GETTING A FOOTHOLD Natasha and Peter Slutsky, both computer programmers,have skills that are in demand in the United States


Peter Slutsky has a new car and it's a beauty.

Actually, it's not that beautiful and his wife, Natasha, is not shy about letting him know.

"I wanted a Buick," she says with a bemused pout as she looks skeptically at the brown 1981 Toyota Corolla her husband has just purchased. A Soviet friend who is a mechanic is looking under the hood, and he emerges to pronounce the car fit to drive. Peter, tall and thin with a head of unkempt brown hair, grins at Natasha: a seal of approval.

The Slutskys, both 24-year-old former Muscovites, are three-month veterans of life in the USA. They have a nice apartment in Randallstown, they both found jobs doing the same kind of work they did in the Soviet Union -- although Natasha's temporary job has ended -- and they have a brand-spanking-new 10-year-old car.

The two are a happy exception to the rule that Soviet immigrants must find a job, any job, and work their way up to their former standing -- especially in this "white-collar recession."

Of course, it didn't hurt that the Slutskys studied English in the Soviet Union. Or that their profession, computer programming, is more marketable than other technical professions immigrants are bringing to America in unprecedented numbers lately.

Last year, according to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York, about 22.5 percent of the 32,000 Soviets who came to America were engineers, architects and other scientists. Non-technical "professionals" represented 26.5 percent of all new arrivals.

Natasha, whose brown eyes smile below a head of blond hair, is quick to tease her husband of three years. Peter made two mistakes on the English test they both had to take upon arriving -- two more than she did, Natasha points out. And she tells Peter the reason one of the cars they tried to acquire broke down is because "you drove it badly."

The joking comes more easily now that they are a bit settled. "I was very upset the first month," Natasha admits. "I missed my friends. I cried every day."

The Slutskys, who came with Natasha's parents and younger brother, were among the few immigrants allowed to arrive in Baltimore without an "anchor" of relatives already in town. (The rest of Natasha's family since has moved to New Jersey because her father found a job in New York, albeit one far below his training in applied mathematics.)

Immediately they were taken under the wing of Baltimore volunteers Irvin and Barbara Donick, whose son met them at Dulles International Airport March 5. Over the last six years, the Donicks have helped give the Slutskys and other immigrant families an initial footing in a strange land.

"Irv and Barbara spent almost every day with us and took us to interviews," Natasha says.

A Ukrainian native who came to the United States as a child, Dr. Donick says simply, "They're Jewish. And . . . I was born in the Soviet Union. I can feel sort of an affinity for them. . . ."

Another Baltimore couple since has "adopted" the Slutskys under a Jewish Community Center program, taking them shopping and explaining the intricacies of major-league baseball. understand it perfectly now," Natasha boasts as her husband snorts in derision.

Peter's first interview was with a Towson computer consulting firm that gave him a three-hour test much like the Graduate Record Exam. "Very difficult," he says.

"It was very difficult for you because you did not know English," Natasha jokes.

The next prospect was MicroProse, the Hunt Valley computer games company, which launched eight people at Peter for a four-hour assault of interviews. (Natasha: "And you weren't good enough." Peter takes these quips in stride with a wry wink to a reporter.)

"They told me I had no American experience," he says. Natasha notes, "It's Catch-22."

Irv Donick found Natasha a temporary job as a computer programmer at Lombard Securities, a small Baltimore brokerage firm. It only lasted about three weeks, but it was a start.

"It's lucky for me to have it because I can put it on my resume," she says, already wise in the ways of capitalism.

Meanwhile, Peter put his guitar and voice to work. A JVS counselor who knows the cantor at Temple Oheb Shalom got Peter his first American "gig," singing Russian and Hebrew songs for the congregation one Friday night. He used the reception afterward as a chance to network a bit with the congregants.

Eventually, Dr. Donick got Peter an interview at Maryland Medical Laboratory Inc. for a computer programming job -- a position a little more mundane than the research into high-temperature superconductivity he did in Moscow. Soon after the company offered him his first full-time job in America at the end of May, he got a call back from the Towson computer firm, which he had to turn down.

His job at Maryland Medical pays $20,000 a year. But the president of the company assured Peter that if he successfully completes this first project he's working on, he'll get a raise to $30,000.

L Natasha looks skeptical. "You're so naive," she says to him.

But Peter has had too much help from too many new friends to start doubting them now. Before he got the car, a co-worker he barely knew ferried him to the office every day. "I trust people," he says. "They've been so nice to me."

Peter says he's confident Natasha will get a full-time job, despite the recession. The "main difference between here and in Russia," he says, is that "here you know the recession will end. In Russia it won't."

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