Alla was born and grew up in the Moscow region in Russia. When she was a teenager, her stepdad received a job in the Washington D.C. area, and her family moved to the United States, just as she was set to attend Moscow State University. Although her family moved away, she still attended the university, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Russia, and majored in philosophy. “I knew I was always good with languages and humanities,” she says. “Philosophy seemed like a good match.” She specialized in cultural studies, which would be close to American studies in anthropology. After graduation, she moved to the US to attend graduate school at The George Washington University, where she studied international policy.
Although she visited her family in the US on summer breaks and school holidays, when she moved to the US full time her biggest adjustment was to American social customs. “In Russia, as I’m sure you’ve heard, people don’t smile,” she says. “It takes an actual genuine connection with another person to smile at them, so it’s kind of interesting to see everybody smile at each other, like on the subway. Also, the way people make plans here, how everybody says, 'Let’s have drinks sometime,' it means you may never see that person again. It took years for me to realize this.”
Her introduction to immigration law began when an attorney in Northern Virginia hired her as an administrative assistant. Soon she was managing many family-based and asylum immigration cases as a paralegal, and found her calling. She says about the work: “It speaks to my personal experience. I know the process, I understand the people who are going through it.” Alla joined Daryanani Law Group in early 2017 after moving to New York City with her boyfriend (and cat, Fedya).
All of her family members are now naturalized citizens. She prepared her own naturalization application, and she and her mom had interviews on the same day and attended the same naturalization ceremony in 2012. “That was a great experience,” she says. Her immigration background helps her relate to clients, she says. “The most rewarding thing is to see the result of what you are doing. It’s magical to see people getting Green Cards, naturalizing, getting status, because of something that you did.”
What is your favorite word?
Somebody pointed out that the English word “possesses” has five s’s, and it stuck with me for some reason! I also like the Russian word “животрепещущий” (zhivotrepeshchushchiy, which means “vital, topical”) but I don’t think any native English speaker can pronounce it.
What is your least favorite word?
“Colonel,” because the pronunciation makes no sense! Also, “excetera” (not a real word, but a mispronunciation of “et cetera”).
What is your favorite curse word?
Probably the Russian word “blin” (pronounced bleen), which means “pancake,” but is also used to express displeasure with something (similar to “damn” or “shoot” in English). It’s an added bonus to see the surprise on people’s faces when I explain the meaning of the word.
What sound or noise do you love?
Waves on the beach, birds chirping, my cat purring.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Tires screeching, loud car honks, sirens.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Linguist, journalist, or detective.
What is your idea of happiness?
Traveling, seeing new places, experiencing new things.
What is your idea of misery?
If not yourself, who would you be?
Someone rich, but not famous. Like an inventor of something hugely important, but not someone who’s in the public eye every day.
Where would you like to live?
I really liked Northern Virginia/DC area, so maybe I’ll go back eventually. Or on a beach or in the mountains somewhere!
Who are your favorite authors?
Russian writers Anton Chekhov and Sergei Dovlatov (the latter actually emigrated from the Soviet Union to New York City in 1979). They both have great depth as well as a sense of humor to their stories.
What is your favorite film?
Too many to count!
Who are your favorite heroes in fiction?
As a kid, I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.
For what fault have you most toleration?
Impatience, since that’s a fault I have myself.
What do you consider to be the greatest invention?
Where do you feel most at home?
Anywhere with my cat and an Internet connection.
What do you most like about the age we live in?
The easy availability of information.
Whatʼs the best advice youʼve been given?
From my mom in middle school: “Don’t worry about other people judging you. They are too worried about their own lives to care.”
What is the biggest risk youʼve ever taken?
Moving to New York.
If you could wish for one change in the world what would it be?
No more corruption. I think that would fix a whole bunch of problems.