Learn the Language

“The first thing I had to do once I got here was learn the English language,” Val recalls. He promptly enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course at Truman College, in Chicago. Within months of his arrival in Chicago in 1989, Val was a student again – and in 1990 he was accepted into a three-month corporate training program in the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog operation. His job? Become a computer programmer. “I had never seen a computer before,” he says, “but with my background in mathematics, I did well on the first test and I was accepted into the program.”

He completed the training program successfully and was hired by Sears, “but I never liked working with machines,” he recalls. “I like to work with people.” When he voiced his dissatisfaction with computer programming, his Russian-speaking supervisor gently reminded him that he had something many other immigrants didn’t have – a job. He stayed with Sears for 18 months, but by his own admission, “hated working with machines. I wanted to work with people.”

Real estate was of great interest as a career, he says. “Remember,” he points out, “it was not possible to own real estate where I came from. All of us who come to America from the former USSR want to own our own homes – all of us.” He earned his real estate license during the year and a half he worked at Sears.”I thought I could work in the real estate business every night and on the weekends,” he recalls, “but that doesn’t work. In real estate, you have to live this business,” he declares.