My Path to Becoming a Murican

On Tuesday, July 10th 2018, I became an American citizen.

This once-in-a-lifetime process only took me 10 years – 5 years securing a working permit through the green card application, and 5 years waiting to be naturalized, an upgrade from a permanent resident to a citizen. Even though I couldn’t sleep very well the night before, on the day of the oath ceremony, I still woke up at the crack of dawn, dressed up as if going to yet another citizenship interview, and arrived at the DC courthouse before 8:00 AM with my husband.

Before my oath ceremony, along with 120 other new fellow Americans from over 30 countries, I heard Julissa Arce’s story. Now a young and promising star on Wall Street, she too was once an immigrant and made great sacrifices to be where she is. She said, “We aren’t born here. That is why, we need to earn our identity. We need to prove our self worth to be here.” Julissa couldn’t go back to her home country to visit her dying father when he was sick because of her status. While I am extremely fortunate to not have to go through such hard times since coming to the States 12 years ago, reliving all the moments of fear, worry, and homesickness still brought tears to my eyes during my oath of allegiance.

Before moving to the States roughly ten years ago, my life in Taiwan was, in a word, easy. I grew up in the same neighborhood where my family lived for more than a decade. Even with intense academic competition at school, I was always doing well—averaging 4.0 throughout college, representing my class at the graduation commence speech, and serving as an honorary youth committee member at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Even simply getting around and grabbing a bite to eat is convenient in Taiwan. The area surrounding Taipei is accessible via the metro system, which includes clean buses and helpful bus drivers. There is a 7-11 around almost every corner, stocked with delicious sushi, hot pot, or freshly prepared sandwiches (they even have seating areas and sell television sets, if you need one). In fact, 7-11’s are something like a pharmacy, book store, good fast food restaurant, and convenient store rolled into one.

I thought life in another country would be the same too, until I boarded the plane to Columbus, Ohio.

I remember when I first arrived to the U.S. with my parents. The three of us carried six pieces of luggage, flew 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, went through hours at the airport customs to finally set our foot on the Ohio State campus. By the time we were done with school registration and running chores all around campus, my parents and I couldn’t find any open restaurants for dinner. However, we did find an open 7-11. And yet, our alarm cannot be fully stated. The only food options were greasy (week-old?) pizza, lukewarm “hotdogs”, and shelves and shelves of junk food. We did not get anything from that 7-11 that night, aside from disappointment. The first night at our hotel, my mom cried the whole night because she was sad I was going to be so far away from home (and partly because her feet were swollen after sitting in the plane for more than 20 hours). On my first day of class, I felt so overwhelmed and intimidated by my classmates because all of them were like Hermione from Harry Potter—so talkative and opinionated, with their hands seemingly always in the air waiting for the professor’s attention, whereas I was even having trouble figuring out the syllabus. Then there was my first Economics course assignment reading through more than a hundred pages of material and writing up an analysis. My teammates met after class, talked through approaches, and every one of them immediately had loads of ideas. I, on the contrary, had to spend the entire evening at the library going through the material just to have a basic understanding of the project. And then there was the time I had to submit over 300 job applications for my first internship because almost no company would sponsor an international student. Outside of school, even social life and meeting people were hard. I remember the time when I thought I fell in love with someone from another country and it turned out to be a total disaster and I had nobody to call. Years after graduating from school when I thought I was finally used to living in the states alone, I got into a car accident in the middle of the winter in Michigan and had nobody but my ex to lean on. I remember the constant heartache, challenge, the feeling of inadequacy, or simply the hunch of “I don’t deserve to be here.”

These experiences defined and shaped who I am. Even though I still go through regular bouts of self-doubt, I constantly remind myself there is nothing I can not do. Because I am living and working in a country where hard work pays off and dreams can come true (despite what you might think and how data suggests this is not as true as it once was). I am not sure if it’s the years of building momentum as an immigrant and international student – step one, graduate with an Optional Practical Training (OPT), a temporary permit allowing students to have an internship. Step two, try to secure an H1B, which is a slightly longer-term work permit. And if you’re really lucky like me, you get to find a company willing to sponsor you and going through all the hassle of hiring an immigration attorney, running newspaper ads and tons of mandated processes to prove you’re the only person fit for the job. You then take series of vaccines and exams to get a permanent resident card (i.e. green card). Once you get the green card, you wait for 5 years at minimum to be eligible for naturalization. Because of this “always looking for the next step” mentality, I’m trained to treat my personal and professional life the same way, and that’s probably the reason why I am working at Uber now, a industry I dreamed of working in but never thought I could have it without a Computer Science degree.

My journey to becoming an American citizen taught me many things. Work hard, never give up, and always stand up for yourself (because nobody else will). I also have gotten to see how big the world is, how diverse our culture is, and how precious human rights and intersectionality are. I am grateful for those who helped, supported, and believed in me along the way, and I am humbled by all the trials, failures, and opportunities that were given to me. And I am inspired to anchor my journey and help other immigrants who are going through the same.

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