When we first moved to United States, I was 15 years old. My parents left their jobs, home and everything they knew to give us a better life in America.

They literally had $50 in their pocket, three kids and one suitcase. They came to America with a dream. A dream full of hope and courage.

After moving to Los Angeles, my parents couldn’t find jobs and going back to school was not an option. They didn’t speak English, not a word. I knew maybe two or three phrases.

For the first few months, we lived with dad’s aunt, with people we met at a church, and even for a moment on the street. Honestly, it was awful and scary. To pay for basic things, dad “dumpster dived,” collected cans and turned it into a dollar here and there.

My dad had a prestigious job in Russia and was well educated. Mom got an under the table job at a sewing factory. Some days she made as little as four or five dollars for working ten hours.

She was an accountant in Russia, educated as an Economist. I recall at some point we finally got food-stamps. And finally after a few months in L.A., dad packed our family up and moved us to Vancouver.

At that time, back in 1991, Vancouver’s Russian-speaking population numbered maybe one hundred families. We were in fact one of the first families from the recent immigrant/refuges wave to resettle in Vancouver.

Why am I writing about this experience here? I’ve been asked to talk about our perception of America, from that early point of view. I admit that the “movie ideals of America” and American reality didn’t match.

Prior to coming to US, I only knew what I knew about this country from movies like Man Overboard (a 1987 movie with Goldie Hawn). I should have paid more attention to the movie. Do you remember Dean Proffitt’s character from it? Played by Kurt Russell, Dean was super poor, blue-color, hard working man. I assumed Dean was a fictional character. There was just no way that someone can be so poor in America.

In L.A., I experienced poverty in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. For the first time in my life, I saw homeless people, gang violence and so much more. It was rough and scary.

Moving to Vancouver made a huge difference in our lives. I got my first job at McDonald’s and helped my parents with rent and the basics. Mom and Dad enrolled at a local Beauty school.

And a couple of years later, they were working and life here became more manageable. Fast forward to today, in many ways, we are still Dean Proffitts. Our way of life is humble, hard and not without challenges.

This country gave us many opportunities. I was able to go to school, get a job working for “the government”, raise a family.

My parents own a business and a home. We work hard, we love each other, and most importantly we give back to our community.

This blog is my way to give back to the people of Vancouver. People who helped our family. I hope you enjoy reading this blog and please keep an open mind.



Galina Burley, is a long time resident of Vancouver. She is a mother of three and is an immigrant from Russia. After moving to America in 1991 with $50 to their name, Galina's parents relied on her to get a job, learn English, and help them navigate the complexities of their new life in this country. At an early age, Galina became fluent in English, helped her parents start a family business and went to college while working two jobs and raising a family. In addition to her outstanding work as a Manager of a large scale public program, Galina's other accomplishments include: 2013 Golden Ivan Award for Community Building; A President's award from the Oregon Crime Prevention Association for her commitment to Public Safety; The George Robert House, Jr. Award for Outstanding Service (ASPA) for her efforts in community outreach; A recent nomination for the 2013 Distinguished Woman award for her work on diversity and inclusive public policy through the East European Coalition; A Master's Degree in Public Administration; A career in managing large scale programs and services; And an amazing family.

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