Cultural diversity, calculus and tattoos were considered part of a separate world before Daniel Kusky entered Hudson Valley.
Over a decade ago, Kusky was a devout Orthodox Jew growing up in St. Louis. Although his father worked as a geology professor, faith overshadowed academics.
Until college, Kusky’s knowledge of mainstream American culture mostly came from movies. Having limited exposure to diversity outside of the Jewish community, he previously believed non-Jewish people were less civilized.
“I’ve never really been in a secular environment until Hudson Valley,” said Kusky.
After his parents divorced and his father moved to China in middle school, despite lacking secular knowledge, Kusky started openly questioning his faith. He became eager to get a public education towards the end of middle school, despite his mother having other plans for him.
Questioning his faith, Kusky’s mother sent him away to Yeshivas in eighth grade to restore his diminishing connection with the religion. He wasn’t allowed to come back home until he fully associated with Orthodox Judaism, but following his own beliefs, Kusky never returned.
“She doesn’t accept that fact I can’t really appreciate [Judaism] as much as her” he said. “And for some reason, that is enough that she doesn’t want to be a part of my life if I can’t have being Jewish be a part of mine.”
Kusky disliked boarding at Yeshivas. Some school days lasted from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with much of the time dedicated to Hebrew studies.
Devoting much of his time to studying sacred texts, Kusky claimed some of the schools he went to had low academic standards.
Despite heavy religious studies, Kusky did not assimilate to Orthodox Judaism. From Wisconsin to New Jersey, Kusky was frequently kicked out of Yeshivas for openly questioning his faith and straying from the culture.
“It was a little bit too much for me and I had some bad experiences with the people in it, mainly because I was kicked out of so many Yeshivas,” said Kusky.
At 16-years-old, Kusky briefly left Yeshiva studies to work at a nursing home in St. Louis. Being unsure of his faith and not receiving any formal education at the time, Kusky took an offer to decide his future with the religion in Israel.
Getting kicked out of Yeshivas frequently, after staying in Israel for less than a year, Kusky chose to move away from Orthodox Judaism. At the time, he had his ears stretched and his tongue pierced as acts of defiance against the culture, getting him kicked out of a Yeshiva for about a month.
Throughout his travels, members of the Jewish community, often friends, would give Kusky food and shelter when he was kicked out of Yeshivas. After his trip to Israel, while not accepting the faith, Kusky continued to live mostly among members of the Jewish community.
“It’s a tight community so even though I wasn’t really associating, if I was in a troublesome spot — someone would help me out,” he said.
Back in St. Louis, Kusky worked three jobs. Looking towards a future outside of Jewish community, he poured most of his money into savings. By the end of his stay, Kusky had over $10,000 in savings.
Much of his savings went to expenses such as tuition when his aunt in Averill Park offered to take him in and guide him towards pursuing a secular education at Hudson Valley.
“Hudson Valley has kind of formed the person I am today, which I believe will be better for a professional environment,” said Kusky.
The transition from Jewish studies to secular academics left Kusky with a 2.5 GPA in his first semester. His highest grade was a B.
“It takes time, dedication and just a willingness to learn,” said Kusky, who earned a 4.0 last semester.
While Kusky adjusted to courses such as calculus, it took him about two years to adjust to the culture. Having associated with a “hardcore” group of friends, his first perception of secular culture largely focused around body modifications. Over the last two years, he got tattoos and a face dermal which he currently regrets.
Despite moving past tradition and disassociating himself with religion, he still believes in God. Instead of burying his beliefs completely, Kusky makes an effort to make faith less integrated into his lifestyle.
“School, I think, has formed the person I am today which will be a better person in the professional environment,” said Kusky.