Stories from SlavSoc

FEATURES | MQU SLAVIC SOCIETY


SlavSoc is Macquarie University’s Slavic Society.


“The Serbian boy” in Australia and “the Aussie boy” in Serbia.


Having a Serbian heritage is something to be incredibly proud of. A legendary and traditional history cascading through the centuries, filled with romance, war, tradition, war, and much more war. Through living and growing up in Australia, I and many others of Serbian background are emotionally scarred and affected by the persecution and suffering of our immediate family and ancestors. Not only are the stories of the past gut-wrenching and emotionally disturbing but when we turn on the news or open our social media, we are faced with images, videos, and articles showing the destruction of our churches, monasteries, and other traditional and cultural strongholds. Although we are considered “Aussie kids” and far from the eyes of everyone back home, the pain we experience is very close to our hearts and in turn will be passed on to future generations. Our relatives, who fled war-torn Yugoslavia during the ‘90s or during either World War I or II, did so for a better life. Many achieved prosperous life in their new-found home, building a life to be cherished from just a suitcase. Unfortunately a suitcase wasn’t their only ‘baggage.’


— ​​​​​​Bogdan Guberinc, Bachelor of Arts/Laws


I grew up in a multilingual household, where both parents were of completely different nationalities: Russian and Lebanese. I was always immersed in both Slavic and Middle Eastern traditions however I was significantly interested in my Slavic culture. I attended Saturday school for the majority of my school years, where reciting Russian poetry was a regular occurrence, however there was not one that I particularly enjoyed. Now reminiscing, I don’t think I actualised the impact learning about my culture and language would have on me. It has given me the opportunity to communicate with relatives overseas as well as widening my cultural social circle in Sydney. I have been able to attend and participate in various cultural events e.g. film festivals, balls etc. Growing up in Australia without having Russian relatives here was always quite difficult as I never had the opportunity to frequently visit my babushka and dedushka, however Friday night skype calls quickly became a “weekly tradition.” From a young age, being exposed to the Russian culture allowed me to appreciate our diverse traditions and be very proud of my identity. When introducing myself to new crowds and atmospheres, I definitely believe that being Russian is a flex (not being biased of course).


— Tracyla Chehade, Bachelor of Psychology


Growing up as the daughter of first-generation immigrants from Poland, it was inevitable that Polish customs infiltrated my upbringing. I remember the primary school I attended was culturally homogenous as there was only a minority of students who were bilingual or identified as anything outside of Aussie. I remember distinctly suppressing any inkling of my Polishness. I was ashamed that my parents spoke broken english and I avoided any attention from my peers, especially during lunchtime, when I pulled out the smelly Polish lunches Mum packed. These lunches tended to be a hearty Polish sausage (Kiełbasa), best served cold, rye bread with a light smear of pâté, and as a snack, a whole tomato, which I would eat like an apple. My lunches were anachronistic to my friends who had peanut butter and jelly or vegemite sandwiches. However, these experiences which incited shame at an early age, are now the stories that bring me pride. It was moments like these that led me to appreciate cultural differences. I believe in celebrating the way our culturally diverse experiences carry on shaping us into the people we are today.


— Ola Kobialka, Bachelor of Psychology (Honours).


Привет = hello in Russian! I wanted to take this opportunity to share my favourite memory from my time in Russia. As a child, I’d go to Russia to live with my grandparents every year for a couple of months at a time – in these months I would develop my Russian and spend time with my cousins in the Russian countryside at something called a dacha. My grandparents’ dacha was located right near the river Volga and included a large vegetable farm and wooden home. My cousins and I were able to run around, play outdoor games, and cool down by swimming in the river. I’ve been super nostalgic about it recently! Not spending time in Russia as regularly as I’ve gotten older has definitely made it harder for me to keep up my speaking skills beyond casual conversation. That reminds me of a funny story my parents told me about when I was learning Russian at the same time as English; at preschool in Australia, I would get confused

between the languages and when the teachers tried to correct me, I’d be like “No it is right!” When in fact, I was 100% writing in another language.


— Katya Buryak, Bachelor of Actuarial Studies


“WHAT YOU GOT MARRIED OVER THE WEEKEND?”


