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UMass swimmer excited to become an American citizen

  • UMASS Swimming v BU<br/><br/>©2011 Jon Crispin<br/>ALL RIGHTS RESERVED<br/><br/>

    UMASS Swimming v BU

    ©2011 Jon Crispin

  • <br/>

  • UMASS Swimming v BU<br/><br/>©2011 Jon Crispin<br/>ALL RIGHTS RESERVED<br/><br/>
  • <br/>

The sophomore on the University of Massachusetts swim team will officially take the oath to become a naturalized citizen at a ceremony at John F. Kennedy Library in Boston.

“I’m just happy and excited to become a citizen here,” said Luong, a sophomore whose name is pronounced “how long.” “It was one of my goals. When I passed the test this summer, it felt like I accomplished something.”

The ceremony will be the end of a long journey for Luong, who turns 20 next month.

Luong was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where his family lived until he was 13. In 2006, after his mother died, Luong’s father Gia took Hao and his two brothers, Kiet and Anh, to the United States in search of a better life.

They lived in Portland, Ore., for two years before settling in the Boston suburb of Malden. Hao knew very little English when he arrived, but learned quickly. Swimming helped his assimilation.

“Swimming motivated me a lot,” Luong said. “I made a lot of friends. I talked to them a lot and my English got better.”

He chose UMass on the strength of its engineering and swim programs, as well as the financial aid package it offered.

UMass coach Russ Yarworth was born in the United States, but his parents and one of his brothers were born in Great Britain. He watched them go through the naturalization process when he was growing up.

“It’s certainly a bigger challenge what Hao has done to come to a different culture, learn a new language,” Yarworth said. “He’s a motivated great young man. He’s certainly a credit to the university and the swim program.”

Prospective citizens aren’t eligible for the naturalization process until they’ve lived in the United States for at least five years. Luong was eligible a year ago, but was focused on getting his college career off to a strong academic start.

Waiting a year also meant he’ll get to take his oath today with his father and brother Kiet, an 18-year old high school senior. His older brother Anh is in college in Oregon and expects to become a citizen soon.

Luong passed the citizenship test, a 10-question exam evaluating an applicant’s knowledge of English and civics, and was interviewed by an official from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service this summer to complete the application process before today’s ceremony.

“We joke that he probably knows more American history than any of us now because of the citizenship exam,” Yarworth said.

Luong was glad to get to share the experience with his family.

“I haven’t seen my father for like a month. It’ll be like a family reunion,” Luong said. “We’ll all reunite and take the citizen oath together.”

Kiet, also a talented swimmer, will accompany Luong back to UMass today for an official recruiting visit.

Luong said he won’t have much time to celebrate his new status as he planned on returning in time for swim practice. The Minutemen open their season on Oct. 13 at Boston University. Luong, who won the 200-meter backstroke and finished second in the 100 back at the Atlantic 10 championship meet last year, hopes to win both this year. He also has his sights set on breaking the school record in both events.

While those opportunities are very much within reach, they aren’t the ones he’ll be thinking about today.

“Becoming an American citizen feels much better. Vietnam is still home, but I would not want to live there my whole life,” he said. “It’s just a home to visit. I think America has more opportunities.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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