Becoming a U.S. Citizen

Academy parent Zeynep McLeane became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 23 at the U.S. Federal Court in downtown St. Louis. Read on to hear Zeynep’s thoughts about the journey she took that led her to coming an American citizen. 

“When I came to this country 21 years ago from Turkey, I didn’t come here with a dream to become a U.S. citizen like many others do that I have met over the years. For me, it was about going to high school, because when you’re 15 years old, you usually don’t think that far ahead. Now, as I look back at my journey, I realize that I tried very hard to make sure I was doing it all right.

There are numerous ways you can be granted citizenship to the United States. Here is a look at the different steps I took on my journey that led me to become an American citizen:

  • Student Visa (F1)—renewed each year I was a full-time student in high school and college, with restrictions on where and how many hours I could work.
  • Work Visa (H1-B)—given out to those who are fulfilling jobs that are highly specialized and are filled by foreign workers. My engineering degree was a huge differentiator among other applicants, resulting in the granting of this type of visa.
  • Legal Resident Status, also known as the “green card,” that allows a foreigner to have many of the same rights as U.S. citizens, with limitations. It has stringent requirements including sound moral and ethical standing and extensive background checks.
  • Certificate of Naturalization—becoming a U.S. citizen requires even further extensive background checks, willingness to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and to do whatever is asked of you to protect the country just as it would be asked of any U.S. citizen. This certificate is what I will be required to provide to prove that I am a U.S. citizen in situations where others would provide a birth certificate.

The time it took for me to become a U.S. citizen and complete the process was about nine months, which is on average four months shorter than normal for Missouri, based on my research. Likely, this is because I have been in the system for so long. Every address I have lived and every place I have worked has been on record and I have been through numerous background checks.

The application process includes an extensive set of questions that are geared to confirm your identity, where you have been, what you have been doing, what your moral and ethical standards are, how much you have been out of the country in the last five years, who you associate with and whether you have been in trouble with the law. Once this application is processed, you are invited to have your picture taken for your Certificate of Naturalization and take finger prints for a more thorough background check and confirmation.

After a while, you then go in for an interview and test. During this time, they verify your answers from the application and update any changes. You also take a brief oral and written English test as well as a Civil Test to confirm your understanding of American history, government and Constitution. If you pass these tests and are deemed to be a fit, you are then approved to become a U.S. citizen.

For me, the highlight of the application process was the oath ceremony. The ceremony took place on Aug. 23, 2019, at the U.S. Federal Court in downtown St. Louis. Going into it, no expectations were set and you truly don’t know what might be coming your way. There were 51 petitioners from 32 different countries present to become U.S. citizens. During the ceremony, we heard speeches from distinguished guests, including the federal judge who led the ceremony. They encouraged each of us to assimilate, do what is best for our country, but not to forget where we came from and our heritage. 

The oath ceremony turned out to be a welcoming and emotional experience for me. I was glad to have the opportunity to share it with my family, including my husband and daughters, Alara and Selin, who helped me learn the Pledge of Allegiance, which I recited for the first time at the ceremony. 

Since the ceremony, the response from family, friends, coworkers and my Academy of the Sacred Heart friends has been overwhelmingly positive. Living somewhere for so long and not feeling quite home until you take that final step for yourself, and having people acknowledge the importance of that step, is incredibly touching. It certainly makes it even easier to say that I am proud to be an American and I am finally home!”

On behalf of the entire Academy community, we want to congratulate Zeynep on this accomplishment and officially welcome her home to the United States!