Jun 07

Citizenship Exam

by in Life of Arlo

The Seal of the United States.Pop quiz:  Which amendments to the United States Constitution address voting rights?  Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death?”  What where the original 13 states? 

If you recall, Oksana received an INS “don’t call us, we’ll call you” letter with a year-long expiration date last November.  She was commanded to appear for fingerprints in February, but there was no new information about the citizenship process.  Just over a month ago, we finally received a citizenship-related letter in the mail.  With six months left to go!  Who says our government isn’t efficient?

The letter gave us a new date to look forward to, June 6th.  That was the day, yesterday actually, that Oksana was to appear at the federal building, ready for her citizenship exam.  In the middle of her workday, she was told to allow up to two hours for the interview and exam.  She visited the INS website and downloaded the appropriate study materials.

One evening, when friends were over, she pulled out the 100-question study guide and quizzed all us American-born citizens.  Would we be able to pass the test?

The vast majority of the questions were concerning things we all knew by the end of junior high (How many branches of the government are there, for how long is a senator elected, how many stripes are there on the flag, what was the 49th state added to the union, what is the Declaration of Independence, what’s the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?)  Some tripped us up individually (Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, what where the original 13 states, what are the requirements to be eligible for president?)  Only a couple questions stumped all of us (such at the example above about voting rights).

By the time I was quizzing Oksana on the ride to the federal building, she could answer every single one of them.  Bring it on!

I expected to wait for her while she took the exam, but the waiting area was only a handful of chairs dragged out into the spartan hallway.  Others waiting for their own INS interviews and exams filled most of them and the security at the second metal detector confiscated all our electronics — including the video player I’d brought along to pass the time.  When Oksana was called in promptly at her appointed time (and I was rather forcefully told that it was a private interview and couldn’t attend), I figured I’d eventually give up my chair and head back to the car for the long wait.  Surprisingly, she reappeared after only 15 minutes.  And with a big smile on her face; she’d passed the exam with flying colors.

I always assumed the test would be more… rigorous.  Want to know what it was like?  Get this:

The interviewer verbally asked her less than five history/civics questions. 

What does the U.N. do?
What type of government does the U.S. have?
And one that momentarily stumped her:  Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

He wrote a short sentence on a piece of paper and asked her to read it aloud:  “You cook well.”  (Hilariously, Oksana screwed that one up!  “You can cook well,” she responded.  “Um, perhaps you want to try that again?”)

He asked her to write down a sentence that he dictated:  “You drink too much coffee.”

He asked her a bunch of relationship questions:  Are you still married?  Have you or your husband been married more than once?  Do you think you make the right decision?  How many times have you traveled outside the U.S. since marrying?

And then a bunch of citizenship questions:  Would you defend the United States in a time of war?  Would you bear arms?  Have you ever been judged incompetent?  Have you voted in any federal, state, or local elections?  Have you been paying your taxes?

Hearing her tell me about the process, it confirmed my suspicion that the citizenship exam is more an evaluation of an applicant’s grasp of English than a test of their U.S. History knowledge.  The government wants to be sure that immigrants will be able to function in our society.  God knows we have plenty of born-and-bred Americans that get through every day without any idea how many amendments there are to the Constitution.

After the interview, Oksana received a new form, the trusty old N-652, Naturalization Interview Results.  It indicated that A) You passed! and B) Don’t call us, we’ll call you!  We expect that the next time we hear from them, it’ll be to schedule her for the oath ceremony.

Oh, I wanted to leave you with the one question on the study guide.  One that every red-blooded American knows the answer to:  What U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form is used to apply for naturalized citizenship?  You know that one, right?  (Hint:  The form number is the same as the cost associated with submitting it — $400!)

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Welcome to Postcard Valet

Postcard Valet is a travel blog and video podcast by Arlo and Oksana Midgett. They just returned to Juneau, Alaska, after almost three full years of travel and living abroad. Many of their stories, photos, and videos have yet to be shared...

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