Julia Chisholm of Boise became a U.S. citizen on December 15, 2006. In a conversation after the ceremony, she shared with BW her thoughts on her homeland of Ukraine, and about growing up in the former Soviet Union and on becoming a citizen of the U.S.
Julia, who is 31, teaches English to refugees at the English Language Center in Boise. She lives with her husband James and their 3-year-old bilingual daughter, Maya on Boise's west side.
BW: You were in the Soviet Union during perestroika and glasnost. What was that like?
In 1985 when Gorbachav came to power, I remember my parents fighting over articles in magazines because everything came out: the corruption, about Stalin, how he tortured people and killed so many people. I remember the whole family reading the articles and listening to the news and all. It was an eye-opening experience. That was a bad side effect of the Union falling apart.
How did you end up here?
I was wishing to come to America to get my masters' degree. When I came here and got my transcripts evaluated, it turns out I already did have my masters. My friend [in Ukraine] told me, "I can get you in touch with tons of Americans." What she did was she put me on this marriage Web site. I didn't know what the Web was. It was 1997. I had never used it. So James wrote, his letter was first, so I wrote to him and then I got tons of letters that I never responded to. I had to go to the library, and the guy at the library had to set it up for me because I had no idea how to do it (use the Internet), I would just type the letter and he would send it. It's funny to think about it now. James came and visited and then he proposed, and then I moved here the following January.
Was that hard leaving your family?
Oh my gosh, that was the hardest thing of all. It still is. It still is. It is very hard. I call them every week. We send e-mails practically every day. Now I always tear up when I talk about it.
What did you learn about the United States while you were in school?
When I was in the second grade there was a project, and we all wrote letters to President Reagan begging him not to blow us up, and then I think it was when Andropov was president, an American schoolgirl, Samantha Smith, came to the Soviet Union. She was huge influence. That is when I changed my whole opinion of America. We were taught that American kids had to work and that there was huge unemployment, which there was none of in the Soviet Union, and that people were just struggling in the U.S. and that we were so fortunate to live in the Soviet Union where the government takes care of us. Nobody really takes care of Americans, and they are just really very unlucky to be born there. And then Samantha Smith, when she came, to me she changed everything.
What made you decide to become a U.S. citizen?
It took me a while. I could have done it two years ago, but I didn't because I felt that I'd be burning all the bridges behind me because I would have to get a visa to travel back home. I gave it a lot of thought. Then I had my daughter and she is an American citizen.
I realized I really love America and have a lot of respect for people who live here and very importantly I really wanted to start voting, especially with all the last six years of chaos that has been going on. I really like where I live; I like Boise. I am so lucky to have made great friends here that mean so much to me, and I just realize I feel at home here. I can call it home without any reservation. In my heart I will always be part Ukrainian or Soviet or whatever you want to call it. I will always be from over there.