The process of becoming an American citizen

Carmela Winter
Apr 3, 2019 · 4 min read
Carolina Shell received her Certificate of Naturalization Photo by Sebastian Grau

After living in Colombia almost her whole life, Carolina Shell came to America as a tourist and quickly fell in love with the country. It took eight long years to become an American citizen, but she was passionate in making this dream a reality so she did not give up. Now 42 years old, Carolina Shell tells Carmela Winter about her journey to becoming an American citizen.

It took seven months for me to get my letter to receive an appointment with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Before I could begin my test and my interview, I had to get fingerprinted. My experience was so embarrassing! I had “no print” because my hands were so dry. The person who was taking my fingerprint found it impossible to get any finger to work. He tried all 10 fingers and none of them worked. I was ready to use my feet! I remember him laughing and saying that he had never had this happen before. Minutes went by as we tried again. This time around, my ring finger ended up finally taking the fingerprint.

My next step was to take the civics test. This was the one step that I was afraid of the most. I temporarily deactivated all of my social media for a month so I could concentrate and focus on studying. I studied 100 questions and I only had to answer six during the test. If I didn’t know a couple of questions out of the six, they would rank the questions up to 10 so I still had a chance to pass. My husband, Robert, quizzed me every single day. He asked me questions out of order so it would throw me off. I studied every way possible. I even had an audio tape of the questions in my car and would listen to them for 30 minutes while on my way to work.

I purposely didn’t tell anyone in my family about me taking the test other than my mom and siblings. I didn’t want to feel the pressure of my family members asking me, “Did you pass?” It would have distracted me and I needed to focus. When it was finally time for me to take the test, I had to drive to Newark. Before I was able to take my civics test, I had to pass through a body scan in the federal building and I was practically stripped down. The security guards had asked me if I had any explosives. I said no.

My interview appointment was at 9:15 a.m. and I didn’t get called in until 10:15 a.m. There were three doors that people were filing through. I watched everyone’s facial expression as they walked out of the door after just being done with taking the test. Hardly anyone expressed any emotion. I was confused. Some people were excited but then other people didn’t react. No matter what, I was still very excited because I knew that I was prepared for this test.

They called me by last name and I was ready to enter through the door and begin my interview and my civics test. Before I began my test, I was asked a few personal questions. I was asked if I was a terrorist or if I was a prostitute. These questions really stunned me because I was not expecting to be asked that. I ended up taking my test and was interviewed by a very sweet man. He was very patient with me throughout the whole process. I passed the test with flying colors. A few questions on the test were questions like: “What are the 13 colonies?” and “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence.”

I passed my civics test and I was beyond excited. My last and final step was to take my Oath of Allegiance at the Naturalization Ceremony. I wasn’t able to receive my certificate of naturalization until I completed my oath of allegiance. I was given the option of having my ceremony at 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. I tried to push back the ceremony time as much as I could because my son Sebastian had an exam and I wanted my family to witness this important moment in my life with me. I wanted my family to be there.

The ceremony room had black chairs lined up in rows and the walls and ceilings were white. There were some areas of the room that were brown, but for the most part the room was dull. We watched a video that was called “Faces of America” and then everyone received mini flags and we were all told to wave them because we were now citizens.

Carolina Shell became a United States Citizen Photo by Sebastian Grau

I received my certificate of naturalization and was told to go through it carefully to make sure it was accurate or else I would have to pay $535 to get it fixed once I walked out of that room.

Carolina Shell posing next to her Certificate of Naturalization Photo by Carmela Winter

My family welcomed me with open arms as my husband congratulated me. “I always knew you could do it!” said Robert.

JOUR 317 Feature Writing

#FocusImmigration stories written by the Spring 2019 Feature Writing class at Montclair State

Carmela Winter

Written by

Student at Montclair State University who is majoring in photojournalism.

JOUR 317 Feature Writing

#FocusImmigration stories written by the Spring 2019 Feature Writing class at Montclair State

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