By Laura McLoughlin
This article appeared on proliteracy.org
In Madison, Wisconsin, there are two sisters from Tibet who wanted to become American citizens.
In it together, Tsering C. and Tsering T. spent two years studying and, on the same day in January, they passed the citizenship test—an achievement that was only possible through perseverance and determination.
In the summer 2019, the sisters enrolled in the Literacy Network’s Citizenship Classes. By earning their citizenship, the women would be able to travel and visit family in other parts of the world, said their instructor, Mona Soltani, who refers to the older Tsering C. simply as Tsering and the younger Tsering T. as T.T.
But, of course, for many immigrants, it’s not just as easy as enrolling in citizenship classes and passing the test in a matter of weeks. Having grown up in another country with an entirely different form of government, it can be difficult for students to grasp some of the concepts being taught about U.S. history and government, Mona said. For Tsering and T.T., this was probably one of their biggest challenges.
“Their English competency in general and their understanding of civics was a struggle,” Mona said.
But, Mona said, they were very motivated to improve themselves.
At the beginning, T.T. could not write a sentence that was read to her. Mona, who has a master’s degree in teaching English as a foreign language from her native country Iran, would put a paper with the sentence in front of T.T. to copy.
“Tsering’s English is a little better, and she always helped T.T. She would translate the content into their own language so T.T. could understand,” she said. “There were also two other Tibetans in class, and she was always willing to help them, too. She is just very kind overall.”
In mid-March 2020, when the pandemic hit, classes switched to Zoom. Despite low digital literacy skills, the sisters persevered. Mona said they joined every class on time, together, in one Zoom window.
“Despite all their challenges, they worked really hard to meet their goal,” she said.
Each time they saw a classmate pass the citizenship test, they showed joy for that person, and it motivated them to keep working to pass the test, too.
After nearly two years of study, T.T. was able to listen to sentences Mona read to her and write them without any mistakes.
As Tsering and T.T. prepared to travel to Milwaukee to take the test in January, Mona saw their success, not only as meeting their goal of passing the test, but also by becoming confident in speaking English in class and in helping other people, including Spanish-speaking students.
After passing the test, Tsering and T.T. presented Mona with a beautiful scarf to show their gratitude for all her help over the past two years.
T.T. is continuing her studies in Literacy Network’s Community Literacy classes, which include English as a second language instruction. A new challenge that Community Literacy instructor Shehrose says T.T. is once again up to.
“[T.T.] is just so motivated to improve and learn more. . . . I am so happy for her and proud of her because she deserves it after all her hard work! As a student, she asks great questions and works diligently every week. . . . We laugh and have fun together learning English in the sessions. She is just super funny and kind and just brightens up the screen with her presence!”
Tsering and T.T. will travel back to Milwaukee soon for their naturalization ceremony where they will take the oath to officially become citizens.
It is a day they have worked hard to get to—together.
Learn more about the naturalization process and how to prepare for the test at the Citizenship Resource Center from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
New Readers Press Citizenship Passing the Test series is a great resource to help students prepare for the test. In fact, it is what Mona uses in her classes at Literacy Network.