BYLINE: Angelita Faller
Newswise — Dr. Julien Mirivel, a professor of applied communication at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has become a U.S. citizen 29 years after he first arrived in the country as a high school exchange student.
On June 30, Mirivel, 44, traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, where he took the citizenship oath and officially became a U.S. citizen with dozens of other people.
“I felt a lot of pride that day and a lot of pride for the journey,” Mirivel said. “It represented an intentional step in my life. It took me a long time to do it.”
Mirivel said that it’s hard for most people to understand what it was like when first arrived in the U.S. as a teenage high school exchange student in Iowa. He grew up in Annecy, France. At the time of the exchange program, Mirivel’s family was living in Switzerland.
“I was 15, and I didn’t speak a word of English,” Mirivel said. “This was 1994. There was no cell phone. I couldn’t just call or text my parents. It was an isolating experience, and this taught me a lot of the importance of communication.”
Mirivel credits this experience as what led him to major in communication as an undergraduate student. This decision would go on to define his career as Mirivel has become an expert in the field of positive communication.
After completing his exchange program, Mirivel had the unexpected opportunity to return to Iowa when his now lifelong friend Derek, whom he met during his second semester in Iowa, invited him to live with his family so he could finish his high school education. Mirivel and Derek remain friends to this day.
“On the day I became a citizen, I texted with my friend Derek who allowed me to come back to the U.S. and thanked him for his friendship and for the opportunity to come here and continue my studies,” Mirivel said. “I lived with him for over three years. We are like brothers.”
With having become a permanent resident while a doctoral student, Mirivel could have become a U.S. citizen earlier. It was a decision that he carefully considered for almost two decades.
“There is a mix of emotions about it,” Mirivel said. “I love America, but I also love France. In becoming an American, there is a fear that I am relinquishing a part of who I am.”
Mirivel made the decision to become an American citizen at the beginning of the year, a decision that was encouraged by his father.
“My father was really proud and emotional about it,” Mirivel said. “For my mom, it’s always harder. I think her biggest dream would have been for me to stay in France.”
To become an American citizen, Mirivel had to pass an English test and a civics test. His entire family got involved in the process with his wife Meg and their three children – Hugo, John Luke, and Claire – helping him study.
“My wife and kids were proud to share this moment,” Mirivel said. “We prepared for the civics test together, and all my kids got involved in the questions. They all helped me prepare for the test, and it was a lot of fun.”
Whenever they visit Mirivel’s home country, his wife and kids often ask him why he lives in the U.S. when France is so beautiful.
“Some of it is serendipity, but I have a love of the culture and a love of the education I received here,” he said. “When I was 16 and coming back to Iowa for the second time, I don’t think the plan was to spend my life in America. The plan was to finish high school. Then I got accepted to the University of Northern Iowa, I found the communication major, and that was my lifelong passion.”