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Two faculty members become U.S. citizens
March 8, 2012Tweet
For faculty members Katja Kleinberg and Dmitry Ponomarev, attaining U.S. citizenship solidifies how they already felt living in America.
“You know how they say, ‘home is where the heart is.’ You just feel part of it,” Kleinberg said. “This is where I’ve made my home. This is where my work is.”
Kleinberg, an assistant professor in the Political Science Department, and Ponomarev, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, recently attained U.S. citizenship. The ceremony was held Feb. 3 at the Broome County Courthouse in Binghamton.
Ponomarev did not originally plan to stay in the United States for so long. When he came to the United States in 1996, he was only planning to stay a few years, and then move back to Russia. After getting his PhD from Binghamton University in 2003, he was offered a faculty position.
“The next natural step was to completely integrate myself into the society, and to get citizenship,” Ponomarev said. “I felt like I belonged here now, so why not?”
As a political science professor, Kleinberg encourages her students to participate in government. Without citizenship, Kleinberg was not able to participate formally. “Not being able to participate at all – it bugged me,” she said. “I work here, I pay taxes here, and I care about what happens in the community and the country. It bothered me that I didn’t have any influence on it.”
Watching political news on television, Ponomarev began to develop an interest in politics. When he first came to the United States, he said he had no idea what newscasters were talking about. But now he has a broader understanding of politics. In fact, applying for citizenship influenced that understanding. “Preparing for the immigration test put a nice framework around all this knowledge. It solidified my understanding a little bit,” he said. “It’s a useful set of questions that they had.”
Now that he has the right to vote, he is motivated to get involved. “Because I couldn’t vote, it felt like I wasn’t impacting anything,” he said. “Now, maybe in this election, I’m going to actually vote for the first time. It feels good to be part of something.”
Kleinberg’s experiences have influenced her to become an advocate for study abroad. While she was an undergraduate student in Germany, she studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a year in 1999. She returned in 2002 to complete her graduate work there. After receiving her PhD, she was hired by the Political Science Department and moved to Binghamton.
“It’s a big step to decide to move somewhere else, I think,” she said. “But I love my job, and I loved grad school.” Now, Kleinberg feels at home in Binghamton. “This actually looks a lot like home, in terms of landscaping and weather. It’s a lot like my hometown,” she said.
To gain citizenship, Kleinberg and Ponomarev had to have a permanent resident card, or green card, for an extended period of time. Then, they applied for citizenship through a series of interviews and the naturalization test, a two-part exam that tests knowledge of English and American history and politics. Once they completed these steps, they took an oath at the ceremony.
For Kleinberg, one of the most challenging parts of the process was retaining her German citizenship. Since German citizenship is automatically rescinded after obtaining citizenship elsewhere, extra paperwork is required to maintain dual citizenship. Kleinberg wrote formal statements explaining why she sought American citizenship and why she wanted to maintain German citizenship.
“The process used to be a lot harder to complete, and permission was granted less often years ago,” she said. “It really didn’t take that long, but it was more paperwork than I expected.”
However, Kleinberg described the overall process as fast and efficient. “It was pretty exciting,” she said.
To prepare for the test, citizenship candidates receive a booklet with 100 potential questions and their answers. Ponomarev said the booklet also includes a few detailed paragraphs explaining why the answer is what it is. “For me, it was educational,” he said. “I think it’s a good way to have people understand what’s going on.”
Kleinberg suggested that people born with the right to vote in the United States take the sample citizenship test available online. “Just take it once, to get the sense of what immigrants have to go through to get the right that you’re born with,” she said. “It’s an interesting thing to test. How much do you know about where you live, and what you vote on?”
Both Ponomarev and Kleinberg were supported by friends and colleagues throughout the citizenship process. Ponomarev plays soccer at the Binghamton Sports Complex. When his teammates learned he was applying for citizenship, “it was the topic of conversation for two months,” he said.
“On the day of my citizenship interview, one of the guys actually brought a cake,” he said.
“The ceremony was great,” Kleinberg said. Many of her colleagues attended the ceremony. The candidates took their oath in front of a judge and a crowd of friends and family members. “It was nice,” Ponomarev said.
For Ponomarev, citizenship allows him to travel to foreign countries to present papers with greater ease. “Now, for example, if my paper gets accepted to a conference in France, I can just go and present it,” he said.
“It hasn’t completely sunk in yet that I’m a citizen,” Kleinberg said. “Once I’ve used my passport for the first time, maybe it will sink in.”