Expat Interviews: Albina Mutina, A Russian Living in Houston

Ex·pa·tri·ate: (n) a person who lives outside their native country.

Each year, CORT Destination Services supports thousands of individuals and families through the challenges inherent in relocating for work. Our Destination Services Consultants help assignees discover great neighborhoods, find the right home, choose the best school, and get settled into their new community with less stress and more confidence.

We occasionally invite an expatriate to share their thoughts about the experience of moving to, and living in, the United States. Our latest Expat Interview is from Albina Mutina a Russian national living in Houston. We hope you find Albina’s remarks to be both fun and informative. We would love to hear from you. Please share your insights on the expatriate experience in the comments section. Thank you.


Albina Mutina

Industry that brought you to the U.S.:

Oil & Gas

Are you alone on this assignment?

Yes, I am single and my family – mom, grandma, brother, sister, nephews and nieces are all back home in Russia.

Is this your first international assignment? If not, where else have you lived?

I was on the international assignments since the end of 2012. Prior to current assignment, I lived primarily in Colombia and Venezuela, while have had a lot of business travel all over South America – different cities of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina. I was also providing support for my company’s operations

Was the decision to move to the U.S. easy or difficult for you? 

Decision to move to U.S. was quite easy from both professional and personal point of view: the heart of the technical expertise of the company is here in Houston, so it is great working environment; relocation to U.S. is easy, especially if it is from one the most destroyed countries in the world (Venezuela); my travel route to fly home (Russia) also became easier with relocation to U.S.

What is one American tourist attraction that you have visited? 

U.S. is beautiful country with so many attractions. Parks and long road trips around the coast are first in my “to do” list.

What word or saying from your native language do you find yourself using often because it just doesn’t translate well to American English? 

I think in English more often than in Russian, some of the Russian words I keep using are those which you use while thinking I use a lot “tak” which is basically “so”. I also use some Spanish words because of the habit of speaking Spanish last years, for example – “mira!” (“look!”). At the same time, I am always trying to learn more of any local language and find good correspondence to phrases/words in it.

Is there anything that you really miss and can’t find in U.S. stores?

Oh…the list is combined from items from Russia and South America :). I cook a lot, so most of food-related items I can prepare (soups, etc), but there are some “home” Russian milk-based products like “tvorog”, “ryazgenka” which is not very easy to make at home, thus I miss them. Story is more complex with Latin part of me – I didn’t learn to cook them, so I miss good ajiaco (Colombia), cachapas (Venezuela), Peruvian foods.

What is your favorite American food? 

I am fan of the healthy foods, so…burger with the portabello mushrooms instead of bread? 🙂

Fill in the blank. Americans are: 

On the daily basis, I am mostly communicating with people from work, which is very international community. Most of my experiences of knowing Americans come from the stores/restaurants/streets. I can say – kind, supportive, careful, thoughtful, communicative, caring. It is very easy to be part of a new social group, people help in socializing.

Sometimes I wish Americans: 

Being a part of international company for more than 8 years, working in different countries and knowing different cultures, I really think in other categories. Sometimes I wish people be more kind and respectful, more sensitive and less selfish. I wish people to be surrounded more by those who believe, support and help wings to grow rather than by those who push you down and create walls and barriers.

What has surprised you (good or bad) about life in the U.S.?

I have spent quite a lot of time in U.S. over last 11 years, which includes living in Ridgefield, CT in 2005, so I am “used to” it in many senses. Some of things which surprised me back to first visits, are for example, that one can be dressed without any fancy “dress code” while walking the dog/going for groceries/going for hotel breakfast. It is very different in Russia. U.S. is good for the availability of any products (food, clothes, etc) both in the stores and online; people (strangers) are always nice to you on the streets and always willing to help. Thinking about bad ones, I can name the “credit score” culture which is not really helpful/useful for expats.

The best thing about being an expatriate is:

To me, it is about broadening professional and life experience via being exposed to different cultures, environments, people. It changes a lot the way you look at things and communicate, it erases many of false assumptions which you grew up with and teaches you not to assume but hear and listen. It helps you better understand yourself, to experience and learn who you really are. It allows you to see the diversity of the world, discover its complexity and feel its heart beat. It helps you to see better the true values of life. And meeting amazing people across countries and continents, cultures and religions.

The worst thing about being an expatriate is: 

Missing people. The hardest for me is to be away from my family in Russia, because I have very close relationships with mom, sister, brother, nephew. Being away is hard but we keep daily communications via all possible sources. Second hardest is  to leave to a new location after getting attached to people. Every time when I move to another country, my heart is crying because I am parting with people who became so close. Good thing is that I met them and they will always stay in my heart, and we will keep in touch and try to visit each other as often as we can, but it is always hard to leave them.

If you could relocate anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I never visited/lived in the Far East. It would be interesting experience to have.

Imagine that a good friend just called to tell you that he/she has accepted an assignment in the U.S. What advice might you have for them as they prepare to relocate?

Learn as much as you can about rules of relocation and local policies in a new country. Get in touch with relocation representative with no delays. Get all planned medical visits done in the current country because it may be not quick to find good doctors in a new location. Check for the originals of the documents which are requested for the transfer process and make sure you carry them in hand luggage. Make sure you clearly understand all required legal processes in a new location. Never hesitate to ask questions!

Last thoughts:

CORT has provided me great and easy relocation experiences in U.S. I was taken good care of, all steps were clear to me and the agent was smoothing all potential “sharp” corners. Relocation process can be very rough or very pleasant experience, and the “front” of it is covered by relocation representative. Personal touch and understanding is as important as the process itself – most of the people who are relocating to a new country may feel lost even in things which locals consider to be intuitive, thus guidance with patience and support play very, very important role in the overall perception of the relocation process.