Officially a Brit!

Happy Fourth of July! But as of last week, I am officially a Brit!

It’s been a long and expensive process and I am so happy to be free of UKBA/Home Office/whatever they’re calling themselves these days. I sent my application in though the Nationality Checking Service on May 10 and received my letter of invitation to the citizenship ceremony on June 12. My ILR took four months, so this was such a relief.

The morning after receiving my invitation I phoned up Glasgow City Council to book my ceremony. The June 18th date was all booked, but I was able to get in for June 25th with strict instructions to be on time and bring my invitation letter.

Leading up to the ceremony people I had no idea what to expect, how many people would be there, how long it would be, where it would be. I finally received all the location details in the mail and the rest I found out on the day.

My ceremony was at 11:30 but they asked us to arrive at 11. We were allowed to bring two guests, but I only brought Danny along as I don’t know that many people who’d be free at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning. Even I had to take a long lunch as I currently I can’t take any holidays at work.

We arrived at Glasgow City Chambers at 11 and waited around in reception for them to call us in and get checked in. There were 20 other new citizens that day and most people had brought one or two guests. I overheard another American, and other people seems to be from Eastern Europe/Russia, China and Pakistan/India. Very vague guesses as I’m obviously not 100% sure where everyone was from! There were a couple of other young couples, a father and son, a whole family and one girl who was there all by herself. Quite a mix.

On the way in the handed us a card with the oath on it and we sat and waited for the ceremony to begin.

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The ceremony started promptly at 11 and was led by the superintendent registrar. After a quick word about what it means to be a British citizen, we were invited to stand up and repeat the oath/pledge of allegiance. There was another American in the room and you could hear him above all the others. I made sure to use my quiet British voice!

We were then called up one by one to get our certificate and the ceremony ended with the national anthem, God Save the Queen. I had read somewhere that Scottish ceremonies also play Flower of Scotland (considered by many to be Scotland’s unofficial anthem) but perhaps they were asked to stop, as we’re not independent yet!

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After a quick tea and coffee reception filled with huge chunks of millionaire’s shortbread, Bakewell tarts and coconut cake, Danny and I went across the road to have lunch at Pinto’s. A very un-British choice but I couldn’t exactly go back to work stuffed with fish and chips and a pint (I should probably lay off the stereotypes now that I am one).

Interesting fact – the UK only started doing ceremonies in 2004. Before that they just posted your citizenship certificate in the mail. I’d always assumed I’d be doing a ceremony and even though it was a hassle to leave work in the middle of the day, I’m glad they do it this way now. It does make it more meaningful and I was especially struck when I remembered that it’s been exactly 10 years since I set foot on British soil. I’d have to check my trip dates again, but I went to the UK for the first time in June 2003 and I’m pretty sure my trip into Scotland was around June 25th.

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When I was 17 it was fair to assume that I would be a college graduate, in a relationship, working in a job, etc by 27. But in a completely different country? In which I can now vote, hold that little red passport and feel as if I know so intricately even after only four years here? I never would have imagined.

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My Expat Story, Part I

I’m currently here on an indefinite leave to remain visa, and about to start the citizenship application. But how did I get here and manage the headache inducing immigration process? It’s a long story, but here it is.

I first came to the UK in 2003 on a high school trip. The trip was a literary journey though England, Scotland and Wales with 25 or so of my classmates and led by my junior year English teacher. We went to London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Edinburgh, Durham, Llangollen, Haworth, Keswick and more. I fell in love with England during this trip, especially London. We briefly stopped in Scotland and Wales but I wasn’t too impressed. My least favorite place of the whole trip was Edinburgh. I thought it was dull, cold and not a very interesting city compared to the likes of London, NYC, LA and SF.

So when it came time to decide where to study abroad in college I naturally looked to London. The problem was that my school only offered a musical theatre intensive London program (no thanks!) and a psychology/social work program. I was a history major and had hoped to continue my studies during my time abroad. A English major friend of mine was applying to the Glasgow program and she recommended it as the focus was history/English. So I filled out an application, went though my interview and was accepted into the program. My mom couldn’t understand why I would want to go to Glasgow when I didn’t like Edinburgh but at that time my major was very important to me and I figured I could always visit London on the weekends. I also felt like I should give a new city a chance.

I arrived in the UK for the second time on August 28, 2006. The program started with two weeks in London so we all arrived through Heathrow. We went though immigration as a group and were all stamped in as six month visitors. I doubt they would do that now but we weren’t eligible for a student visa due to the short length of our stay. I chronicled the first few days here in my old blog but lost interest as the weeks went on. I was busy meeting Danny by that time!

I left Glasgow on December 11, 2006. I went back to Portland for the second semester of my third year and Danny and I kept in touch. I booked my tickets to visit him for the summer in the Cayman Islands, where he was working at the time. No visa to enter the county but after 30 days I had to apply for long term visitor’s visa. Danny took a long lunch and we went to Cayman’s tiny immigration office, paid our $50 CI and Danny had to sign as my sponsor and verify his employment. I think they accepted his company uniform as proof actually. That’s the Cayman Islands for you!

