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Grateful to Be a Citizen

Paw Shee loves to read, especially books that teach her about “what happened in the past.” And on her journey to becoming a citizen, citizenship classes became a platform that fueled that desire to learn.

“I love to read the books they gave me about U.S. history,” Paw said, emphasizing, “they gave me whole books!”

Paw recently completed two citizenship courses with two different instructors. Both commended her hard work and her ability to read in English.

“She could read English very well, she always had her homework done,” recalled Susan Llewellyn, Paw’s instructor during her second round of classes, “she always read everything for each assignment.” Sometimes, Paw would be chapters ahead of the assigned reading.  

Despite her love for reading and compliments from both of her teachers, however, she expressed concern about her English skills. She wants to be “treated like a citizen,” viewed by others without judgement or fear. For Paw, citizenship means a different way to be seen.

“I wanted to be seen like I am a citizen when I go somewhere. If they question, ‘are you a citizen?’ I want to answer yes,” Paw said.

Llewellyn believes that understanding refugees’ personal circumstances helps to eliminate fear. She always asks her students to share their stories, because “what you hear on the news may be different than what you hear from a refugee.” Paw chose to share her own story in Llewellyn’s class.

She and her family sought refuge in the U.S. in 2014, shortly after faith-based persecution and violence began to escalate in their country of origin, Myanmar. They journeyed outside of the refugee camp they had been living in for the freedom to “go anywhere and practice whatever [they] want.”

Her resettlement was life-changing, and the diligence it took to make the journey followed Paw through her classes. She remained dedicated to learning even as a mother of three during last year’s shift to remote technology.

“She’s a mom, and she was a really good student. . .  her kids would be there with her during classes,” Llewellyn said, “she took it seriously and was always prepared.” Paw adapted to remote class technology and completed round two of her classes with ease. Her work ethic, coupled with an innate need to learn about the world around her, drove her straight to her goal.

“I passed the citizenship test,” she said, “My oath ceremony is on July 14th.”

The oath ceremony is the final step in the citizenship process, where participants swear their allegiance and receive their naturalization certificates. It’s symbolic in its representation of hard work, reward, and the obstacles they’ve overcome in their path to citizenship.

After the ceremony, Paw plans to go back to school when she has the time. Her goals are to work on her English skills through ESL classes and complete a highschool education. She’s kept in touch with both of her instructors, to whom she has repeatedly expressed a deep gratitude.

“She’s written to me several times since. She texted me and said she passed the test, got them all right, and thanked me for helping her. She let me know she was grateful,” Llewellyn said.

Paw Shee took a risk in choosing to better herself in the face of fear. And just as she built her future through an innate desire to learn about the past, her own story will serve to inspire those who follow in her footsteps.

“I am feeling so blessed and thankful that the American government welcomes our refugees and lets people come and live here in America. Finally, I am so proud to be an American Citizen,” she said. 

Written by Erica Parrigin

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