Background and Initial Application
As you may know, I was a citizen of Malaysia (a.k.a. the old country, even though it isn't a very old country) but I've had permanent resident status in the USA since around 2002. Back when I was in North Jersey, I wasn't thinking that much about naturalizing. Even though I lived there for 14 years, it felt rather temporary to me because I didn't own any property or put down roots, and I didn't get along with enough folks in the area that it was a significant concern. A lot of that changed when I moved to Delaware, bought a house, and got a job that was tons better than my previous one. Even though things had stabilized after my second year in Delaware, it still didn't click that it was time to seek citizenship until I watched Season 2 Episode 21 of Little Mosque on Hulu. Little Mosque is a Canadian sitcom about a Muslim community in rural Canada. I noticed that Hulu was promoting the show on their main page for a while and I thought the first few seasons, at least, were funny and interesting. (After that, the show jumped the shark and became a bit tedious.) Anyway, episode 2-21 is the one where the cafe owner studies for her citizenship test. So that got me thinking about doing the same. (except in the USA, not Canada :) )
That was in early October. I did my research to see if I had all the prerequisites. Turns out that mine was just about the simplest case since I haven't traveled or married or done anything, pretty much, in the last decade. After a quick email consultation with my former immigration attorney, I filed form N-400 on October 5.
Just about a week or so after that, I got an appointment letter to have my biometrics taken. Wow, that was fast, I thought. Thank goodness the appointment date didn't coincide with Furfright. It was on November 2, the Friday after Furfright. This appointment was with the field office in Dover, which has to be about the sleepiest processing center ever. They only had me and one other person for that appointment slot. What they did was take my physical information, photograph, and fingerprints. This data was meant for the FBI background check and the photo was for the naturalization certificate. There, they also gave me a book and CD with study material for the civics portion of the citizenship test.
Only a month after that, I got another appointment letter to take the citizenship test. Again wow, that was fast, especially since I was under the assumption that the application process took 4 to 5 months. The test was at the USCIS field office in Center City Philadelphia. There was a half-hour wait but once it was my turn, the test was actually fairly quick. The USCIS officer had me verify all the information I had provided in the N-400 form, with explanation where needed. Then the civics test was just 10 questions selected at random from the list of 100 questions in the study materials. Actually, I only needed to answer 6 questions because once I had 6 correct answers, I passed. (And that was a snap because I'd been listening to the CD in my car on long drives home from geocaching trips.) For the English part of the test, I only needed to read and write one sentence. Then the USCIS officer handed me a paper with the test results and that was the end of the appointment.
A few days later, I got the final appointment letter to return to USCIS in Philadelphia for the oath ceremony. Things were really speeding along! The letter stated that the ceremony is a solemn occasion and requested no flip-flops, jeans, or shorts. So for this one, I actually had to search my closets for my old interview clothes. (I hadn't worn those clothes in 18 years because even for my second job interview, I was dressed casually. The bigger surprise was that those clothes still fit. Hooray for significant weight loss since 2008!) I took the day off from work on January 25 because the ceremony was in the middle of the day. Besides, if I left home early, I'd have time for some geocaches in Philadelphia. :) (The hollowed-out book geocache in Philadelphia Free Library was fun.)
The oath ceremony was in the ceremonial courtroom at the field office. 67 people took the oath during the 2pm time slot, so we filled the first 5 rows of seats in the room. (The remaining rows in the back were for family and support who weren't taking the oath.) There were a few parts to this process. For the first part, they had everyone come up individually to surrender the appointment letter and green card, and inspect the naturalization certificate for errors. (The certificate is generated from information in the N-400 and biometrics data, so it ought to be accurate but you never know.) Then I was handed a small flag, a copy of the constitution, and the Citizen's Almanac. (one of the USCIS publications) In the second part, people stood up as one of the USCIS officers called out countries of nationality. It was quite a long list of countries with most of the world represented! Then once everyone was standing up, we all said the Oath of Allegiance. The end of the oath was the point when we legally became citizens. Then the Director of the field office gave a little speech before handing out the naturalization certificates. In the ceremonial courtroom, there was also a table set up for voter registration but they quickly ran out of out-of-state registration packets, so I'll have to take care of that later on my own.