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From the Urals to the United States: The Story of Galina Slutskaya

Galina Slutskaya's story posted by Gary Dreyer on November 07, 2012 at 10:27 pm. Galina emigrated from Chelyabinsk, Russia to New York, United States in 1997

I am writing this story on behalf of Galina Slutskaya who immigrated from Chelyabinsk, Russia to Brooklyn, New York in January of 1997.

            I worked as a gastroenterologist in the city of Chelyabinsk in the Ural region of Russia. My husband also worked as a doctor, but like almost everyone, we struggled financially both during Soviet times and in the early years after the dissolution of the USSR. However, I cannot say that it was either unbearable or excruciatingly difficult. My brother, who had moved to Moscow years earlier, immigrated to New York in 1992. I personally had no close relatives left in Russia by that time, short of my mother who lived separately in Sochi. I would therefore say that reconnecting with him was a major driving factor in our decision to immigrate to the United States. The process of filling out all the paperwork began in 1996, almost a year in advance. My family had to go to Moscow a number of times to get our documents sorted out and, thankfully, we didn’t encounter any problems. We quickly passed the interview and were approved for visas.

            The speedy approval did not appease the fact that my family, including myself, my husband, my daughter, and my mother were all rather terrified, uncertain, and anxious about what awaited us in the country of our destination. We also were acutely aware that it was an incredibly dangerous time to emigrate from Russia due to the rampant crime level. The mafia was everywhere. There was mass immigration of Jewish people to Israel, the United States, and Germany, and there were so many instances of robbery and murder. We told virtually no one except for our closest relatives that we would be leaving for fear that someone potentially dangerous would find out. It was also terribly difficult for us to sell our apartment and that remained a worry as we were preparing to emigrate. However, we got lucky and our first and only offer came at just the right time.

            We left our apartment very carefully and discreetly, so as to avoid suspicion, and proceeded to the train station to board a train to Moscow. After getting off the train in Moscow, we spent a few nights there before heading to the Sheremetyevo Airport for our flight to New York. After the long and exhausting eleven hour flight into John F. Kennedy Airport, the four of us were met by my brother and his family for a long-awaited and emotional reunion. For the first two weeks, we lived with my brother and his family in their apartment on Ave P in Boro Park. They then helped us rent an apartment in a private house on West 6th Street and Avenue U. There were a number of problems with that apartment, such as lack of heating in the bathroom, which was a significant issue during the winters. Other maintenance problems, such as a crumbling ceiling, also came up during the three years we lived there. In spite of the apartment conditions, we were grateful to NAYANA for providing us with our first furniture.

            Things were not at all easy at the beginning of our time in America. There was much stress and much opportunity for things to go wrong. NAYANA was our biggest lifeline. No matter the questions we had or how lost we felt, the staff was always ready to hear us out, take us seriously, and give valuable advice and guidance. My biggest personal worry was about my pregnancy and my unborn child and his future. I turned to NAYANA and told them I didn’t know how I was going to give birth in this foreign country. They were able to get me insurance coverage and it was only due to that that I was able to go for check-ups and to deliver my baby, safely, in Maimonides Hospital.

            More practical issues then arose, such as getting an education and a job in a completely new environment, as well as learning a totally new and unfamiliar language. I knew that it would be difficult to adjust career-wise, and my concerns proved justified. Not long after I arrived, it was made clear that it would be impossible for me to continue practicing as a doctor, and that I had to find an alternative, and quickly. I soon decided that the best course for me would be to pursue a career as a dietician, as it had much in common with my experience as a gastroenterologist in Russia, paid rather well, and I would be able obtain the required education in a reasonable amount of time. Soon after giving birth to my son Victor, I enrolled in Brooklyn College to earn the masters degree which would allow me to become a registered dietician. I studied very hard and was an A student, but my difficulties with English still presented a significant barrier. My husband, who was a doctor in Russia, graduated from a Chiropractic college and is a practicing chiropractor.

Thankfully, this was made much easier by the assistance of a number of very good programs for new immigrants which I credit with both greatly increasing my English skills and teaching me about life in the United States. At first, like many other immigrants from the former Soviet states, I attended free English-language courses at NAYANA. From there, I enrolled in courses held at Long Island University, and then finally in Riverside. The volunteer who taught English in Riverside was one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He had been in business for many years until his retirement, and also came from a linguistics background as well. He not only taught us many things about the English language, but also invited us to dinners at his house, during which we learned about American culture, identity, tradition, and history. I also specifically remember him taking us on extensive and fascinating excursions to Manhattan which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I graduated from Brooklyn College in 2002 as one of the top ten in my class. I attribute this success to much hard work, determination, and a strong desire to learn and accomplish my goals. I now work as a registered dietician in Maimonides Hospital and live on Staten Island with my family. I am a proud American and am glad to say that I have settled into my new country and am a citizen along with my entire family. I have never returned to Russia since my immigration almost sixteen years ago, and as of today, I have absolutely no plans to do so in the near future.