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O Fim duma Viagem

Waiting. Waiting and Conversation

USA | Tuesday, 18 August 2015 | Views [208]

One of the most fun parts of studying abroad for an entire semester is when, before you leave, you need to apply for a student visa. In fact, in my semester abroad experinence, it is ranked about third- somewhere between applying for the program and applying to the French university. (The clear winner is being accepted and finally being able to stop prefixing your plans for next year with “hopefully.”)

The process began shortly after I was accepted, when I decided to look at the requirements for visas. I read through the list, determined that I did not have a signed, notarized form from Brown, and decided that was a good excuse to not truly start the process. A few weeks later I got an envelope with those forms in duplicate (original and copies.) But by that point, it was the end of the semester, and I had a lot of other work to do.

After school ended, I had no other excuses. So I eventually sat down and filled out the online form for Campus France. (Student Visas in France have two distinct stages: Student and Visa. Campus France is part of the Student stage.) The next day, I went to the bank for a money order (and a copy of the money order) and then to the post office. Once forms and copies were mailed, I had little more to do than sit back and wait.

I'd assumed that I was waiting to hear the Campus France confirmation that I could go forward with the rest of the Visa process. Then I could set up an appointment at the consulate and wait for that. But, before Campus France had even acknowledged receiving my payment (in a multilingual message that made it very clear I could not use this as confirmation for the consualte appointment) I received an e-mail telling me that I had been accepted into UPMC and that the forms I'd need for the consulate were being FedEx-ed to me.

This was exciting, not only because it was the start of another Visa adventure, but also because it was the first thing I'd heard about being accepted into the French university (it was possible that I could have been accepted by Brown, but not UPMC, which woul have been disapointing.) It was another two months before I would get an e-mail directly from the university congratulating me on my acceptance. It was very nice to know by the end of May that I was definitely going to study in Paris instead of waiting until one month before my flight left.

When I was filling out the application form for the study abroad, I gave them my college address. I figured that if they needed more forms, they could send them to me in at college, where I was. And if they were absurdly traditional about only ever mailing people acceptance/rejection information, I could read that myself. (When I was applying to colleges, I gave them my home address, since that made sense. Some universities e-mailed me their decisions. For the rest, my parents found out before I did. I didn't want to repeat that.) It was now slightly over a week since I'd left campus.

Carthage theortetically had my permanent address to mail things to, (It took my brother's wedding invitation nearly two months to show up at the house. I'm pretty sure Stnaley Milgram's letters took less time to arrive at their destination..) but they could not forward FedEx. So when the forms that I needed for my consulate appointment showed up, they called me to ask what I wanted them to do about it.

“What can you do about it?”

Esssentially, hang on to it until I showed up to pick it up. Which seemed less than ideal, seeing as I had no intention of driving back to Carthage.

“Can I authorize someone else to pick it up for me.”

“Let me see... sure! Who do you want to authorize.”

“Uh... I don't know.” I had two guesses. My fallback was that my father could probably pick it up at some point as he was driving to Milwaukee. My first choice was a friend who was on campus for the summer, but I wanted to ask him first. “Can I get back to you?”

“That's not necessary. As long as they know your name, it's fine.”

That seemed a little suspect, but as long as no one was in the habit of stopping by the Carthage mail room and asking if there was any mail for me, I was probably safe. If I was, getting a visa was going to be a much worse process.

One question answered, one more to go. I checked if Justin was currently on campus then asked if he was willing to do me a really huge favor. He was willing, but didn't have stamps or large envelopes, so I offered to mail them to him. A little under a week later, I drew on an optimism that had not been dampened by the time it took my wedding invite to arrive (my parents' arrived the day I left school, which is probably about the time it arrived at Carthage) and asked if Justin had gotten any mail. He hadn't.

It turned out that, although he had never turned in his key, or stopped by to sign the “yes, that is a good address to forward my mail to” form, his was forwarding. And very sucessfully. It was at his house within a week of me sending it. Now I just needed to wait for Justin to go home, return to campus, get the FedExed forms into a normal envelope, and send it to me.

