Unforeseen travels, opportunities lead language professor to Geneseo

The 16 years adjunct lecturer in Russian Adrianna Betts spent living around the globe in Poland, Germany and Australia helped her to foster her talent and passion for languages and cultural studies that would lead to her extensive teaching career as a professor at Geneseo.

Born toward the end of World War II in 1944, Betts was raised in a small town on the southern end of Poland. Betts recounted the first of many big decisions her Ukrainian parents made to abandon their home and to relocate their family to a different country.

“By 1945, living in Poland and being Ukrainian was not a good thing,” she said. “When the three big powers started cutting up Europe, we were in the section which was under control by the Russians and the Russians were repatriating everybody—which means they would come to wherever you were living and send you back to Ukraine—and many of thousands of people began migrating all over the place.”

Following the war, Betts’ family moved to Germany, where they found shelter from the Russians for five years. Betts explained that due to the poor living conditions her family was forced to endure in Germany, her parents were fighting hard to find new avenues of escape available to them to relocate to the United States. When the time came, however, her family missed the opportunity to board a boat destined for the U.S. Rather than allow their family to continue to struggle in Germany, Betts’ parents made the hard decision to board a second ship in the same harbor—destined for the far-off land of Australia.

“[My parents] hated it the minute we got [to Australia],” Betts said.

Despite her parents’ own hardships adjusting to the new country and language, they strove to present their daughter with the best possible opportunities. “I went to school, I had a very good life there,” Betts said. “I was prepared to live there forever.”

Betts, however, would have her hopes abruptly shattered when she was 16—her parents found out that their names had come up in a Visa list to leave Australia and enter the U.S. Betts noted how jarring this second international move was for her. “Nobody asked me,” she said. “I was 16, I had no use for this at all. I wanted to stay. I was learning to drive; I knew what university I was going to—my life was set.”

Reluctantly, Betts accompanied her parents to the U.S. where she attended a new high school and ultimately prepared to start another new life. Despite the fact that her parents wouldn’t be able to pay for college in America, Betts worked hard in her studies. Her intelligence and commitment to education would ultimately shine throughand grant her the opportunity to attend college through a very gracious educator.

“I finished two years of high school and a social studies professor took pity on me. He knew I had no money to go to college, so he applied for a scholarship for me and it covered tuition for me.” Betts then attended school at University of Colorado and studied languages.

In a twist of fate, Geneseo’s former president Robert W. MacVittie was recruiting for more staff members from Betts’ school. Betts ended up moving to Perry, New York and the rest fell into place.

“I met [MacVittie in my senior year]. He was a charming man,” Betts said. He said [to let him know when] I move to upstate New York. He called me up—I had just moved to Perry—and said, ‘Would you be interested in teaching just one class? Just one?’”

Not only would Betts teach Russian at Geneseo, but she would teach French—her minor—when the department needed someone to cover a section. In addition to teaching at Geneseo from 1966–1972, Betts received her master’s in education with a specialization in French from Geneseo in 1970.

Betts took a hiatus from teaching during the ‘70s due to the demands of raising a new family and a change in the curriculum at Geneseo. Different general education requirements—including language—for undergraduates began disappearing, which Betts took as an opportunity to leave her job and raise her new family in Perry with her husband whom she first met at the University of Colorado.

“When I was ready to come back in the ‘80’s, nothing new had been established yet,” Betts said. “I picked up my minor and ended up teaching in local schools. I taught at Letchworth and Warsaw and then switched gears and moved to York to teach there for 22 years.”

Eventually, Betts was invited back to teach Russian and French again as an adjunct professor, which she enjoys doing to this day. Despite an early desire to become a simultaneous translator at the United Nations, Betts explained that she felt that, like her childhood, her career path was out of her control. This was not necessarily a bad thing, however. It gave Betts the life-long opportunity to share her own love of language and culture in her students.

Betts emphasized the unforeseen benefits of following the flow of life and accepting circumstances out of one’s own control. “Professionally—and as far as seeing the world goes—I have not had a lot of control in what has happened,” Betts said. “Things have happened and I have gone with them … Every time I tried to get away from teaching, circumstances drove me back to it. I’m one of those people who didn’t choose a profession; the profession chose me.”