Saturday Schools play in the life of teenagers living in the United Kingdom?

What role do the Polish Saturday Schools play in the life of teenagers living in the United Kingdom? What does it mean to be Polish? Is it worth to learn the Polish language? Jakub Sztof – a former student of St. Jadwiga the Queen Polish Saturday School in Ilford will try to answer these questions that concern us all.

Jakub is 16 and was born in Tarnowskie Góry, Poland. He moved to the United Kingdom 8 years ago. Jakub would like to study humanities, which would combine well with his interests, yet he is still unsure about the field of study. On the other hand, he is sure that he wants to be proficient in Polish.

MK: Jakub, when talking to your one and a half old sister Amelia, do you speak in Polish, or English?

JS: We're still unable to hold a conversation, but I talk to her in Polish and this surely won't change in the future for a few simple reasons. Firstly, since she is going to grow up in the United Kingdom, learning English won't be a problem for her. Moreover, through my observation of the environment, she might have a bigger problem with learning how to properly write in the Polish language, rather than English. This is why, I firmly believe that attending to Polish Saturday Schools is so vital for the Polish youth. Secondly, I think that keeping our national identity is also very important, and one of its aspects is the knowledge of the Polish language.

MK: This year you have attended to the second part of your A-level examination for the Polish language, why?

JS: I wrote the Polish language A-level for many reasons. One of them is the fact that I had this privilege and the opportunity to write it. The privilege that for example my sister may not have, since the examination board is trying to take it away – discarding the Polish A-level exams. Secondly, to a certain extent it is the opportunity to keep the national identity – because of the amount of effort and time put into improving the knowledge of the language. Thirdly, it may provide a better future. This is because more and more Poles emigrate to the United Kingdom; and the employers indisputably prefer employees that are able to speak foreign languages. Not to mention the fact that Polish is one of the hardest languages in the world, to learn, which only brings benefits to the people being able to understand it. Therefore, I think that the Polish language is not only important to me, but also to my generation.

MK: I've noticed that in your answers you mention the subject matter of national identity. So, what does it mean to you to be Polish?

JS: I believe that you need to feel Polish. Living in Poland or owning a Polish passport is not enough. In my opinion Poles should try to learn about the history, culture and traditions of Poland, but that is not everything. You need to feel Polish. By saying this I do not mean uniting during national holidays, or when our football team plays their next match, but feeling Polish every day. Being born Polish and speaking the language is not enough. I do not claim that the culture, tradition and language are meaningless. I claim that every Pole should know the words of our national anthem and remember about our history – and about millions of Poles that sacrificed their lives so our country could be independent. As I see it, the most important thing is the prosaic day-to-day patriotism. In the future, I would also want my children to learn the Polish language for many reasons. Knowledge of languages only has advantages, such as better job opportunities and being able to understand the world and other cultures. Furthermore I think that it's very important to keep the national identity, including the culture and language.

MK: From our lessons I know that one of your interests is the history of Poland. Why is it so fascinating? Is there a time period, which you find the most interesting in particular?

JS: I find the history of Poland fascinating, because as a nation we suffered many defeats, but were always able to rise again. Just by the fact that Poland was erased from the world map for 123 years – yet we still exist – makes me feel proud. In my opinion the most interesting time period in the history of Poland are the 19th and 20th centuries. Mainly because we were able to rise after so many defeats. Starting from annexation, uprisings and ending with the Second World War and the fall of communism in the late 20th century. Moreover, a very interesting time period is the Polish Golden Age; Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

MK: And your favourite book is…?

JS: I don't have a favourite book. This is because of one simple reason: I believe that I haven't read it yet. This motivates me to read even more. Nonetheless if I'd have to recommend three books to other readers in the English language then these books would be: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. In terms of Polish literature I enjoyed reading poems of Jan Brzechwa as a kid.

MK: What role did the Polish Saturday School play in your life?

JS: Education in the Polish language, whilst living in the UK, has undoubtedly played a huge role in my life. Without it, I probably would never have an interest in Polish history, literature and culture to this extent. Additionally, education in the Polish language has given me the opportunity to pass the A-level exam, which will definitely help me in the future.

MK: In the AS part of the exam you received an 'A grade', with 100% possible marks to obtain. What advice would you give to your peers, who will also write this exam?

JS: I would like to give two pieces of advice to my peers that are about to write the AS exam. Firstly, to get a good grade, you have to be well prepared. This means that you cannot procrastinate until the last month, and then start revising. Instead you should start revising much earlier. Secondly, it is worth to read in the Polish language – I noticed that it was the best way for me to learn and expand my vocabulary, whilst improving other crucial skills needed to pass the exam – for example reading comprehension. Furthermore, you should not worry about the stress, and instead be confident and believe in yourself, that you can get a good grade!

MK: I am more than happy to announce that Jakub obtained the highest possible A* grade from his Polish A-level exams. Congratulations!

With Jakub Sztof was speaking Maksi Kozińska.

Photos : Michał Krótki

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