Reflections on Civic Leadership and the Journey to Becoming a US Citizen

For this month’s Thought Leader piece, Yilkal Ademe reflects on his journey to the United States, building a life with his family in Georgia, becoming a leader in his community, and becoming a US citizen this year!  

I am Yilkal Asres. Born in Ethiopia, and an asylee in the United States since the middle of 2012, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Pedagogical Science Composite English from Bahir Dar University and training as an elementary school teacher. Before coming to the United States, I was working as an elementary and middle school teacher, a project officer, a project coordinator, a capacity building officer, and a program manager in HIV/AIDS prevention and mitigation. 

On my journey to become a United States citizen, I experienced two challenging but transformational steps. Because I was undocumented at the time, I first needed to apply for and be granted asylum. I will remember this transition period throughout every step of my life. That was the time I departed from my motherland, Ethiopia. It was also the time I had to leave my two kids and my beloved wife. It was the time I suffered a lot to find a job, walking in the streets of southwest Washington DC during the very hot and cold seasons. It was also the time I presented my case to the USCIS office. Leading up to my appointment date, I was focused on preparing for the interview but also worried about my future, afraid of the uncertainties. Thanks to God and to all who supported me along the way, my case was approved and in 2014, my beloved family joined me in the states. In the same year, we moved to DeKalb County, Georgia and began to build a life here.