Monday, August 29, 2011

Reflections on the application process

I received the call a couple of mornings ago that my visa is ready. I suppose that implies that everything is a go for Spain (I reserve judgment for now). Boone and I will be traveling to Chicago to pick it up this week. This provides a decent segue into talking about all of the problems I have had with getting into this program and getting all of the paperwork together.

I have a history of procrastinating when it comes to getting things accomplished. This was primarily limited to essays and shorter papers early in college, but mostly eradicated entirely with my decision to become a history major. It is difficult to put off a twenty page research paper, not because of the length but more so because research is time-consuming. I got in the habit of doing my work over time and getting it finished with some time to spare. This was no different when it came to applying to the Spain program. The way the program is set up, you reserve a spot upon completing your application on a first come, first serve basis. So getting my application in early allowed me to secure a number in the first three hundred or so applicants. Once my paperwork went through, I would be one of the first to be considered for placement.

This tactic worked well, though the problems would follow shortly afterward. The program took several months to offer me an assigned region, leaving me anxious that I would even get to go or have time to finish the rest of the process. Finally, I was offered a placement in the region of Aragón. I accepted within a few hours and eagerly awaited my specific school and town placement so that I could get the ball rolling on my visa application.

What was initially eager anticipation turned gradually into worry, worry into desperation, and finally desperation into anger and frustration. Sometime around the beginning of June, I got in contact with my consulate, who referred me to a representative from Aragón, who quickly replied that they had been unable to mail out my letter due to “external circumstances.” They sent me a digital copy of the letter, which allowed me to start the process of my visa application and informed me that I would be stationed in the quaint little medieval mountain town of Albarracín.

Thinking I was finished with the complications, I started my visa application, which turned out to be a nightmare. The FBI background check that I had applied for was sufficient for my application to the program, but not for the visa because it was missing an authentication stamp and authorized signature. Apparently these are optional and must be requested upon application for the background check. It turns out that this is easily remedied if the background check was less than 90 days old. This is where the part about not procrastinating bit me in the rear.

So I was forced to apply for a new background check in early July. I paid $45 in postal fees to ensure that it would get there and back in the shortest amount of time possible. I then learned that the FBI was backed up with background checks and it would probably take at least two months to process. Which was hilarious, considering it would take another month or more afterward to get an Apostille, also required for the visa.

In the meantime, I had to get another physical (the one that had worked for the application did not work for the visa either). So I waited patiently for news of whether or not I would get to go at all. Eventually, the program informed me that a state background check and Apostille would be sufficient in my case for a visa. So I went to Frankfort and bought a background check for $15. I took it to the capitol for an Apostille and found that the one I had bought wasn't the right one (despite it being on the list of acceptable documents given to me by the Spain program). So I spent $20 at the State Police Headquarters (after accidentally driving to a State Police museum of some sort), $5 for an authentication, and finally another $5 for an Apostille.

So I had all of my documents secured, including my second medical certificate and the $140 money-order only visa fee. The Spanish Consulate that is in charge of my region required that I drive to Chicago to apply for and pick up the visa, no exceptions. Fortunately, the Kincaids were going to Chicago on vacation and invited me to tag along. So I applied for my visa on the fifteenth of August, finally.

They told me my medical certificate was insufficient because it didn't include a single specific sentence that included some health regulation's name. Thankfully, the Consulate agreed to process the visa and give it to me if I bring the medical certificate back with me. When I got home, my now-useless FBI background check was waiting for me.

So now I'm heading back to Chicago to pick up my visa, hoping this complicated nonsense is over, though I refuse to believe that they won't do something else just to spite me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

And so it begins...

The announcement of my decision to travel to Spain garnered fewer responses of "why?" than my previous destination of Austria, though it has not come without its own fair share of incredulous comments. Spain is not as easily confused with Australia as Austria so frequently is; its name elicits talk of beautiful scenery, though sometimes only vague recognition, from my relatives. Yet for the most part, to them, it remains a mysterious, foreign entity, far from the safety and security of the cozy hills of the bluegrass.

And to some extent, I share their sentiments. I have never been so far away from the nest for such a long period of time. I love to travel and I have done a considerable amount of it in my lifetime, yet I have never taken up permanent residence in a place more than thirty miles from home, much less five thousand. I have spent my entire life learning, practicing, rejecting, and modifying customs from Kentucky and the United States. I have learned to do all of this in English. Now I am to ship off to an alien realm where some of the most basic ideas will be difficult for me to express. I may be ahead of my sister (she wasn't aware of which language Spaniards speak), but my Spanish is far from proficient.

Whereas many of my hometown friends and relatives may stop there and refuse to take part in such a fiasco, I have persisted. I'm not sure what it is about the world and its strange inhabitants that intrigues me, but it has made me spend an awful lot of money on plane tickets and gasoline to go out and get a good look at it. There are so many people to disagree with and listen to and appreciate and respect and love. There are so many pieces of history at which to marvel and to detest and to study. There are lakes, rivers, streams, mountain ranges, waterfalls, volcanoes, swamps, ditches, dirt, mud, and snow. It's really something. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but it's really something.

This particular piece of something that I have decided to spend the better part of the next year in is called Albarracín. It's a little medieval town, hiding in the mountains somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid, more or less, in the region of Aragón (and before my brother asks, yes, it is where Tolkien's ranger lives). Its inhabitants number about a thousand and it looks to be a pretty dry place. It remains intriguing to me, though. I'm interested in the small town dynamic of a place like Spain. I wonder how many similarities it might have to a place like Owingsville. In many ways, I hope those similarities are few. It's not that I despise Owingsville's quaint charm, friendly people, and over-abundance of pill addictions, it's that I want a different experience. For the same reasons Tennessee isn't my number one vacation destination, I want Albarracín to be unlike our city on the hill.

Whatever adventures await me in Spain, I will greet them with excitement and a tiny bit of apprehension. I plan to take ridiculous amounts of pictures and log my experiences in detail in my travel journal and, with some frequency, on this blog.

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