It's been 30 years since Chilean native Carmen Galarce immigrated to the United States, but it wasn't until last month that she could call herself a citizen.

It's been 30 years since Chilean native Carmen Galarce immigrated to the United States, but it wasn't until last month that she could call herself a citizen.

With help and encouragement from her students, the Otterbein University foreign languages professor was sworn in as a U.S. citizen on Jan. 19.

A celebration in her honor was held Feb. 21 at Otterbein, where she has taught since 1987. She was joined by university president Kathy Krendl and state Rep. Anne Gonzales (R-Westerville), who presented her with a U.S. flag.

Galarce, who lives in Columbus, came to the United States in 1979. She said political unrest and violence in Chile threatened her career at the University of Chile.

Traveling back to her home country with her Otterbein students led Galarce to consider taking the final steps toward becoming a U.S. citizen.

"I had spent over two decades teaching here in Ohio and consider Columbus my home," Galarce said. "Every time that I visited Chile with my students, I felt different, disassociated, strange - a sort of foreigner in a familiar territory - until I realized that I had become fully American.

"I was becoming fully invested in U.S. politics. I want to vote, support and defend the way of life here in Columbus, Ohio, and the United States."

Galarce was helped through the application and testing process by her students.

"I was never alone in the process since I had the strong support of my students and friends," she said. "I'm very honored to have their support. They are the ones who motivate my work, energized me and are an enormous source of joy."

In addition to those who joined her at the celebration at the university, Galarce received congratulations from U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township), who sent Galarce a letter accompanied by an American flag that flew over the Ohio Statehouse the day she took her oath of citizenship.

"I felt so unique, special and completely welcomed and embraced by my brothers and sister citizens. I am honored and humbled by their tributes," Galarce said.