Getting the visa

I finally got my visa! Yes!

Compared to the time it took for the documents to reach me from BU (1 month) and the time it took me to wait at the US Embassy (1 hour), all it took for the visa to be stamped on my passport and delivered to my home was barely two days. Now all I need is mental preparation to face the ‘horrible-place-that-sucks-away-your-dreams-and-hopes-and-social-life-and-money-but-which-I-would-kill-to-attend‘ that is called grad school.

But man, does it take time AND money to get a visa. For all the peeps out there who had finally found peace with the fact that going to grad school abroad is expensive and then forgot about it, you’ll get a nasty shock when you apply for the visa. No mulah, no visa.

After receiving the necessary visa documents from the university you will be attending, you first have to go online to pay your Student/Exchange Visitor Information System Fee (SEVIS) online, which amounts to 200 USD (for the F-1 status), plus 35 USD if you want the receipt to be delivered via courier. I chose, of course, DHL, with my lack of luck in air mail during this process.

After 235 USD gone from your credit card with a simple click, you then have to pay another fee at the US Embassy of your country of residence. Mine costed 160 USD.

Even for people who have full-time jobs, an unexpected expense of 395 USD, which you won’t see in clothes or shoes, but just a piece of paper on your passport, is… an amount that wouldn’t be taken easily. So imagine the impact on a so-called ‘free-lancer stay-at-home interpreter without fixed income’. Ah well, everything that is worth it demands sacrifices, so I won’t be complaining… much. (Please don’t take away my visa)

By the way, has anyone else realized how ridiculous the so-called security questions are when you complete official forms? I mean, I think anyone ‘seeking to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the US‘ would be reasonable enough NOT to apply the visa in the first place, and then, smart enough NOT to say yes, even if he/she did plan to…  The same goes for people who’ve ‘committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence‘. The list goes on, and I even took screen shots of all the questions, for the initial intent of putting them up, but then… a sudden, perhaps irrational concern came over me… what if I’m NOT supposed to divulge such crucial security questions for everyone to see? I might be helping terrorist organizations, criminals and pimps applying for a US visa to prepare themselves for such questions, telling them in advance ‘No’ is probably the best answer. So, for my own safety, I’ve decided not to.

I’ve always thought the same for those forms you’re asked to complete when landing in another country. ‘Do you carry such and such items from your trip? Which are clearly illegal, so if you do, please tell us so that we may publicly search you and humiliate you when landing’.

I guess they are deemed ‘necessary’ for ‘the record’, but I really doubt as to their actual efficiency.

Anyways, applying for a visa also requires a 5cmx5cm picture, probably something I dreaded the most in this whole process. I am absolutely terrible when it comes to taking official pictures. From when I was little, I’ve never had any luck with taking pictures for official documents, including passports. My sister, who always seems to take decent pictures, tells me it’s still better to hear ‘Your pictures don’t do you justice’ (which I do) than ‘Oh my, your picture looks SO much nicer!’ (which she does). I’ve only taken two acceptable pictures, and since then, I’ve made sure to make as many duplicates as my finances would allow me, in every size. To be honest, my most recent one, and my, may I say, proudest one, did involve a lot of photo editing. It’s not to the point that I’m not recognizable (I like to believe that I indeed do look like that picture), but the photographer has done such a genius job that those who see it can’t help but looking at it twice, seeing the subtle difference, but so subtle they can’t really put a finger on it, saying it’s a ‘very nice picture’. I think even the photographer was proud, because when I went to have it developed more for some other use a year ago, he looked at it, then looked at me, and said ‘Pretty nice, huh?’.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t use that picture because I was wearing glasses, my ears were not visible and I was smiling, so in the hopes of seeing the photographer’s magic come to life again, I went to see him again. Well, I like to believe that photo editing is strictly forbidden for visa pictures…

The next step was to set up an interview with the US Embassy in Korea. There was already a long queue in front of the building, just to go through the security procedures, having your bag scanned, your phone confiscated, etc. After having your passport and your documents checked by Korean employees (it must be such a boring job…), you’re finally allowed to go to the second floor for the interview. I had a 2:30 appointment (which really, doesn’t mean anything, because there are so many people waiting anyways), and I had about 60 people waiting before me… Considering I stood in the queue at 2:10 and ended the whole thing around 3:00, the waiting time must have only lasted for half an hour, but half an hour of waiting WITHOUT your smart phone is not easy, let me tell you. What? No Facebook, no Twitter, no internet, no instant messaging for 30 minutes? You can’t even concentrate on a book because every time you hear the bell announcing a free spot, you think it’s finally your turn, only to realize you now have 59 people waiting before you, as opposed to 60, a minute ago.

So I had to resolve to my next favorite pastime, observing and judging people. If, like in some religions, the simple act of having mischievous and malicious thoughts is indeed a sin, I’m pretty sure I have a special place already set in hell. In my defense, I also mentally compliment and admire pretty people, people with nice clothes or nice shoes, and so on. But it’s so much fun to internally laugh at all the less attractive people and nerds and people without a hint of fashion sense. I know, it’s mean, and very superficial of me. Well, at least I’m admitting to my nasty side. I’m no angel. I can’t always make myself see the best in people. I judge people, sue me.

So, anyways, girls in the University of Alabama, beware, there’s a total nerd coming your way. Just saying.

The interview didn’t last for more than 3 minutes, and I was asked very simple questions. I had asked my sister for advice, but all she remembered was that the guy who interviewed her was a very cute Korean-American. Unfortunately, said guy wasn’t there, and all I was asked was ‘Have you been in the US before?’ ‘Where did you do your Masters?’ ‘What did you study in your Masters?’ ‘And now you’re going for a PhD?’. Some other people were having a harder time, having to explain the topic of their future dissertation and all.

I stepped out of the US Embassy, finally feeling like a free and legal person, and the visa that I now have safely secured proves so.

D-Day is approaching fast!


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