For the next several months, Citizenship Counts will be featuring conversations with naturalized citizens sharing their journeys to American citizenship. Our latest interview is with software developer Max. 

What country are you originally from? Can you describe life in your native country? 

I am originally from Moscow, Russia. It’s a beautiful, large metropolitan city like Chicago or New York or Tokyo. My parents still live there.

What is your occupation?

I am a software developer. I work for a non-profit that develops software for medical and biological research.

Can you talk through the details for those of us who aren’t in the science field?

I develop software that performs calculations and provides friendly graphical-user interfaces: for example, a researcher could enter a several hundred protein sequence–represented by amino acid letters–into a program I’ve created. Then, my program would use that information and external databases to create a 3D model of what the protein might look like inside a living cell.

What circumstances surrounded your move to the United States?

I first came to the United States as a college student. I was in Moscow studying math, software development and biology at my university and I wanted a change, something fresh and new.  I got accepted to an exchange program with an American research facility in Philadelphia.

I originally planned on staying in Philadelphia for a year and returning to my life in Russia, however I came here, made new friends, traveled around the country and I didn’t want to give up on the way of life I found. So I returned to Russia to complete my master’s degree for a year and planned on returning to the United States as a doctoral student.

I applied to Drexel University’s Biochemistry program and to my surprise, I got in!  To this day, I still don’t know why they accepted me because my background was in a completely different discipline.

What was your path to citizenship?

When I returned to the United States to enter my doctoral program, I ended up leaving because I felt that software development was my true passion. In order to have more flexibility, to travel where I wanted and pursue the jobs that I wanted with more freedom, I applied for my green card. It was a cumbersome process that lasted several years and once I had my green card, I had to wait several more years before applying for citizenship. I finally became a citizen about three years ago. 

By the time I took the citizenship exam, I spoke English well and knew a lot about American history and culture so the citizenship exam was relatively easy for me.

How did you feel when you finally became a citizen?

Once my green card application was approved, I was excited because I knew that my path to citizenship was pretty much guaranteed. I was still excited to get my American citizenship because it took me about twelve years to complete the entire process. 

During the naturalization ceremony, there was a part where people got up and shared where they came from; there were people from many different nationalities and backgrounds. They came from different walks of life: some people were more educated and established while others had recently arrived to the States and were still learning English. Some people left their countries without much money and had won the visa lottery.

We all read the naturalization oath together. I’m glad they gave us a piece of paper to read it because I was worried that I hadn’t memorized it well! 

What do you appreciate the most about being an American citizen?

I have been in the United States for more than a decade: this is my home. Although I have dual citizenship, when I go to Russia, I feel like a foreigner now. American citizenship gives me a sense of comfort and security. I don’t have to worry about my visa expiring and having to pack up my stuff and leave.

I also appreciate fact that I have an American passport so I can travel to 90% off countries around the world without needing a visa!

I have also learned to appreciate my voting rights in this country, especially within the last couple of years. Once you start reading the news and talking about politics with friends.

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