Assistant professor of German Cynthia Klima distinguishes herself on campus as a reverent polyglot, speaking a total of four languages fluently: Czech, Russian, German and English. Additionally, she has an understanding of most Slavic languages, with Yiddish, Hebrew and Greek thrown into the mix.
Klima’s passion for language began as a child living in Oklahoma City, as her Czech grandmother made her practice speaking Czech while cooking together.
“My family spoke Czech at home and my grandfather was a German speaker,” Klima said. She holds a B.A. in Russian and M.A. in German from the University of Oklahoma as well as a Ph.D. in German from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been a professor at Geneseo since 1993.
Klima is the coordinator for both the German studies and the Central and Eastern European Studies minors. She added that she finds great joy in teaching German to students and in her position as German Club advisor. German Club participates in a number of events, including Multilingual Night.
Klima emphasized that she loves the close connections she has with her students and is heavily invested in their future educational plans, advising German minors to pursue a graduate education in German. “I make sure they are prepared in the German language so that they can pursue Central European studies,” Klima said. She keeps in touch with students in the minor—she has advised some since their freshmen year.
In addition to holding a variety of leadership positions at Geneseo, one of Klima’s most well-known roles is the creator and director of the Humanities II study abroad program in Prague and Vienna. Klima has ran the program for 14 years.
Klima explained that Prague holds a special place in her heart—she has studied and lived there. Along with the Czech Republic, Klima has lived in Austria and Germany for various amounts of time.
According to Klima, what fostered her passion for immersing herself in a variety of cultures were her experiences with a plethora of ethnic backgrounds as a child. “When we moved to Norman, Oklahoma, our neighbors were Germans and they spoke it all the time,” she said. “That’s when I started listening to them and I got more into it in school.”
Klima’s exposure to languages other than English at such a young age helped develop her natural aptitude for learning languages. “I picked up a rhythm for it,” she said. “I can understand Ukranian, Polish, Slovenian and Macedonian. I hear them and I can understand what they’re talking about.”
Klima’s research interests lie in German-Czech-Jewish literature—the three prominent cultures of Prague. “A lot of my research is focused on the turn of the century and the interwar period—where there was a major proliferation of culture,” she said. She added that she has published historical articles and book reviews in addition to numerous articles on Jewish contributions to culture in Central Europe.
As one of the rare specialists in Czech literature, Klima explained that she is often contacted to write reviews. “I’m sought out by the Slavic Reviews because there’s not a lot of people who do Czech,” she said.
Klima stressed her belief in the importance of exploration in order to learn new languages and experience other cultures. “Get to know the people, go travel and eat the food,” she said. “You’ll never go anywhere if you don’t like to try new things.”