Camille Kuru’s first language was Polish, and she grew up in a multicultural household where several languages were spoken, and cultural education was valued.
“My mom’s side of the family came to the U.S. from Poland and my dad immigrated from the Czech Republic, so I grew up with both cultures,” she said. “I first learned English at school when I was five, and at home I tried to integrate the languages.”
A first-year student at IU, Kuru is pursuing the Russian & East European Area Studies Certificate from the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies while studying management at the Kelley School of Business. Through the certificate, Kuru is gaining Polish language skills and cultural knowledge to increase her career prospects for international business.
Growing up in a Chicago suburb, Kuru and her brother both attended Polish school on Saturdays for lessons in culture, history, and language. However, Kuru said she and her brother both stopped going when they were young, which she now regrets.
“When we got older, in our teen years, our family started having more conversations in English at home, and that’s when we started losing our Polish language skills,” said Kuru. “It became difficult for us because we knew Polish through listening only. That’s when we wanted to speak more Polish.”
Kuru’s brother is an IU alum who also took Polish language classes at IU. Kuru says she and her brother are both invested in maintaining close ties to their heritage.
“I love learning about my culture and I love embracing it,” said Kuru. “I did Polish and Czech dance growing up, so I was able to learn culture through that. Our family also celebrated Wigilia, a Polish Christmas Eve tradition. My brother and I’s favorite part of Wigilia is Borscht, a beet soup, which is full of nutrients. It’s so tasty, and you have dumplings with it too, cabbage, and some other vegetables.”
Originally, Kuru planned to minor in Polish. When she discovered the Russian & East European Area Studies Certificate, she realized she could gain an in-depth knowledge of both Polish and Czech culture. She feels she had less exposure to Czech language and culture growing up, and she wanted to reconnect with that side of her heritage.
One of the things Kuru likes about the certificate is its flexibility and the breadth of courses that fit the requirements. One of her current classes examines Czech literature and history post World War II — subjects close to Kuru’s heart, as she has great grandparents on both sides of her family who were Holocaust survivors.
“I am so intrigued by World War II,” she said. “It’s interesting to me because I can relate to my ancestors.”
One story Kuru knows was shared by her father.
“My great grandpa on my dad’s side was in the concentration camps for being Romani and he was able to live through it and survive,” she said. “He later told his granddaughter that ‘America saved us — not the Soviets.’ At the time, under Soviet rule, you were forced to say ‘the Soviets saved us.’ His granddaughter then accidentally told people at her school what he had said, which could have gotten him jailed or executed, so he had to say he was joking.”
After hearing her father’s story, Kuru said she was in shock, and she knows there are more stories that she hasn’t heard yet. In the meantime, she is enjoying learning about the social and cultural environment that affected her great grandparents’ generation.
While she grew up speaking and hearing Polish, Kuru said her Polish language classes are helping her strengthen her grammar and written language skills for professional use.
“I want to have the credentials to do something with the Polish culture and use my language in business,” said Kuru. “I know there are companies that are looking for Polish speakers and I want to be able to showcase that I can speak Polish and I know the Polish culture, and also have the certificate to show for it.”
Kuru said her family is proud that she and her brother are both interested in keeping their cultural traditions alive.
“My parents are both super proud we’re not just an American family, but we’re an American family with culture, and we still embrace that culture and try to visit Poland and the Czech Republic whenever we can,” Kuru said. “My mom is happy that I want to pursue something in Polish. She thinks it’s a useful skill. She’s happy that I’m using the language and that after she spent all these years trying to teach me, she didn’t have to force me to do this.”
Kuru said she doesn’t think her family in Poland and the Czech Republic knows she is pursuing East European studies, but if they knew, they would be proud.
“Polish is something I definitely want to integrate into my own family and children in the future,” she said. “I would say it’s something worth doing.”
The Russian and Eastern European Area Studies Undergraduate Certificate is offered through the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute. The certificate prepares students for graduate school and careers in a wide variety of fields relating to Eastern Europe in academia, government, NGOs, international development, and the private sector.