When I was accepted to study abroad in Austria, I thought, “I’m going to Austria! Well, that’s not all it takes, I’ve come to discover. After I was accepted, not only did I have to do lots of things for my program–get a physical, fill out paperwork, pay the fees, etc–and for the Reves Center–workshops and signing form after form–but I also had to get my courses pre-approved.
Getting the courses pre-approved will be easy, I thought to myself. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Not that I really waited that long, but the acceptance came mid-October and by the time I needed to have my courses pre-approved, I was staring at my finals. I was the person running around campus during the first week of finals getting all of my papers signed. I only ran into one hiccup, because my professor lived out of town and wouldn’t be returning to campus until January. But, getting courses post-approved is easy, and common, enough. I left for my long winter break and handed in my last materials on my way home.
Then I was finally ready to study abroad! But… That’s right, the visa. I remembered my parents had received the packet in November. I had even filled out all the necessary information so we could make the trip to Chicago to the Consulate. Yes, that is correct, we had to go to the Consulate in person. Sure I thought it was a little unnecessary, but luckily, Chicago is only two hours away so it was a fun excuse to go into the city. The night before, I gathered all my materials. As I was going over the checklist, I realized a couple big things. Uh-oh, I had to get my signature notarized! I had already had one signature on the application itself notarized, but my parents had to write a letter of financial responsibility. I appreciate the fact that they are paying for my program, but this statement had to say that they will be giving me money to support me. I hope Austria appreciates it; I know I certainly do. I would never have thought both of these were necessary, since living expenses were covered by the program. Luckily, I called a friend of my parents who is a notary and had it notarized the next morning.
The reason this visa-acquiring process was so urgent is that the Austrian embassy has some pretty crazy hours. I understand that they close at noon, because that’s 7pm in Austrian time. However, with a two hour drive into Chicago in rush hour traffic, that makes quite an early morning! Plus, they take long holiday vacations and were only open a few days that week. We wanted to have plenty of time for them to process the visa, just in case. Thank goodness we did that, because the biggest and most terrifying hiccup was yet to come!
Upon my arrival at the Consulate, I handed them all the materials that my program had told me to bring, some from the program, some filled out by me, some from the school. The Consulate handed me back the e-mail I had printed from W&M saying I was being dropped from classes and my placement abroad is confirmed. I thought, okay, they’ve seen it and that’s all they need. Nope, not the case. I got an e-mail about half an hour later saying my packet was insufficient! They said I needed a letter confirming that I will be returning to W&M in the fall. I e-mailed them back saying I had brought this e-mail, but it was handed back to me, but I took a photo of it (because the Consulate was already about to close at this point) and sent it to them hoping that would be fine. They didn’t get back to me for almost a week and then said it still wasn’t enough — that I would need an official letter on school letterhead. I really panicked. I live in Illinois! I can’t go to W&M and get a letter! The W&M post office never gets me things in time and I won’t get the letter for a week and it might be too late and . . . Yes, I really freaked out.
My terror was completely unnecessary, because I e-mailed Debi DeBacco, who (even though she was still on break and not in the office) was able to fax a letter to the Consulate almost instantly and the day was saved. When the Consulate got the letter, they processed and approved my visa. I picked it up a full 2.5 weeks before I was leaving; I will be going to Austria!
I thought most of the paperwork for the visa was slightly unnecessary, but now, in retrospect, I can only imagine the strange stories people concoct to gain entrance into a country. Although I did not at the time, and still do not, have any intention of NOT coming back to William & Mary and living as a quasi-illegal alien in Austria, I can rest assured that I won’t become a burden on their taxpayer system. The entire process showed me that I really need to read these lists carefully and not skim them, then put them aside for later. I was busy, that’s true, but at the same time, so is the Austrian Consulate. They have much more important things to do and I appreciate the fact that they even notified me. I am truly grateful to the Reves Center for helping me and reassuring me. The most important thing I have realized–which will be especially helpful to me this semester–is that I have to be flexible and think quickly and always be aware of what is going on around me. Lesson learned! Now it’s time for Packing Light 101–but still with everything I think I need…
A friend taught me an Austrian idiom that is pretty popular: “Keine Panik auf der Titanik.” Literally: No panic on the Titanic, but it means, essentially don’t worry, stay calm.
Amanda Morrow ’14 is a Government and Interdisciplinary (Urban Studies) major. From her first international flight at 6 weeks old to her father’s native New Zealand, she was born traveler. She studies German and tries to speak it, but a semester in Austria will force her to say more than “Ich mag Katzen,” which, for non-German speakers, means “I like cats.” She loves to sing in the W&M Choir, discuss politics, travel, watch Downton Abbey, and show people cat pictures. She also hopes to avoid the “Real World” by staying in school for awhile longer (but please don’t tell her parents, because they would probably like her to get a job).