NOVEMBER, WEEK ONE
At the beginning of this month, I had no plans for 2012. None whatsoever.
The only itinerary I had took me until the end of the year: Three weeks in Perth; New Year’s Eve in Sydney.
Come January 1, 2012, I would be directionless.
It was unsettling, not knowing where I was going to be in only two months’ time. Not because of the fear of the unknown — I’m usually a fan, it can lead to wonderfully spontaneous decisions when traveling — but because I’d blown most my savings on flights back to the US and to Australia, and I had to start paying down my credit card bills.
I needed a job, ASAP.
So imagine my absolute delight when, in the middle of my trip to China, I was contacted by a family in France. They wanted to hire me for a 12-month position in Paris, beginning January 2012, was I interested?
I didn’t hesitate to repsond with a firm YES.
But then we ran into one very large obstacle: the Work Visa. It required a visit to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and at least a 3-6 week waiting period. (And all these other documents.)
However, 1) I wasn’t due back in the US for another week, and 2) I’d only be home two weeks before leaving for Australia — so leaving my passport at the embassy in D.C. was not an option. Neither was returning to the US in January to obtain the visa, because flights from Australia were hella expensive.
On top of that, I couldn’t even start paperwork on the US side until paperwork on the French side was approved and stamped. That would add another 2-4 weeks to the already too-long visa processing time.
We didn’t have much hope, but the family and I decided to try anyway. While I finished out my vacation in China, I sent them what I could (copies of my passport, diploma, driver’s license) so they could get it translated and begin the contract paperwork in Paris.
I scheduled an optimistic appointment at the embassy for November 21 — five days before I flew out to Australia.
More obstacles arose. Frustrating little things that I wouldn’t have expected — for example:
I couldn’t prove my residency in the United States, because I’d been in Singapore for the last 15 months.
–> So I had to find a utility bill with my parents’ name on it — but they’d switched to paperless billing.
—-> When I finally found a bill the embassy would accept, I had to prove I was the child of the billed recipient.
——> I couldn’t find my birth certificate. So I had to order a replacement copy online from the hospital where I was born.
——–> My mom changed her name when she became an American citizen, so it didn’t match the name on my birth certificate. So I had to find her legal name change papers!
But we also caught a few lucky breaks.
— My appointment at the embassy: If it wasn’t the week of Thanksgiving, I don’t think there would have been an empty time slot until December.
— Finding a government-approved translator for my diploma: It usually takes weeks to get an appointment. The family found one available the next day, which let them start the contract paperwork almost immediately.
— The contract: Officials on the French side were willing to accept a scan of my signature. If they’d requested the real deal, it would have taken at least a week to FedEx the contract across the Atlantic and back.
The day of the appointment came. At this point, we’d been emailing back and forth for just over a week, and working furiously, constantly trying to convince various government entities to work faster (which I’m sure they appreciated). Everything seemed to be going well, but we felt the same amount of hope that you do staring at a house of cards, built by a toddler, standing next to a fan.
We were waiting for the whole thing to fall apart.
The one piece I was missing was the original contract, which still needed approval from an official in Paris. It was meant to be stamped on Monday morning Paris time, at the same time I was preparing to head down to D.C.
At 4:30 am my time, I got the email from France. The contract was approved! If it hadn’t been stamped, that would have been it right there and I would have just crawled back into bed.
But it was, so I drove down to D.C. at 5 am, with an envelope full of post-it’d paperwork (including the whole chapter documenting the proof of residency debacle). The embassy had already received a phone call from their counterpart in Paris — not only would they be willing to accept my application without the original contract, but they would put a rush notice on my visa, which meant I could receive an answer by the end of the week!
But Thanksgiving came and went (albeit deliciously). I woke up Friday morning skeptical I’d hear back from the embassy before I left for Australia the next day.
So I joined my best friend Helin for our old college tradition of meeting up for early morning Black Friday shopping. We usually stay in town but this year we drove to Hershey, 45 minutes away. Just as we were heading back home, I received a phone call.
“Hello, your visa was approved, we have it here. Please come collect it at the embassy before 2:30 PM.” It was already past 10 AM. Not only was it going to take 2.5 hours to get to the embassy, but we still had the 45-minute drive home to collect my passport. In Black Friday traffic.
Helin, being a best friend, accompanied me on the drive back down to D.C., my second in a week, where I alternately freaked out from joy (“HOLY CRAP I’M GOING TO FRANCE”) and freaked out that I wouldn’t make it on time (“GO FASTER SUBARU MAN I HAVE AN EMBASSY TO GET TO”).
We made it with just minutes to spare. Probably appropriate, considering the whole visa process had been one long series of nail-biting time crunches.
So unbelievably, and by more than a few graces of pure luck, I got my visa. A process that would have normally taken months, we completed in two weeks.
As the family said when I told them the good news, “I would not have bet a lot on that one but we were right to try!”
So once again uncertainty has turned into a spontaneous and delightful new path for me….I’m moving to Paris!