We officially became citizens of the United States on the 24th of October 2018. Less than two years later, we took another big step and performed one of our new responsibilities as citizens. We voted in our first presidential election.
Growing Up in South Africa
As a girl growing up in Garies, I never imagined one day living in a different country. Actually, back then, I didn’t even dream of traveling to different countries. Life was simply about school, home and our community. Not a bad way to grow up in a small town in South Africa. After high school, I moved to the “big city” and attended college in Cape Town. This is where I met my now husband and when the seed to “one day move to the United States” was planted.
Becoming Legal Residents
It was a long process to first become legal residents, then citizens and eventually, registered voters.
What started out as a family based Green Card application in 1998 for one guy, turned into additional paperwork to add a new wife and after a while, a new daughter. We were living and working in South Africa while we waited to be approved and as time went by, thoughts of moving to a different country faded as well. We became part of the family business, active in the community, part of various friend groups and involved with our kids’ schools and our families. We were getting on with living life.
Our Green Cards were approved in 2010, a full 12 years later, and it all became very real, very fast. Suddenly we found ourselves in a “use it or lose it” situation. The kids were small (7 and 8 back then) and we had to make some tough decisions fast. We booked plane tickets and the four of us visited to see if everything was still as we remembered it from our previous trips as students and later newlyweds. Within six months of activating our Green Cards, we completed the Big Move and settled outside of Atlanta, GA.
From Legal Residents to Citizens
As a Green Card holder, you are legally allowed to work and pay taxes. But you don’t have a voice. You are not involved in any decisions on how your tax dollars are spent. Once you become a citizen you can also vote, travel on your US passport and perform jury duty, something I’m actually looking forward to.
We submitted our citizenship paperwork in October 2017 and started another waiting game. The timing was right for us, since we still had three years before Sidney would turn 18. Over 18 and you are responsible for your own application. After just a couple of weeks, we got our biometrics appointments. A formality in the process to say the least. Fingerprints, photos and you also get a copy of the material you need to prepare for the Citizen test.
I read the book, I downloaded an app on my phone and had the kids ask me the questions whenever we were in the car together. I really studied for this test. This girl from Garies was not going to make a fool out of herself on the day of her Citizen test. Well, not like she did with her driving test… Overall, it took a bit less than a year to get that final appointment to have our individual interviews. To me, that was maybe the most frightening thing of it all – that I was going to be all by myself and someone was going to judge if I am worthy. Because that is exactly what the interview is.
The interview was middle September at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service field office in Atlanta. A one-on-one session where I got all my questions correct, proved that I could write an English sentence, as well as communicate in the language. A very pleasant experience actually. It was over in no time and we were on to the next step – the swearing in ceremony.
And so we attended our ceremony that October. I was a bit sad to hand over my Green Card – a piece of plastic that took forever to get and that meant so much to us, but the excitement of finally becoming a citizen of the United States of America made up for it. We were part of a large group of other new citizens and together we took the Oath of Allegiance and became official citizens.
Passports and Voter Registration
With our new Certificates of Naturalization in hand, we made appointments for passports for ourselves and for Sidney.
We also registered to vote. This to me was the final puzzle piece of our new life. This country is where we live, where we work and where we pay our fair share. We should have a say in who runs it and how it is run. We also have a say in what type of leader we want to see for our new country. Not only is this a basic right, but it is an obligation to our new country.
So about two weeks ago, as part of the millions and millions of people that voted early, Pieter, myself and Simon, who turned 18 beginning of the year, showed up at our polling station, completed our ballots and voted for the first time since becoming citizens of this great country. It felt good. I felt like I belonged. And most of all, it felt like I was doing the right thing for my new home country.
What was the biggest moment of your citizen process?