by Suzanne Schreiner & r & & r & Learning English From Sesame Street & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & atyana Bistrevsky warns Americans that Russians are not habitual smilers, but this tall, dark-haired woman with the contagious laugh and the vivacious personality contradicts her own observation. Bistrevsky left Ukraine to come to the United States 16 years ago, landing first in Tacoma, and later relocating to Spokane to be close to her father, who was in poor health and preferred the four-season climate, so much like home, to the ubiquitous rain and gray skies west of the Cascades.
When it comes to the adjustment to American life, Bistrevsky zeroes in immediately on the biggest hurdle: "I was coming to the United States without any English," she says. Though she studied English books before she left Ukraine, she memorized the words without knowing the meaning. "I was able to say, 'My name is Tatyana; this is my husband.' Just a few phrases -- not much, not much. I forced myself to learn!" she laughs. She realizes now she may have underestimated the language barrier but she points out the family didn't know where they would end up. Her husband's mother was Jewish, so they might have gone to Israel. Looking back, she says, "I was ready to move. I just put all my trust in God." Once in the States, she says, "I used body language a lot. For five years, I bought the same things -- I was afraid to buy different product at grocery store because I couldn't read labels." She also used TV to learn English, she says. "Sesame Street, yes -- I learned together with my kids!"
Like any immigrant group, Russian parents usually learn some English, she says, but it "depends on their personal desire." Her older sister has also been here for 16 years but has remained a homemaker, and has not sought a job or further education. The kids, however, all speak English, which can lead to role reversal among the generations -- and a lot of tension. "Because [the kids] already became American, parents have to ask their advice, they have to ask their guidance, they have to ask them to translate. They rely on them." Not so with Bistrevsky, who teaches classes on food and nutrition to other immigrants and consults on immigrant issues with agencies like Spokane Regional Health District; it is others who rely on her.