All Rachel Hluska knows about being adopted and coming to America from Russia as a 2-year-old toddler with her 3-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother is what she has learned from her adoptive American parents.
The Munster resident knows, for instance, that due to neglect, she and her siblings were taken from her birth mother’s home and placed in an understaffed Russian orphanage where from their baby bottles they sucked on sugar water as a substitute for milk and experienced bedbug bites.
She also knows that a photo of her and her siblings moved John and Laura Hluska to adopt them, though complications in doing so were nearly prohibitive.
‘By no small miracle...’
“My parents told me that their adoption agency told them to pick new children, and my parents replied, ‘That’s not happening,’” Rachel said. “By no small miracle, a friend of my father with the Munster Police Department happened to be traveling to Russia as a drug enforcement agent. He talked to the local governing agency in Russia, and my siblings and I were on a plane to O’Hare (International Airport) 24 hours later. God’s arms were around the whole situation.”
Continuing, Rachel, now 25, said, “If that had not happened, I know I would be on a different road in Russia. While we were growing up, my parents talked to us all the time about our adoption. I know that at the age of 16 my options would have been to work as a farm hand or to just leave the orphanage and make my way in the world. The opportunities I’ve had in America have been amazing!”
They include an education—something her American parents have emphasized and the Hluska family celebrated Saturday (12/10) when Rachel participated in Purdue University Northwest’s first Commencement Exercises as a candidate of the College of Business in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Good work ethic
“My parents taught me a good work ethic and encouraged my siblings and me to get high school jobs,” Rachel said.
Employment she obtained following high school with a local Bakers Square restaurant “developed my passion, skills and desire to want to become a manager” in the hospitality industry. Her current position with Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant continues to fuel her aspiration.
“When I enrolled at what was Purdue Calumet at the time, I started in a program that didn’t really fit my personality,” she said. “My mom told me, ‘Rachel, you like working in hospitality and serving people, why not that field?’ So I visited and talked to some professors in HTM, and everyone there was so inviting.
Impressed with HTM faculty
”When I got into the program, I was impressed with how knowledgeable the faculty is. Because of them, my educational experience was awesome; everyone wants to help you. There was a sense of community; it’s like another family.”
One of those faculty members, Associate Professor of Restaurant, Hotel and Institutional Management Geralyn Farley, took an immediate interest in Rachel.
“Since I had been in the former Soviet Union about 10 years prior to the time she was adopted, I truly understood how fortunate she was to come to the United States,” Farley said. “Rachel’s gratitude to her parents is reflected in her kindness to all her classmates, teachers and co-workers, and her kindness is reflected in her degree choice—the profession of serving others.
Rachel has hospitality in her blood and in combination with her hard work ethic, I am confident she will always succeed.”
Lots to look forward to
With graduation behind her, two other events loom large in Rachel’s future: her pending marriage this spring to Purdue Northwest Hammond Campus engineering alumnus Daniel Vandervelde and the Family Day celebration the Hluskas hold each July 30, observing the date Rachel and her siblings came to America in 1994.
“With my Russian name, Ludmila, as my middle name, I carry a part of Russia with me always,” she said. “But I am grateful to be surrounded by an American family and all this country has offered me.”
Purdue University Northwest
Purdue University Northwest (PNW), a comprehensive regional university within the Purdue University system, has two Northwest Indiana campuses in Hammond and Westville. The university was established by the unification in early 2016 of the former Purdue University Calumet and Purdue University North Central. With more than 15,000 students and nearly 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, Purdue Northwest is Indiana’s fifth largest public university. For more information about PNW, visit www.pnw.edu.