Photo of BW student Klementyna Pozniak at Jewish Community Centre of Krakow

Returning to her homeland of Poland to experience a life-changing internship was an emotional and eye-opening opportunity for Klementyna Pozniak '20.

A journey of heart and homeland

September 6, 2017

Photo of BW student Klementyna Pozniak at Jewish Community Centre of Krakow

Tikkun Olam…the words have always been etched in her heart. Their gentle meaning revealing her life’s purpose. She knew it as a child and even more so today as a 19-year-old who bridges two lives and two nations.

The Hebrew words, so dear to her Jewish faith, convey a mindset of helping to mend the world through kindness and meaningful action. It’s what inspires Klementyna Pozniak ’20 to pursue a career goal focused on service. And more recently, it’s what led her to return to her homeland of Poland for a summer internship.

Two Lives, Two Nations

"I am a Polish Jew living in America," she stated. "I’ve always been aware of this to the fullest extent. Our home in Amherst, Ohio is filled with Polish and Jewish works of art, so I never forget my heritage. My family came to America when I was eight years old and for many years we traveled back and forth between the two countries.

"I grew up living two lives. That of an immigrant in America who saw the many possibilities ahead of her and that of a Polish girl who missed the beauty and traditions of her homeland and the loved ones still residing there," she recalled with deep reflection. 

Random Acts of Kindness

"I came to Baldwin Wallace because I wanted a personalized learning experience that would help me grow as a person. I chose communication studies and philosophy as my majors and set a career goal of becoming an attorney or director of a nonprofit organization," she explained.

"A year ago, I was quietly sitting in my residence hall room. Like many first-year students, I was excited about college but also felt homesick at times," she admitted. "Every day I would tell myself that if I could make one person smile during the day, the world would be a little better off and I would feel a little less homesick.

"Seeing the impact that a small act of kindness could have on one person motivated me to see the action on a bigger scale," she continued. "I tried to think of ways I could mend the world while reconnecting with my Polish motherland."

photo of Klementyna Pozniak bikingIt was then that Pozniak formulated her plan to intern with the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) of Krakow. She met with her BW adviser to discuss the logistics of her internship and felt rejuvenated with a passionate sense of purpose.

A Liberation Never Received

"Traveling to Krakow, I felt myself regaining a sense of optimism full force," she reflected.
"My work with the JCC was life-changing. I assisted in the planning of significant events, including a 55-mile bike ride from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Krakow. It was a moving experience to leave a place that was the epicenter of death and finish at a place of life. 

"During the grueling bike ride, I thought about the 89-year-old Holocaust survivor from my congregation in Ohio, who was like a grandfather to me, and the millions of others who suffered in concentration camps. As we entered the gates of the Krakow JCC at the conclusion of the ride, it felt as if all those souls who were lost at Auschwitz entered with us. It was a liberation they never received," she solemnly noted.

Destined to Return

"Coming back to the States was emotional," she acknowledged. "I missed the JCC. But there was joy in seeing the pride and happiness of my family and friends as I told them of my journey and recounted my experiences with my congregation, even bringing its members to tears.

"I feel destined to return to Poland and continue this work," she said. "I believe in life we are given the tools to shape our own lives. And that our success is not measured by how we use these tools to better ourselves, but how we better the world. At BW, I feel I am gaining the perspectives and skills that can help me achieve this goal."