Ah yes, misapprehensions due to cultural differences, my favourite. Growing up as a first generation Australian I have definitely encountered my fair share of these misconceptions. At the age of four, before I even started kindergarten, my parents enrolled me into a Saturday Russian school, where I would learn anything from Russian literature and punctuation to drama. This meant that while all my English school friends were playing sports on Saturdays, I was stuck in class trying to memorise historical dates. I still remember one of my friends consoling me, “Don’t worry Larissa, when you apply for a big job in the future, they will definitely ask you what day the Russian Poet Pushkin was born (June 6th 1799).” All jokes aside, Russian school helped me gather a more holistic historical and cultural perspective of the world and actually led me to meet some of my closest friends. My experiences with Russian school also brought about some interesting cultural misunderstandings, like the one I mentioned earlier. Graduation is signified by a debutante ball (a cultural formal), where we perform traditional dances like the waltz. The girls from the graduating class wear white ball gowns and the boys wear fancy suits. So after many social media posts of me dancing in a white dress with my partner, many people from my English school drew a very interesting assumption. Needless to say, it’s a funny story to tell and even funnier when I provide photo “evidence” to convince people I’m twenty and married.


— Larissa Svetlov, Bachelor of Law and Psychology (Honours)


Having a Polish background and growing up learning the culture has been such a great experience. Since day one I would always speak Polish to my parents at home. I really enjoyed watching Polish animated films and reading books when growing up. As all my family live in Poland, it was my priority to improve my speaking skills so I could communicate to them with ease. I clearly remember my trip to Poland a few years back when my childhood mate invited me to a big house party with me not knowing anyone there. As soon as I mentioned that I live in Australia, I gained so much attention and immediately became a popular figure among others. When my mates saw this, they also started saying the same thing. More importantly, it allowed me to gain new friends over in my hometown Białystok with whom I still have contact with to this day. Now that I am older, I am thankful to my parents for introducing me to their homeland which let me meet a lot of other Poles living in Australia, share the same experiences we had as kids, and more importantly create long-lasting friendships.


— Thomas Bienasz, Bachelor of Cyber Security


I’m Nicole and I am the proud daughter of Bosnian-Croat immigrants. From a young age, my parents taught my brother and I the importance of preserving the culture and language of our ancestors. Music, amongst other influences such as cuisine, literature, movies, and traditions, has been a significant aspect of my connectedness to my ethnicity. During my childhood, there was always music from all around the Balkan region (particularly from Bosnia and Herzegovina), playing in the house. My parents would play different genres, switching from ex-Yu rock to pop then to folk and sevdalinka music, all in the span of an hour. My parents still do this and I now too have followed in their paths, but now in the format of a forty-hour long Spotify playlist. When I hear this music, I automatically feel closer to my culture and am reminded of past events such as birthdays, Easters, Christmases, concerts, and holidays where music was a uniting factor. I am so grateful to my parents for teaching me the language as it has granted me opportunities to connect with family, both here and overseas, to meet new friends in Bosnia and Croatia, and to understand the rich and beautiful traditions of our culture.


— Nicole Juric, Bachelor of International Studies and Bachelor of Laws


​​My favourite aspect of growing up in a Macedonian-Australian household has always been the prevalence of traditional cultural foods. Meals are often not only a time for eating, but also a means of gathering family and friends together and connecting over our shared values, language, and culture. Orthodox Easter, Christmas, and name-day celebrations each year guarantee all of my favourite foods are made which leaves us with leftovers for days. A particular favourite of mine is my baba’s (grandmother) freshly baked maznik (a swirl pastry filled with cheese and spinach). On Orthodox Christmas Eve, she hides a single coin in the pastry, and the tradition is that whoever finds the coin in their piece will receive good luck for the year. I fondly remember when we were younger, she would include four coins for all four of her grandchildren so that no one was left out. In order to keep these traditions alive, I’ve asked my baba to teach me her recipes. Each time I visit her, we practice cooking something new together, with my favourites so far being kifli (mini rolls filled with cheese), kozinjak (sweet bread), and palačinki (crepes). I truly treasure this time that we spend together – even though I can never make them as well as she does!


— Isabella Kiparizov, Bachelor of Laws/International Studies