University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 2/1996
ALUMNI PROFILE: Language specialist says 'Da' to dream job

     Sitting in a McDonald's restaurant in a big city far from
his native Newark, Del., Jim Wolynetz, Delaware '84, is
animatedly chatting about his recent career move. Like many of
his peers, Wolynetz has landed his "dream job" after a decade of
interim moves and advances.
     Around him, the fast-food restaurant is packed with diners
munching on Big Macs, eating fries, sipping soft drinksand
speaking Russian.
     Yes, Russian. Wolynetz, a Russian major at Delaware,
recently moved to Moscow to work for the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service (I.N.S.) as a language specialist. He
spends his days at the American Embassy interviewing Russians who
wish to immigrate to the United States as political or religious
     "I use my Russian every day and get paid for it," Wolynetz
says. "What more could I ask for?"
     Using his language skills professionally has been his goal
since graduating from Delaware with majors in international
relations and Russian. Along the road to Moscow, Wolynetz held
various marketing and research positions at Marine Midland and
Chase Manhattan banks in Wilmington. In his spare time, he
volunteered with such organizations as Delaware Jewish Family
Services, the United Mennonite Church of Delaware and the
Delaware Council for U.S./ U.S.S.R. Relations-activities that
helped him maintain his command of Russian.
     In 1991, Wolynetz decided it was time to pursue his dream
more directly by returning to Russia for hands-on language study.
Along the way, he was stranded in Prague for eight months waiting
for his visa, so he took the opportunity to add Czech to his
growing language repertoire, which also includes German and
French. He finally made it to St. Petersburg, formerly known as
Leningrad, where he lived for four months.
     These experiences led to a career breakthrough in 1992 when
Wolynetz landed a job with Statistica Inc., a Rosslyn, Va.,
contractor that conducts background checks of Russians who apply
to become refugees, the step prior to gaining an interview at the
American Embassy in Moscow.
     With his experience at Statistica, Wolynetz was a natural
for his current position at I.N.S. On a typical day, he meets
with a dozen families-immigration candidates who have already
been screened for eligibility. Since the interview is the last
step in a long process, Wolynetz is able to approve about 80
percent of the candidates with whom he meets.
     "I'm interviewing some of the same people whose cases I set
up in the States," he says.
     Having gone through an 11-month process to gain security
clearance for his new job, he better understands the paperwork
maze a potential Russian refugee must navigate.
     "My own three-month background check was agonizing. I could
not have even entered the American Embassy without the top-secret
security clearance," Wolynetz says.
     While his new job is an enviable one for anyone with an
interest in world affairs, the position is not without its
drawbacks. The Moscow location is considered a hardship post by
the State Department because of the potential for instability
within the country.
     That potential hit close to home in September when a rocket
grenade pierced the embassy two-and-a-half floors above Wolynetz'
office. The only casualty, however, was a copy machine.
      "For anyone working for the federal government, Moscow is
the place to be because of all of the changes," Wolynetz says.
"But, when I first got here, I was worried about crime, which has
skyrocketed since Perestroika. Most of the crime, though, is
Mafia-related, organized crime. I'm not worried now."
     Wolynetz knows firsthand how much Russia has changed in just
the last 10 years. In 1983, he took a semester-long language
course at Leningrad State University, while Russia was still
under Communist rule.
     "It was a helpful semester, but not as helpful as living
here independently away from other English speakers," Wolynetz
     While living in St. Petersburg, he experienced severe food
and heat shortages, among other typical "horror" stories of life
in Soviet society. He also learned more than he wanted to know
about communal living by sharing an apartment with two other
     "It was the worst way to live, but the best way to learn the
language," he says. "Life was rough in 1991."
     In sharp contrast to those difficult times, Moscow, St.
Petersburg and other major Russian cities today are dotted with
kiosks that sell everything from soup to nuts, bread to wine,
shaving cream to candy bars. Many comforts of home, including
Pizza Hut, are readily available.
     Wolynetz lives in a Moscow neighborhood about 40 minutes
from the embassy via the city's subway system. And, this time, he
has his own place.
     "I work with Americans all day long," he says. "It's nice to
have personal contact with the locals on my time off. Although
most Russians are rather standoffish at first, once you break the
ice, they're quite warm and friendly."
     Wolynetz misses family and friends, but little else about
life in the States. (A little Dewey Beach sunshine would go a
long way during the long Russian winter, though, he says.)
     "I'm so excited to be here," he says. "I'm not even thinking
of being at home."
                                -Robert DiGiacomo, Delaware '88

Friends can reach Wolynetz through e-mail at