Helping low-income immigrants and refugees pass their U.S. citizenship interview is all in a day's work for Marissa Graf.

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Marissa Graff

What do you do? I teach low-income immigrants and refugees how to pass their citizenship interview. I have students from Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Congo, Uganda, Iraq, Romania and the Ukraine, just to name a few! My students learn American history, geography and government designed for English language learners. I also work with them to improve their basic English skills like reading, writing and speaking. With the help of case managers, my students also apply for naturalization.

How did you get started in that field? I taught English abroad in Slovakia, South Korea and Poland for four years. I loved working with people from all over the world and teaching. My experience living abroad showed me what it was like to live somewhere with a different culture and language than I was used to. I wanted to work with immigrants and help them become self-sufficient and make the U.S. their home. My friend actually sent me the position at Neighborhood House and told me to apply. I am really grateful she did.

What’s a typical day like? Every morning is different at my job, especially because I work at different locations (Greenbridge, Birch Creek and High Point). In the mornings I go over lessons plans, enroll new students, coordinate with case managers and volunteers, do individual tutoring and call students to check in. In the afternoon, I teach two classes. Even though I go over the same material in my classes, each one is always different due to my students. They keep me on my toes!

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What’s the best part of the job? The best part of my job is when someone becomes a citizen. No matter what country they are from or what they have been through, the students are always so happy and so proud of themselves. They know they worked hard and are now seeing their effort pay off. After working in this job for over a year, I still am so happy and excited when a student passes — that feeling hasn’t worn off!

What surprises people about your job? How hard the test to become an American citizen is. My students have to be prepared to correctly answer 100 possible questions about U.S. history and government. This surprises many people who are born here, as they often aren’t aware that you need to take a test to become a U.S. citizen; what’s more, the questions are so difficult that most struggle to answer even half the history and government questions correctly!

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