Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When I Grow Up

When I was six, I knew that by the time I was twenty, I would be a successful author, working full-time as a veterinarian, married with two children.

I think of this every once in a while and I laugh. My understanding at that age of things like what and how long it took to complete veterinary school, or to conceive and give birth to two children, was lacking. The basis of these goals were simply that I knew I loved animals, I knew I liked "writing" stories (although I was dictating them to my mother back then), and being a parent seemed like a natural development in the process of becoming an adult.

When I was twelve, I was volunteering for a local animal shelter and researching  veterinary programs at various state colleges.
I am lucky to have been born to parents who have always supported me, whatever my dreams and interests were. I didn't realize until I was much older what a privilege this was. When I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian, my parents and I spent weeks contacting all the local animal shelters until we found one that would allow volunteers below the age of sixteen. They drove me one hour round-trip every week to the only one in our area that would allow me as a volunteer, and I spent those Saturday mornings in the cat rooms, letting out all the cats and kittens, cleaning out the cages, and playing with the animals before capturing them all to put them back in their cages. My parents got me the computer game 'Vet Emergency' for Christmas one year. I remember, when my mom took me to the Illinois State Fair for a Simple Plan concert, picking up brochures about the University of Illinois' veterinary program, reading up on the academic requirements, figuring out what I needed to do to get into veterinary school.

When I was sixteen, I realized that my love for animals was not enough to get me through (or even into) veterinary school.
I have always struggled with math, and by association, science courses that required an understanding of math. I was on a high school trip to Paris when my finals grades from my sophomore year came in. I remember sitting in the lobby of the hotel, on the phone with my parents, and them telling me my grades. Despite how hard I'd worked, my chemistry final grade was not where I wanted it to be. In my memory, I have this feeling of knowing then and there that I wasn't going to be a veterinarian--in reality I doubt that's how it happened, but over the next year I slowly stopped considering that as my career path. I remember my parents encouraging me that I didn't have to give it up just because of one bad grade, that if I really wanted to do it I still could, and I appreciated that. But the realization that experience gave me wasn't just, "I am bad at math and science". It was the realization that any adult would know, but that, from the ages of seven to sixteen, I had ignored. The realization that veterinarians are medical professionals, and I would have to be willing to commit myself to a career based in math and science--to immersing myself in those subjects I struggled with for years to get through school just to get into the career--and the realization that a love of animals was not enough, for me, to commit to that. 

So--where am I now? 
Which of six-year-old Monica's dreams have I achieved? Well, I'm not a published author, I'm not a veterinarian, and I don't have any children. That means I've achieved one out of four--I'm married. And do I feel disappointed that I haven't met the goals I set for myself at the age of six? Not in the slightest.

Dreams and goals change. They change as we grow up and gain a better understanding of ourselves and of the world, and they change as our circumstances change. The dreams I had at the age of six were not the same as at sixteen, and I'm sure the goals I'm striving towards when I'm thirty-five will be different to the ones I'm working towards now. The fact that my dreams are changing is a sign that I'm changing, that I'm accomplishing things and discovering new interests, and I value that because I know that I'm not stagnating. 

This post was inspired by Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. The prompt that spoke to me this week was "Something you wanted to be when you grew up."

Monday, August 31, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions #1 --Why aren't you a British citizen yet?

I've had the idea for this post for a while now, and it seemed like it would be appropriate to share around my three-year anniversary of moving to Wales! I get questions all the time from friends, family, and acquaintances about my immigration status in the UK, as well as questions around whether Josh and I are planning to stay Wales for the foreseeable future. Around UK election time I would get involved in political discussions and people were often surprised to find out I couldn't vote. A lot of people, American and British alike, seem to assume that by marrying Josh I've been granted British citizenship, or vice-versa--that by marrying me, he gains some sort of immigration status that would make it incredibly easy for us to move to the United States together. Neither of these scenarios is the case! I thought I'd do a post laying out my immigration journey until now and into the future as an immigrant in the UK.

It is worth pointing out that the immigration routes available to me, as a non-EU citizen, are very different to those available to EU citizens. This post is not meant to serve as a guide to anyone looking to immigrate into the UK, there are many different routes dependent on lots of factors in your personal circumstances. This is just to discuss what my experience has been, so if you're curious, read on!

When Josh and I got married I was still on my student visa, but applied to switch to a Further Leave to Remain (FLR) visa, which is what I'm on currently. There are financial requirements that must be met in order for a FLR visa to be approved; there is a base rate if you are applying independently and higher rates if you have any dependent children. The financial requirement states what income level the visa sponsor (in my case, Josh) needs to have been on for the past 12 months prior to applying for the visa. These rules are in place to ensure that someone who moves to the UK on a FLR visa is able to be financially supported. So when we got married in December 2013 I applied for my FLR visa right away, and was notified that it had been approved in February 2014. There was very little chance it wouldn't be unless we'd messed something up in the application, because we met the financial requirements and had provided all the evidence and I don't have a criminal record, but it was still such a relief to finally have that news and have my passport back!

