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For 14 years, Ticiane "Tici" Lucas has considered Kentucky her home. On June 6, she sealed the deal by taking the Oath of Allegiance at her naturalization ceremony in Louisville.
Through a partnership between her high school in Fortaleza, Brazil and Campbellsville University, Lucas came to the United States in June 2000.
"Growing up in Brazil, we always hear a lot about the United States and all the movies we watch are from here," Lucas said. "I always wanted to experience the culture and learn the language and see how the people lived."
She intended to stay for a year and then return home.
However, those plans quickly changed when three months into her visit, she met and fell in love with her future husband, Stephen Lucas. Soon after, they were married.
"Of course my family was shocked for a little while, but after they met my husband and saw we were happy together, they were happy for me," Lucas said.
Lucas, whose native language is Portugese, spoke very little English when she came to Kentucky. And learning English didn't happen overnight. She said it took about a year for her to become fluent. She carried a dictionary to her classes and one day she realized that she wasn't relying on it as much anymore.
"The pronunciation of words is the hardest for me because what you see is not how you say it," Lucas said.
She said it has taken time to get used to a lot of American customs and every day, she learns a little bit more. For Lucas, American cuisine has been an entertaining experience.
"My husband ate a hamburger with baked beans," Lucas said. "I would have never thought of that combination before."
Stephen Lucas said arriving on time was also a new concept to his wife, who once planned to arrive at a dinner party more than hour after the scheduled time.
"In Brazil, everybody seems to be fashionably late a lot," he said.
For several years, Lucas was content with her status as a permanent resident because it allowed her to seek employment and travel back to Brazil to visit her family when she wanted.
But when her daughter Isabella, now 3, came along, Lucas said she started to think differently.
"I think when you have a child, you think of the future more," Lucas said.
She said the right to vote and other rights and responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen would give her the opportunity to be involved in America's future.
Lucas submitted an application for citizenship to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in February. A few weeks later, she received a letter notifying her that they received her application. She then had to give her fingerprints and undergo an interview.
Lucas also had to take a civics test to assess her understanding of U.S. history and government. An accountant at Taylor Regional Hospital, Lucas said her coworkers were more than glad to help her prepare for the test.
"The people I work with have been awesome. They support me, they quizzed me almost every day close to the test," Lucas said.
Coworker and friend Natalie Houk Parker said it was a great experience to help Lucas on her journey to citizenship.
Director of Accounting Paul Phillips said the department had a lot of fun helping Lucas learn the material that would be on the test.
"She's somebody that knows a lot about U.S. history, even more than many U.S. citizens," Phillips said. "We all wanted to support her in this."
Stephen Lucas said he is very proud of how dedicated Tici has been to learning English and growing accustomed to life in America. He said he was especially impressed at how well she scored on her civics test.
"I took it just to see how well I would do," Stephen Lucas said. "Out of 100 questions, I missed nine and I was a history major. But she didn't miss any."
Several friends and coworkers attended the ceremony to watch Lucas and about 60 others from 31 countries become U.S. citizens.
"It was a really neat experience for someone like me who was born and raised here to get to watch all these people ... better their lives or fulfill a dream of theirs," Parker said.
Denis Santos, minister of music for Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, has known Lucas since their earlier years in Fortaleza. After attending Lucas' ceremony, he said he was inspired to incorporate her story into the church's Fourth of July service.
"I thought it would be neat for the church to hear the perspective of someone who was not born in the States but went on to become an American citizen," he said.
While Lucas has always felt welcome in the U.S., she said it feels good to finally make it official.
"It was very special, it was very important to me," Lucas said. "I had tears in my eyes. I'm here for 14 years and they say now 'Welcome to America.'"