There wasn't that much time before I went to Ohio for 7 weeks, so I was not going to be able to have an appointment at the consulate before I got back. And that was more than enough time for the bureacracy of Campus France and the miles to go before the envelope and form could rest. It was also too much time for me to be able to set up an appoinment. I needed to was close enough for that.

It was a fun period of waiting. But eventually, I got the forms, (by which I mean the forms arrived at my house. It was another month before I would see them.) I got the Campus France approval, and I set up an appointment at the consulate. I even got the UPMC-sent acceptance e-mail and my brother's invite. All that was left was to wait for my consulate appointment. And to assemble and copy everything I might possibly need.

Outside of the building.

The day of my appointment, I took a train to Chicago and hung out for a bit before going into the building for the appointment. It was a bussiness-y buidling, with offices and reception desks. It felt incredibly grown-up to go up to the woman sitting at one of the desks and say “I'm here for my appointment at the French consulate.” She asked for my ID, then gave me a ticket with a barcode that would let me take an elevator up to the thirty-seventh floor. Once there, a sign took over, telling me to go to the right for visas. I entereed a small and crowded room, and some of my fellow waiting-mates told me to put the ticket up front. And wait.

The room for the visa section of the French consulate was about the size of a low-ranked exuctive at a sizeable company. It was partitioned into a waiting room area and the actual visa portion. There were two consular officials behind a translucent wall, and three openings that documents could pass through- one in front of each person, and one in between them for our tickets. The waiting room had chairs along every wall and, when I entered, every single chair was taken, and one other person was, like me, standing and waiting for a seat.

The room was silent. There was a sign posted about not using electronic devices, and although that was occasionally being ignored, most people were respecting it. Everyone in the room was reading, or at least trying to. Every so often, one of the two employees would call someone's name, and they'd go up. If someone lef the room, it was assumed that we could take their seat. After about 10 minutes, I got a seat that way. People were orderly and nice, but no one was saying much unless they had to. (At one point, someone up at the desk dropped her money. She didn't notice, but as she was leaving, seven or eight people all tried to call her attention to that at the same time.) And so it continued for a while. 

One aspect of no one talking meant that, depending on other people's voices, we could hear half the conversation when they went up to hand over their documents and answer questions. At one point, the rest of the room heard a woman say “what is au pair? Do I need a work visa for that?” When she sat down again, someone nearby asked her what that counted as. They struck up a conversation in which they discovered they were au pairing for the same company in Paris.

It wasn't quite as simple as that breaking the spell, but as time wore on, more people left, and the silence lifted. Other people discovered similarities of programs or experiences or areas that they would be in, and bonded over them.

Eventually, it was my turn to go up. Handing over my forms was easy, answering the questions was harder, because the man behind the glass was really hard to hear. But soon everything was more or less in order. The only thing I was missing was an addressed Express-mail envelope. And they were very used to that. I was given a printout of the directions to the nearest post office and told to get it and come back.

The printout was necessary because, although the nearest post office was just down the street, it was also in the basement of the building at the end of the street. I would not have been able to find that if I were just wandering around blidnly. As I was walking, I kept having moments of panic as I felt something missing in my pockets. The thing I was missing was my passport. I'd had a passport when I left that morning, and suddenly it was gone, and I was continually surprised by this. Even though I knew I'd handed it over to the nice French man in the hopes that it would come back new and improved in the envelope I was going to buy.

I bought the envelope, addressed it, and returned to consulate. Back up to the office to wait, hand over the envelope, wait some more, and get my fingerprints taken. And then I was free to go. No estimate of how long I'd be waiting this time, though the website said 2 weeks.

Three weeks to go before my flight left, and I had no passport. Just more waiting.

Six days later, I went to get the mail and found a “sorry we missed you. We have an express mail envelope and don't really want to have to carry it around much longer, but we can't deliver it tomorrow. So can you please either be there tomorrow when we deliver your mail or show up at the post office?” note. Never one to ignore whiny notes from the postal service, I went to the post office and returned with a passport.

And, from an administratie point of view, I had everything I needed to leave.

Tags: forms, letters, visa, waiting

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