Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a widely known concept for anyone who seeks higher education. College is far from affordable, without a full-ride scholarship or using your parent’s college fund set up for you, it is very difficult to pay tuition, housing and dining fees on your own dime. Students need to borrow money and FAFSA is one of the easiest ways to obtain a loan, that is, if you’re born in the United States.
As someone who was born in a different country, I have had the luxury of jumping through several hurdles to obtain thousands of dollars from the government I’ll have to pay back in order to pay for my education just like any other college student. Technically since I was adopted by United States citizens, through them and some paperwork I should be, and am considered a citizen of the United States. But like others, I’ve had to take the detour when it came to paperwork and verification that my friends never had to do.
Verifying my citizenship as someone who was born in a different country wasn’t something anyone I personally knew had to deal with. Proving myself to the government that I am a citizen, even though I have lived in the United States since I was nine months old, was always a pain to deal with. As someone who was raised in suburban Minnesota her whole life, I just accepted that even though I felt the same as my friends, I had to go through other obstacles just to have the same opportunity.
One of these obstacles was during my freshman year of college when I realized that my passport was expired and I had no proof of citizenship that was applicable to apply for student aid. Renewing my passport during the height of Covid and the government shutdown in 2020-21 was a nightmare. I resorted to other documents I had when I was adopted such as my foreign birth card or my permanent resident card, but they were not accepted. Regarding my passport, the paperwork took months to return and almost didn’t come in time when tuition bills were due.
Spoiler alert, it did come in time; however, there were several other headaches along the way. Since my birth certificate says “foreign birth,” it was immediately questioned if I was a citizen.
FAFSA alone wasn’t the only thing I was questioned about regarding my citizenship. When I got my first job I was also asked “Are you an international student?” I was confused at first at why they may have thought that, however, I suppose workplaces may have to file different paperwork if I was. However, would they have asked my white friend that same question?
As someone who is a United States citizen but doesn’t “look the part,” I have had the pleasure of bouncing from office to office just to verify that I will pay my taxes and pay back the thousands of loans I was able to takeout at the ripe age of 18.
Header Photo: I got this tattoo when I was 17 years old from my coworker who owned a tattoo gun. (Julia Barton/The Reporter)
Write to Julia Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org