Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Visa Debacle

The process to Study Abroad has been one long learning experience for me. The one thing I’m sure I will never forget will be getting my visa. If you haven’t ever tried to apply for a visa, you are in for a real treat. If the opposite is true, you already empathize with the story I’m about to tell.

I’m sure this whole process really is necessary and very worthwhile, but my experience tells me otherwise. To begin I received an email sometime in September from SAI (Study Abroad Italy), the American agency that helps to coordinate all of the universities in Italy. This stated that I needed to contact and let them know if I wanted to use their services to apply for my visa. When I didn’t respond to the email right away I got a phone call from Rose Meier. She is in charge of visa coordination at SAI. From this point on the confusion and frustration officially began.

Apparently, there is a Bethany College in West Virginia which would put me under the Philadelphia consulate jurisdiction. Rose then proceeded to ask several questions about my student ID and whether it stated where the college was located. She said if I wanted them to do it for me I would need to fax them my ID. She then said that since I was a Kansas resident I could also apply through the Chicago consulate. After the spiel was complete, I sat in silence for a while trying to comprehend my options. I finally broke the silence and asked if she knew that I went to Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. The conversation then turned to trying to get around that small detail. The central problem was that if I went through the Chicago consulate I had to apply directly in person. We finally came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to “cheat” the system. She instructed me to look up the nearest Vice-Consulate, so I wouldn’t have to go all the way to Chicago and set up and appointment with them. The next day I checked the website and found the Consular Office in Kansas City. I called the number listed on the page, but all that did was give me another number to call. I tried that number and got a hold of the officer. After a ten minute mindless conversation we finally agreed to meet on October 27th at 11 a.m.

After that ordeal came another interesting situation. The application for an Italian Visa is about 3 pages long, but then requires that you have a financial affidavit of support that is accompanied by a letter from your bank, a health affidavit, a letter from your home university, your schedule at your choice University, an acceptance letter from the Italian University in Italian, and several other documents. You are also then required to have copies of ALL of the afore mentioned pieces. I filled out the application with no problem. Luckily, it came with step by step instructions provided by SAI. Most of the other paperwork was also mailed to me by SAI, however I still had to have a letter from Bethany and letter from a bank, or some proof that I had enough money to live in Italy for 4 months. The first priority was to figure out how to get a letter from a bank.

I, of course, did not just have $4,000 sitting around in a bank account and my original plan was to take out a loan that would cover the cost of my living expenses while I was in Rome. My parents, however didn’t feel that it was necessary to take out a loan so early and start raking up interest charges. After much debate, we finally figured it out and got an account with $4,000. It was definitely a close call though.

When I thought I had everything together, I realized as I was double checking my list about a week before that I didn’t have the letter from Bethany that stated that my studies would coincide with my plan to graduate. I went to the registrar’s office in a panic and showed them the requirements for the letter. They said that would be fine, but in order to say that my studies would transfer they would need to know exactly what I was going to take. Here is where we met another road block. The only schedule I had was a temporary one that didn’t reflect the actual classes I was planning on taking. I explained this to them and fortunately they had a sense of humor about the situation. It was ironic that I would need a letter saying that the courses would transfer, but I can’t know the classes I’m taking until I have a visa, but can’t get the visa until I have this letter. We finally worked it out and on the 27th, my mom and I headed to Kansas City for our appointment.

The trip went fine and after a search for a post office for a priority mail envelope we arrived at the office about 15 min early. I always thought it was proper etiquette to arrive early for appointments. I knew I would probably have to wait until my scheduled time, but it showed that I had a sincere interest in getting my visa to study abroad. So we waited and we waited. At about 11:15, the secretary at the law office we were waiting outside of said that he was on his way over. Then we waited some more. The Consular officer finally arrived at about 11:45 and pulled out his official visa-making tools. These were contained in what looked like a K-Mart sack and were stored in no particular place whatsoever. I showed him my passport, and he carefully studied my face and compared it to my picture. He pulled out his stamp and pen, asked me if I had any questions, and stamped and signed several of the documents I had brought. Lastly, I signed my application and he accordingly signed and stamped below and then he sent me on my way. The whole process took less than 10 min. I had driven 3 hours and waited in his office for an hour for a couple of stamps and signatures. Then to top it all off I still had to mail it all in and make sure it was all there and in proper order. My mom and I walked out of the office stunned. I held my papers in my hands and stared blankly at them, wondering if it was all really worth it.

The next day I made copies of all the documents one to keep and one to send. I triple checked my checklist and stuffed it all into an envelope and sent it off to Chicago. This is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life. It’s all part of the experience and the learning process. I think this was just a little lesson in patience for me, but I sure hope I don’t have to encounter too many more in my trip!

Monday, December 1, 2008


La Dolce Vita

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

I can’t remember how many times I told myself I would study abroad when I got to college. Then again there are many things we tell ourselves and then never follow through with them. Last spring, when I began to look into Study Abroad, it never occurred to me that I would actually go for it. Before I knew it, I had applied for a scholarship through Bethany, filled out the application, and sent in payments.

That brings me to now. In a little over a month, I will be boarding a plane to begin my spring semester in Rome, Italy. My mind has been filled with all sorts of questions and feelings of anxiety and excitement.

I finally enrolled in my classes a couple weeks ago. As I reviewed my schedule I was thrilled to discover that I would only have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays! This left me with four-day-weekends for the entire semester. The possibilities were now endless. I could hop from country to country and enjoy all the wonders of Europe not only those of Italy.

The days I plan out in my head are far more romantic than those I know I will experience, but it never hurts to dream. I wake up in my quaint, historic apartment and get ready for the day. On my way to class I stop by my favorite coffee house and have an espresso and chat with the owners (whom I’ve become friends with.) I attend classes all day and then meet with friends for dinner at a local restaurant. On my off days, I get up for an early start and explore the city of Rome. Each day will bring a new adventure, a new sight, or a new face.

I realize however that these perfect visions may not ring true. There are bound to be situations, people, places that I face that will challenge me. This is part of the anxiety I feel, but also part of the excitement. I chose to embark on this trip to learn more about myself. It would help me to realize my strengths and my weaknesses. When I return home I hope that I can take this experience and apply what I’ve learned to facing the challenges that I will encounter when enter the job search. Knowing myself, and what I can and cannot handle will help me to realize what I’m best at and what I have the potential to excel at.

With all of those goals in mind, I’d like to turn to the real purpose of this article. I’m going to be writing as the semester unfolds in Italy and sharing my stories through the Messenger here at good ol’ BC. So keep a lookout for the adventures to come and I hope that I can bring you along on my Semester Abroad!

To follow my trip more closely, you can check out my blog at I will be updating this at least weekly along with posting photos and hopefully videos!