Bilingualism - Getting the best of both worlds

As part of our Say ‘Tak’ to Polish week, Martyna Matys shares her experience of moving to Ireland from Poland as a child. She explains the challenges, but also the many benefits of growing up in Ireland while staying strongly connected to her Polish heritage.

Settling in Ireland

My life in Ireland started when I was 3 years old. At that age I didn’t really understand much of what was happening and why but there are a few moments from around the same time that are very hard to forget….

I started school here when I was 3 turning 4 and with no English. This was very challenging especially at that age. For the first few months I wasn’t even able to ask if I can go to the toilet, so I remember my mam had to write a note that I had to show to the teacher. Looking back at that I laugh but at the time it felt like getting thrown into the deep end of a pool and told to swim with no experience. Year by year it got easier and easier and my mam played a very big part in ensuring that Ireland felt like a home to me.

Staying connected with Poland

One of the biggest challenges for me was leaving my family. I had no one here besides my mam and brother. Summer trips back to Poland helped battle that. Not only did it break the distance between my relatives and I but it also meant that I got to learn a lot about life in Poland, even though I live abroad. It also motivated me to maintain the Polish language because I cannot imagine not being able to communicate with my grandmother, my dad and other family members in Poland.

Now I live in a mixed household and my mam ensures that we speak Polish as much as we can and that my younger sister is being brought up to be fluent in Polish, even though she was born in Ireland. In my opinion, this is necessary because it kept me connected to the Polish culture, traditions and when I go there for summer it feels like home.

I am 18 now and see how many opportunities I got by having that knowledge of both English and Polish on a fluent level. I have an Irish boyfriend who is also learning Polish as I want to follow in my mam’s footsteps and continue being close to my native country.

Every summer I get to spend in Poland is very special as its where I feel most at home and I am looking forward to showing my Irish friends and family where I come from as I am very proud to be from such a beautiful country .

Culture and traditions

Throughout the years I noticed that there are multiple differences between Irish and Polish cultures, especially when it comes to food. There is a lot more choice when it comes to Polish meats and cheese whereas in Ireland there is a limited choice. I also feel like Polish families spend more time together than the Irish but the Irish are a lot more welcoming when it comes to friends and meeting new people. I feel I have gained some Polish traits and Irish traits so I get the best of both worlds.

My family follows more Polish traditions especially when it comes to Christmas as it is celebrated quite differently. On December 6th we have “Little Christmas” on which we get a small present. Christmas Eve is the main day when we celebrate. We start the morning by cooking and preparing meals for dinner as it is a Polish tradition to have 12 dishes on the table. We sit down to dinner when the first star shows up in the sky. Usually we have fish, “Barszcz” which is a beetroot soup served with little dumplings stuffed with mushrooms and cabbage and salads.

There are also small Polish traditions we follow, such as taking shoes off when entering a house, “Fat Thursday” which is a day when we eat loads of donuts and “śmingus dyngus” which is translated to “Wet Monday” when we all pour water on each other on Easter Monday. This symbolises clearing each other of illnesses and certain dirt after Autumn. Of course after spending 15 years in Ireland we caught onto some Irish traditions such as eating “the fry” on a Sunday morning, thanking the bus driver and I even had the chance of participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade which I really appreciated cause it made me feel very welcome and part of the Irish.

I am very grateful to be in the position I am in now at 18 years of age having two countries I can call home. That is due to the hard work my mam put in maintaining my Polish language, by signing me up to a Polish school, helping me learn English, making sure I get to go back to Poland and also by bringing me up in a house where I got to learn about both Ireland and Poland.

I am definitely going to continue this in my own house one day because I want my kids to be brought up being proud of having Polish blood no matter where in the world they are brought up.