Where are you from?


What was it like growing up?

Good memories.

What brought you to Cleveland?

This is how the program works – they send you where your first degree relatives are. My husband’s relatives were in Cleveland (his father’s brother was here.). So the goal was family unification.

What were your first thoughts about coming to the U.S.? Did those change?

Coming from Moscow, I was expecting high rises everywhere. But everything was suburbia. So it was very different from how I pictured America in my mind. It was all two story buildings here! So it looks very different from where I grew up and was expecting. Also, the pace of life, dynamics; it was all very different. But I got used to it. I like it now. The lack of public transportation is very different – we didn’t drive there. Here you have to start driving, you can’t get anywhere without being able to drive! So I had to learn to drive. My mom had to learn, at 68 years old! It’s necessary for survival.

Overall it’s a far cry from what I imagined, but I got used to it. When I go to NYC, I love the urban atmosphere because it reminds me of my youth. But I get tired of it after 2 hours; it’s overwhelming because now I’m used to a different lifestyle.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

Starting your life anew. It’s all of a sudden. You’re an adult but you’re learning to do simple things again, like a child. Everything is a challenge to learn the first time.

Also, we came as a big family – me and my parents and my husband’s parents. Everyone was elderly and going through medical problems, but our advantage was that us two spoke english. So we handled the medical appointments. On Sept 24 1994, a few days after we first arrived in the US, my father was scheduled for heart surgery.

What is your occupation?

Director of US Together Cleveland. I started working from resettlement right away – the second month I arrived. It’s actually pure coincidence because this is the same office as the Jewish Family Services! So it’s full circle.

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

Because I started working right away, I made friends with everyone I work with. They are so supportive and friendly. People from my community, Americans – everyone was equally hospitable.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

Oh yeah, of course. Food. It’s something that sticks with you – you eat the same way you have always eaten. And with globalization these days, everything is connected, so we can still watch Russian TV. And getting together and having tea, Russian style.

What do you love about Cleveland?

I would say it’s a very nice city. Not too overwhelming, the right size. There are ethnic communities, but also they are also exposed to the mainstream community. So there’s a little bit of everything. Some places are so compound that they don’t associate with others. Like in NYC, the Russian community is their own silo, having nothing to do with the rest of the country. But here it is a mix of cultures.

I also like cultural stuff you can do in Cleveland: orchestra, playhouse square, good medical institutions.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

I don’t even question that – I think because I came here as a refugee, my obligation is to give back. There are lots of people in my community who don’t share those opinions. They’re very anti-immigrant and anti-refugee. But I don’t understand how you can be when you were an immigrant. This country opened doors for you but you can’t open them for others prob more unfortunate than you?

So it’s my way to give back to the community. It’s very healthy, it’s like having new blood into the old body very healthy for society.

Why is it important to travel abroad?

I think it’s changing a bit these days. When I compare the way that Americans looked at that 22 years ago when I first came, I think we kind of have travelled far from the status of things 22 years ago. At that time, people couldn’t think that there are other ways to do things, behave. Today, people are more culturally sensitive. They understand that not everyone does things the same way. At that time, I was struck that Americans think the only way to do things is America’s. So it’s very important to broaden horizons, to learn culturally sensitivity. There is no right or wrong, good or bad ways – just different ways.