For those who were fortunate enough to become an American citizen by birth, there is another story left untold. What people may not be aware of is what happens during the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship. Whether you are from South Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Japan, Cambodia, India, etc., all must go through the same process when arriving within the United States—well, for those who want to stay in the United States.

There are only two ways to become a U.S. citizen: by birth or law. To become a citizen through naturalization, a foreigner must first become a legal permanent resident, have resided in the country for three years or more, filled out the N-900 Naturalization form and passed the naturalization test*. Minors can become naturalized citizens when a parent is granted citizenship.

Applying to become a citizen independently

Wen “Selene” Guo came to the United States from Fujian province, China with her family in April 1995, at the age of 9. She had to apply to become a citizen independently due to her age and was granted citizenship in the summer of 2006. “I chose to become a U.S. citizen because I feel that I identify with American cultures and values. Plus I want to take advantage of what citizenship has to offer: employment opportunities, social benefits and etc.”

Guo is fortunate to have been able to grow up in two countries. Though she was born in China, Guo feels that she can relate to being American: “I strongly believe in liberty, privacy, the pursuit of happiness and the American dream. However, I share some traditional Chinese values, such as filial piety to my elders, respect, humility, hardworking nature and etc.”

Guo said her experience in becoming a U.S. citizen was fairly easy compared to her mother’s. “The test may be fairly easy to those that are raised in the U.S., but it was more than challenging for my mom. I remember spending time teaching her the test material, as well as pronunciation and comprehension. Although it was hard, she was determined to become a naturalized citizen. I couldn’t be more proud of her when she passed her citizenship interview.”

Becoming a citizen through one parent

Jane Jie “Impulse” Hao is a naturalized citizen due to her father’s citizenship. However, her father had to obtain citizenship the hard way, by going through the entire citizenship process. For someone that has just come to America, it is not easy. The biggest hurdle by far is that the language must be learned. Most have experienced the difficulties of having first-generation parents, who have only spoken their first language and nothing else, despite having lived in the United States for over twenty years. Due to the localization of ethnicities, places such as K-town, Little Saigon, Chinatown and many other such places across the United States have surfaced. This causes a decrease in the need to even venture outside of these areas, thus diminishing the need to learn any other language, customs or traditions.

Therefore, in order for her father to do well on the naturalization test, Hao was given the duty of helping her father since she straddled the line between her own culture and the American culture. She made a tape of all 100 questions and their appropriate answers provided for studying online fo the naturalization test. Hao’s father listened to the tape for weeks before taking the test, preparing himself for any possible question that may come his way.

Hao thinks that the “citizenship is definitely hard for foreigners,” and could be “more open to non-English speaking people.” For a test aimed for foreigners, Hao believes that it should be more universal and more accessible.

Jennifer “Paris” Lee also became a citizen through her father and couldn’t agree more. Lee was born in Taiwan and learned conversational English before the rest of her family moved to the U.S. Although she was placed in ESOL (English as a Second Language), she said, “I don’t think ESOL really helped me adjust; I think that if you’re eager to communicate something, you learn quicker.”

Hao suggested the following tips for those who plan to apply for U.S. citizenship.

-Do your own forms. There is no need to pay for a lawyer.
-Memorize the common Q&A for the interview.
-Learn basic English at the very least.
-And lastly, be nice to the interviewer!

For in-depth details, refer to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website:

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