A current Colorado State University master’s student from South Korea was one of 15 citizenship candidates from 10 countries to become United States citizens this weekend.
After moving to the U.S. at age 12 with her parents, gaining permanent residency and applying for citizenship, Ji Hye Chung participated in a naturalization ceremony Saturday at the Westminster Public Library. She has been living in the U.S. for 14 years.
“I came to the States with my parents,” Chung said. “My dad decided to come here because his sister lived here and so we came to live with them. We first went to Florida, but then we decided to move up to Georgia because there weren’t any Koreans.”
Chung started school as a sixth-grader in the U.S. and completed her secondary and university education in various states around the country. She attended middle and high school in Georgia, went to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee for her undergraduate education, completed her first master’s degree at CU Boulder and is now attending CSU for her second master’s degree in violin performance.
Chung said she originally had some problems with the language barrier, so she turned to music as a form of communication.
“Because of the language barrier, I decided to play the violin,” Chung said. “I played the violin before, back in Korea, and I restarted to play because I just needed an outlet and some stress relief.”
Chung said she encountered difficulties in some school subjects at first, but persevered and did well in school.
“Social studies was probably the most difficult thing because it had so much reading,” Chung said. “Reading a chapter shouldn’t be that difficult, but it was difficult to translate all the words that I didn’t know. It just took me a lot longer than everybody else, and that was how studying was.”
Chung had learned English in Korea, but the focus on English language in Korea is grammar. Speaking is more difficult, she said.
“Understanding was okay, but speaking was really hard and writing was really hard,” Chung said. “I was part of the English as a second language program, one of the programs that schools have for about a year and a half, but then from eighth grade, I was able to get into regular classes.”
Chung attributed her ability to easily adapt to the new language to her young age upon arriving in the U.S.
“I think because I came at such a young age, I think it was easier to get used to classes,” Chung said. “Getting good grades wasn’t that difficult.”
The ceremony Saturday featured speakers including Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison, Senator Jessie Ulibarri from District 21 in the Colorado State Senate and Representative Faith Winter, who represents District 35 in the Colorado House.
“You have a new set of roles, responsibilities and rights now as American citizens,” Ulibarri said as he encouraged the citizenship candidates to be involved in their communities. “I want you to evoke all of your responsibilities and all of your rights.”
During the 2015 fiscal year, 729,995 people were naturalized in the U.S., 9,657 of which were naturalized in Colorado, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in order to obtain U.S. citizenship, applicants must be at least 18 years old, be lawful, permanent residents of the U.S., have resided in the U.S. for at least five years and be physically present in the country for at least 30 months. They must also be able to speak, read, write and understand English, have knowledge of U.S. government and history and be willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
For Chung, part of these requirements were already fulfilled, since her family has been living in the country lawfully since she was 12.
“I was lucky that my parents went through getting the permanent residency before so that I didn’t have to worry about it,” Chung said. “This is my first thing that I’m doing for myself.”
Just before 3 p.m. Saturday, Chung recited the Oath of Allegiance and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen, gaining nearly all the same rights as a native-born citizen.
“I don’t really feel that different,” she said. “I’ve been around here for a long time. I’ve been hanging out with Americans at least half my life and I always thought I would live here, so it’s not that different. One thing that feels different is the thought that I’m not protected by (South) Korea anymore. America is going to be protecting me if anything happens to me.”
Collegian International Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MegFischer04.