MARCO ISLAND — When Valentyna Chystyk first came to Marco Island from her home in Ukraine to visit a friend here, she says she knew right away she wanted to make Marco her home and America her country.
She was getting that feeling as her plane landed at Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 5, 2002.
“My friend drove me to Marco and as I crossed the bridge and saw the Yacht Club and the palm trees, I got very excited,” Valentyna says. “I thought, ‘how can I not love this place,’ and I still have that same feeling.
“My friend’s house was on a canal. That night I heard something outside and got worried, thinking, ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ It was a dolphin. It was like a dream and I didn’t want to wake up.”
Now, a decade later, her dream has come true. Barring any last-minute change, she was scheduled to become a US citizen, sworn in officially tomorrow, Saturday, March 16, at a federal facility near Fort Lauderdale.
She got a six-month visa and a got a cleaning job at the Riverside Club condo.
“The people there helped me a lot and the manager used to drive me around, that sort of thing.”
In 2004 Valentyna started a cleaning service, “Maids of Marco.”
“I keep working harder all the time because I appreciate that I can live here. I love the American way of life, love it.”
Along the way she also worked at learning English.
“I spoke no English when I came here, mostly just ‘good morning,’ ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘good night.’
So Valentyna has had three simultaneous, intertwining goals in her life here – working to build her company, learning English and becoming an American citizen.
“It has taken me ten years to become a citizen. I took tests and had interviews, and I studied. There are many questions to learn, about a hundred, and then they ask you 10 questions and you have to get six questions correct.
“Studying I was so nervous. My two children (one at Tommie Barfield, the other at the Charter Middle School) have been my best teachers. Every day after school they’d ask me questions so I could learn the answers. Now they’re very proud of me.
“My friend was very happy for me to earn citizenship, but she said, ‘Now you have to pay taxes.’ I said, ‘I’ve always been paying taxes.’ ”
We asked her how she feels her life might be different now.
“Before it was like half me – half American, half Ukrainian. I had green card, I had everything. I love my country, Ukraine, and my people, but now I am American. I can live here the rest of my life.”
Valentyna also has some personal lessons she teaches here children.
“I love the American way of life. I love it. I try to teach my kids everything that is America. If everyone would follow American law everything would be nicer.”
So, to you Valentyna, поздороаляю! (“Congratulations” in Ukrainian.)
Could you pass the citizenship test?
We thought you might like a brief quiz using examples of some of the questions would-be Americans must answer correctly to become citizens.
n How many amendments are there to the Constitution?
n Who becomes president if the president and vice president die?
n How many representatives are there in Congress? How many senators?
n What special group advises the president?
n Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
n What kind of government does the U.S. have?
No fair Googling for answers. However, you can see all 100 questions used to create the citizenship test at www.usgovinfo.about.com.
Casino caper, courtesy Parks & Rec
We thought it a bit odd that the city is organizing an excursion to the Seminole Casino in Immokalee, so we asked Mindy Matusiak at the Parks and Recreation Department why the city would sponsor a gambling junket, taking locals to spend their money off island.
“It wasn’t something we thought of,” Mindy explained. “It was more just people in passing, mentioning that they’d like an adult trip. We have a lot of teen trips to various places.
“People say they’d love to do that sort of thing but don’t want to worry about driving there and back.
“If this works out great and everyone has a good time with no complications, we may look at more adult trips during season.”
Mindy notes that, “Not everyone enjoys golf or going to the Farmers’ Market, for example.”
So if you’re up for a day of casino carousing, phone Mackle Park at 239-642-0575 for details, but hurry. There’s room on the bus for only 55 people whose “babies need new shoes.”
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: email@example.com.