When Alison Woodall was 24 years old, she set off from England to travel the world, stopping over briefly in America. It was a country she had little interest in; it was simply a stop on the way to New Zealand and Australia. Four days into her trip, she met an American at the Grand Canyon, and knew she had to come back to the States and marry him. She spent a year desperately searching for an American company to employ her and, after nearly two years, one job offer, and at least $7000 in lawyer and visa applications fees, she was back in the States. “I loved my job and the U.S.A.,” says Alison, “but not the man I moved here for!” After two years working for a consultancy firm and seeing all 50 states, just when she was ready to move back to England, she met the man she would marry.
Alison had a good role model. Her mother was born in South Africa, and moved to the UK to marry an Englishman. Having lived in England for over 45 years, Alison’s mother is proudly English. “She is my role model for assimilation,” says Alison, who grew up in England and was always English – never British and definitely never European – but loved having South African heritage. “I knew I never wanted to marry someone English. I wanted to marry someone from somewhere else, but who shared my values, as my Dad had done.”
When Alison first came to the States, she managed to get an H-1B temporary work visa, even though she was told she had less than a 20% chance of getting it because she had the ‘wrong’ degree for the job she was applying for. As soon as she married, she applied for her green card, a procedure that took over two years and thousands of dollars. In the middle of the process, when she was four months pregnant, an INS official told her that it would be all right for her to visit England. He was wrong. Alison’s green card application was invalidated. She was stuck in England for six weeks, and had to pay for an emergency visa to get back to the States. Then, she had to apply all over again for her green card, and the second time they switched her fingerprints with those of a Vietnamese man, so that delayed the process still further.
In November 2015, Alison became a U.S. citizen (the strangest part was being one of only a handful of people who knew the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem), and it was the easiest, quickest, and cheapest part of her immigrant process. But the whole experience has given her definite opinions about immigration. “It was incredibly expensive and stressful, but I accepted that it was just the nature of the immigration process,” she says. “I have no sympathy for the people who are here illegally and expect special treatment, or those who come from countries with a history of terrorism and can’t understand why they aren’t welcomed with open arms. The rules are here to keep the country safe. If you are qualified enough or lucky enough, you will get in, and if you aren’t that is just life!”
Alison is fully assimilated into the American culture, and she is “intensely proud to be an American.” She doesn’t cling to English things, and probably the only weird part was changing her date of birth from 8/3/75 to 3/8/75, because of the month going before the day. She says that her life is a million times better than she could ever have imagined it would be, largely because of the place she lives, in Atlanta, Georgia. “Not only am I proudly American, I’m especially proud of my husband’s southern heritage,” she says. “I’ve kept my English accent simply because it takes too much effort to change, but if I spoke with an American accent it would be a very southern accent. I’d say “all a y’all” at every opportunity! I hate it when movies use actors with southern accents to portray someone stupid or prejudiced, because the south is the most welcoming place I’ve ever lived.” Alison also loves the opportunities that her children have here. In fact, the only thing that she misses is “not having family and several high school friends here enjoying my journey,” which has turned out to be a completely different journey from the one she started at 24 years old, when America was a country she had little interest in.