As I approached graduation and Danny and I got more serious we started having those talks that all LDR couples have to go through. Danny wasn’t eligible for the green card lottery and his skills weren’t in such high demand that an American company could sponsor him. I wasn’t ready to enroll in a graduate degree and didn’t have any specific skills that a British company would sponsor me for. Our only option at the time was BUNAC, a now defunct short term visa option for recently graduated American students to move to the UK and work for 6 months.

But after six month, what then? We’d be faced with the exact same issues. I think the BUNAC option would have been a good chance at getting to experience normal life together for a bit before getting too serious. However, without getting into too much detail, Danny and I were already at that serious point. He proposed a few days after my college graduation and it was time to look into fiance/spousal visas.

To be continued…

(And just in case you were wondering, Glasgow is still way better than Edinburgh!)

Life in the UK – I know it

I passed my Life in the UK test today after a stressful morning waiting for my taxi. I called and ordered one around 8:30 and requested a 9:00 pick-up time as the testing centre is only 5 minutes away. The UKBA website says to arrive at least 15 minutes before your test and they close the doors 5 minutes before test time. Once you’ve missed the test, you need to rebook and repay the fee. My test time was 9:30 and I got there at 9:25. They closed the doors behind me!

I had to get cash to pay the taxi so I left the flat at 8:50 and walked across the road to the cash machine and then waited outside my building. And then I waited. At 9:10 a taxi stopped at the building next to mine and I ran over thinking they had got the address wrong. Nope, not mine.When my taxi finally arrived I jumped in and we hit all red lights on the way there and further construction traffic that I didn’t know about.

When we arrived at the testing centre I gave the guy a tenner for my £3 fare but he didn’t have any change! I told him to just give me a fiver but he didn’t have that either. I told him to keep the £10 as 10 pounds is a lot less than a £50 booking fee. He protested that it was too much but I was halfway out the door by then. I was not going to miss this test!

After all that rushing, once I checked in and sat down at my computer we all had to wait for a supervisor to come over and check our documents. Now, I’ve been through airport security, in a American citizenship/visa center, employed by a big finance corporation, applied for a marriage license and I have never had someone look over my passport photo and compare it to me so meticulously. They study everyone for at least 7 seconds. That doesn’t sound like much, but when most places only give it a cursory glance it feels like a long time. They even asked the girl next to me to take off her glasses. After verifying the photo they verify your name, date and place of birth and address against a utility bill/bank statement/council tax bill. They also verify that you’re using the same ID that you used to register. Like, if you registered with your passport you need to bring your passport not driver’s license for ID on the day of the test. The supervisor is inputting this all into the computer for you so if your ID doesn’t match, they kick you out and you’re disqualified, free to rebook and get it right on the second try. That happened to two people who tried to argue their way out of it but it obviously didn’t work. The home office does not mess around. This is why I was freaking out about being late.

Once I finished the practice test and went on to the official test it only took me 2 minutes to finish. All that studying for nothing! Well not really. The test is deceptively simple. Some questions are super easy.

The 14th February is:

A Valentine’s Day

B Guy Fawke’s Night

C Hogmanay

D Halloween

Which statement is correct?

A The prime minister lives at Buckingham Palace

B The prime minister lives at 10 Downing Street.

Then you get the questions that reference statistics from the 2001 census that you’d probably only know if you memorized straight from the study guide.

The percentage of people in the UK who said they were Muslims is:

A 1.6% B 2.7% C 3.4%  D 4.2%

The number of children or young people in the UK is:

A 13 million B 14 million C 15 million D 16 million.

Obviously guessing is a possibility but I was raised in the AP world where multiple choice exams were designed to trick and deceive and I was not taking that chance.

Danny and I both took a practice test last night and passed only having missed 4 questions each. Of course he missed the history questions and I missed the statistics questions because I am horrible at remembering numbers (embarrassing admission – I’ve had my current phone number for over a year and do not yet have it memorized).

But I passed today and that’s what matters. Just to brag (because it’s been 4 years since I graduated college and sometimes I miss the good grades high) but I think I passed with 100%. They don’t reveal your score, but that’s what I’m going with and there’s no one to tell me otherwise!

Life in the UK

I promised that I would start a blog back when I arrived in 2009 but life got busy with new immigrant stuff. Like, trying to find a job and navigating the aisles of Tesco to find common household items and figuring out how to order a sandwich without mayo and dealing with sideways rain, etc. You get the picture. Then life kept on happening and now here I am two years later finally doing my part to keep my mom and grandmother involved in my life in the UK.

Speaking of ‘Life in the UK’ I booked my test for 9 February 2012. This is a required test for all residents of the UK hoping to gain permanent residency or ‘indefinite leave to remain’. The test itself isn’t difficult but outcome of not passing is severe – no visa renewal. Of course I can re-sit the exam but that’s another £50. It’s a similar feeling to the Californian high school exit exam. I knew I could pass it, but the importance of the test meant that I had to pass it and that was the intimidating part. Pass this test or we’re keeping you in high school and you could be a 22 year old senior. Now it’s pass this test or leave the country. I have an even more important reason that I should be fine on this exam and that is my major in British history. My major in modern British history. My thesis topic.

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The pressure is on and tomorrow’s plans are sorted.