As an assistant account executive in the public relations department at Dalton Agency – a full-service advertising, public relations and digital agency headquartered in Jacksonville – Jill Wu works closely with clients to ensure their success in media relations, community engagement and strategic communications. It’s a different life than the one she knew in her native Suzhou, China, but she has embraced her new home in the United States, and recently achieved her dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.
You were born in China. How did you come to live in America?
The person who opened the door for me was my stepfather, Jim. My mom moved to this country when she married Jim in 2006. Living on the other side of the world from my mom was extremely difficult. That’s why Jim decided to help me apply for my immigration visa in 2007. It took two years for my visa to get approved by the U.S. government, and these were probably the longest two years in my life.
My hometown, Suzhou, has more than 2,500 years of history. Although I am now officially a U.S. citizen, I am proud of my cultural background and the traditional values that helped shape me into who I am today. I call Daytona Beach my “hometown” in the U.S. because it was the very first place that I lived and the place I started my second life at the age of 21. After a year and a half, I transferred from Daytona State College to the University of Florida in Gainesville. I’ve spent the past three years living in the Jacksonville area, a place I call my new home.
What brought you to Ponte Vedra Beach?
I love driving back home every day and entering this island of peace and relaxation. It’s a different world from the city – it’s my daily getaway. I moved into my condo at the start of 2015 and have been in love with this area ever since.
When did you decide to become an American citizen?
I always knew that I wanted to become a U.S. citizen, but the process required I live in the country for at least five years. I hit my five-year mark at the end of 2014, and I started the application process in September 2015. It just made perfect sense to me, as I know this is the country I will spend the rest of my life in.
What is involved in the citizenship process?
The entire process includes the application for naturalization, biometric appointment – where the government collected my fingerprints – in-person interview and concluded with the oath ceremony. From the beginning to the end, it took about six months. During the interview, I also had to pass the naturalization test, which includes an English and a civics portion. During my interview with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, I received an approval letter on the spot. It wasn’t until I saw my naturalization ceremony notice, however, that I started sharing the exciting news with my friends.
What was the citizenship ceremony like?
It took place at the Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse located on Hogan Street, which is only one block away from the Dalton office. Three of my best friends joined me at the ceremony. April 28 will be forever marked as one of the most important days in my life! It’s hard to describe. A lot of feelings and emotions went into that morning. My stepfather passed away in April this year, and I wish he could have been there to witness that special moment – the moment that he created for me in the first place. But I knew he was there spiritually, and he was proud.
The room was full of Americans-to-be who came from across the world. That was the moment it reminded me once again how wonderful this country is and what a life-changing opportunity this land has offered to every single one of us. We went through a final round of verification before taking the Oath of Allegiance and receiving the naturalization certificate.
My day became even more special when I went back to the office. Jim Dalton, CEO of the Dalton Agency, bought everyone an American flag t-shirt as a group celebration for me. My colleagues also decorated my work station with everything red white and blue. I couldn’t be more thankful for my work family!
This will be your first Independence Day since becoming a U.S. citizen. What does that mean for you?
It means, for the first time, I can celebrate this holiday as a true American. I can be a proud citizen to wish my country a happy birthday. My plan is to spend the day with my mom in South Florida. Nothing particular, but I will be sure to wear my all-American apparel and pop a bottle of champagne!