I am just over halfway through the period that this first FLR visa covers. It lasts for 30 months, which means that next summer I will have to re-apply. The reapplication process should be the same, unless the requirements change between now and then. There's a lot going on politically in the UK at the minute in terms of immigration laws, much like in the US, and it is becoming much more difficult to meet visa requirements for everyone from students to professionals to significant others. Even the financial requirement we had to meet was new in the past few years and has been incredibly controversial, so there's no telling what could change before my next application. However, assuming everything stays the same, I will be applying for my second FLR visa next summer, which will last me another 30 months.

The next step after my FLR visa is to apply for indefinite leave to remain. Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) is basically the stepping stone between being a visa-holding immigrant and becoming a citizen. You must have lived in the UK for 5 years before you can apply for ILR, and this 5-year period cannot include time spent on a student visa, so I will only be eligible to apply for ILR when my second FLR visa expires. After a year on ILR, I will be eligible to apply for UK citizenship!
I will not have the right to vote in the UK until I am a citizen--so at the earliest, 2019. Although I find it frustrating that I am working, paying taxes, and making a life in this country and can't have a say in the government, I understand the complex issues that would exist around granting immigrants the right to vote --but that's a discussion for another post!

If Josh and I wanted to pick up and move to the United States next month, we'd have similar issues to deal with as we do here in terms of visas. I would be his sponsor and I would have to meet similar income requirements within the US, which would mean me having found a job in the US and, practically speaking, mostly likely moving over to start that job while he applied for his visa. So in reality, what makes the most sense is for us to stay in the UK--at least until I have my British citizenship. If we were to leave and return, my existing time spent in the UK would not count, as all these time periods for eligibility must be continuous. If we stay until I can become a citizen, it means that we can stay here for the rest of our lives without having to worry about any immigration-related issues, but it also would mean that if we ever decided to move out of the UK and wanted to move back, we could easily return with both of us as citizens.

I've had a couple of conversations lately about how much immigration laws do affect the decisions you make when you're in an international relationship. Despite the fact that we are now married and living in the same country, this is something that still affects the decisions Josh and I make for our lives, and will continue to affect things for the foreseeable future, and I wanted to take a chance to talk about it to make people more aware of these circumstances.

I am hoping to do a series of "Frequently asked questions" posts on here about questions people often ask me about living in Wales as an American immigrant. If you'd be interested in reading this and have any questions you'd like answered, please feel free to leave a question in the comments!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

To a Ghost Not Gone

In the wake of PoMoSco and sharing with all of you my favorite poems I've written for the project, it seems fitting to also share a poem that is fully Monica-written--as in, not a found poem from someone else's words. Papi (my grandfather) died five years ago today, and this is a poem I wrote in his honor. It remains one of my favorite poems I've written.

To a Ghost Not Gone

El Señor es mi Pastor. Nada te faltará.

I search for ways to say goodbye,
fumbling through the moments I remember best.
You kept me in a safe, your little treasury,
and left me with piles of pocket change and your voice,
scratchy Spanish on an old cassette,
dust that hasn’t found a place to settle.

Me guiará por sendas de justicia, por amor de su nombre.

You tried to sweep
the broken bits beneath the rug,
but now they cut our feet and we cry,
not for the ache of your absence,
but for the things you left behind.

Mi copa está rebosando.

I watch little ones pluck petals
and drop the tattered stems on the dirt.
I want to kiss your cheek
to give you one final farewell,
but I don’t know how to reach you,
or what language will carry my voice
across the distance.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Saying Goodbye to PoMoSco

It is now May 4th, which means that PoMoSco has been over for four days! I am so glad I had the chance to participate; although I didn't complete all the prompts (I managed 27 out of 30), I have come out of the month of April with 27 new poems. Many of them will be pieces I can now edit to my heart's content, and some have given me both new subject matter for future pieces and new ways of looking at certain themes/topics that I might never have come up with on my own. So, without further ado, here are my favorite poems from the last week-and-a-bit of PoMoSco.
  • How You Saved the Day: my source text for this was a collection of poems by one of my favorite writers, Julia Alvarez.
  • To the Voices: After finishing this one I realized how similar it was to my White Out poem, Wickedness. 
  • The Country by Seaside: I really loved the premise of this prompt--to travel to your local library, and on your journey note something you saw along the way. Then you had to find 5 books related to whatever that topic was, and draw your words/phrases for the poem from the first 5 pages of each of those sources. This poem was therefore inspired by seeing sheep!
  • A Small Sample is a series of haikus created from my source text. I never write haiku but after doing so for an earlier prompt, I realized how beautiful the form can be.
The PoMoSco site will remain open to access by the public until mid-May so my poems will be readable until then. I hope you've enjoyed the chance to follow along with me in my month-long poetic journey!