When Anna Kuziara moved to Connecticut from Poland in 2007, she regularly felt intimidated.
“I was the first person in my family to study at a U.S. university,” she says. “I was afraid to talk to people in my first year. I thought people wouldn’t understand me and I wouldn’t understand them.”
Kuziara relocated with her mother, father and younger sister to Vernon, Conn., to be closer to relatives who live in Hartford. She spent her first two years in the U.S. attending school at Manchester Community College, where she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts.
Having always enjoyed her geography classes in Poland, Kuziara decided to transfer to UConn and major in geography. And once she set foot on the UConn campus, she says, her apprehensions waned and she “was able to relax.”
“I saw all these people of different backgrounds not being afraid to do their own thing,” she says. “People are friendly and don’t care about a language deficit, and I realized that I shouldn’t be worried about the language.”
Kuziara’s interest in geography was piqued by her high school classes in Poland, in which she learned about the subject as more than just memorizing maps. The interdisciplinary field contains elements of Earth science, environmental science, economics, political science and computer science, to name a few.
To save money during school, Kuziara commuted from Vernon and worked two work-study jobs. One of these jobs was in the Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) at the UConn library. There she helped to take care of historical maps, scanning and tagging them so they can be used in digital form.
The center contains more than 100,000 historical maps, says Kuziara, and was especially busy this year working as a U.S. Census data repository.
The branch of geography that Kuziara is most interested in is physical geography – in particular, Geographic Information Systems, or GIS. These computer systems create integrated maps with physical or social characteristics that can be applied to many different fields.
“I decided that I want to focus on GIS technology,” says Kuziara. “In the United States, GIS is very developed, but in Poland it’s just starting to develop.”
UConn offers a Certificate in Geographic Information Systems that Kuziara would like to complete, and potentially get a master’s degree. She’d like to eventually return to Poland, where she’d like to work at the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and help to develop her country’s GIS expertise.
Kuzuara says that her experience at UConn has been nothing short of enlightening. Being in the geography program helped her to meet good friends with similar interests. The program’s small size – with only 31 majors – was an asset.
“You can really get to know everybody in geography,” she says. “The atmosphere is really good. We’re like a family.”
Most of all, Kuziara appreciated that UConn has so many international students, just like her.
“Poland is 99 percent Polish. You don’t meet people from other countries there,” she says. “Here, there are lots of people from different backgrounds, languages, religions, cultures. It’s really enriching.”