“Congratulations! I am happy to inform you that you have been officially accepted into ISA’s Individualized Studies With Spaniards Year 3 2012/2013 program at the University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain.”
Those are the now (in)famous first words that I heard alerting me that I would be spending 10 months abroad. With them came a frenzied wave of excitement, a pinch of trepidation, and dozens of high-fives, hugs and “That’s going to be so awesome! That’ll be an amazing experience!” facebook posts.
Like most of my friends, who were updating their statuses more frantically than when Bin Laden was killed, I was over the moon with the thrilling opportunity set before me. However, that initial giddiness subsided after a day or two, and after a brief scan of the rest of my acceptance letter, which included quite a few “as soon as possibles,” I continued on with my life and nonchalantly thought nothing of the pressing deadlines before me…like only a 20-year-old could.
So, as thoughts of actually preparing to go to a foreign country cozily rested in the distant corners of my brain, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. After a disturbing amount of time had passed, I finally broke my fast of abroad information and realized that I should probably send one of these ISA folks an e-mail – just to make sure everything is gravy. Well it turned out gravy things were not, and screwed I sure was. In the middle of May, as finals started turning from specks on the horizon into precipices in front of me, I got hit with a firestorm of abroad paperwork – and it hit hard, very hard. You know that feeling you get when you realize you didn’t write that 10-page paper due in six hours? It hit harder than that and then some.
To break it down for you, I got absolutely bitch slapped by all of the following (in order of realization):
- My passport was due to expire in a month, so I needed to get it renewed. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
- Realized I was going to have to go to the Consulate General of Spain in New York City to get my visa…which had no openings until July, and there is absolutely no way to expedite. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
- Realized, “Oh wait, a safety net! ISA does this all for you for a fee!” Then realized I had to get a hefty packet of materials to Austin, Texas in two-and-a-half weeks, with miles of red tape and government bureaucracy to trudge through to get there. Yikes.
- Realized I had to get a criminal background check for any state I’ve lived in over the past 10 years – Colorado and Connecticut.
- Realized said background checks had to be stamped and signed by the Secretary of State for each state. (Takes 2-3 weeks to process)
- Realized I had to get a physical scheduled with a doctor in Colorado…where I knew no doctors. (Earliest appointment was 10 days out)
I thought it was over. The fat lady had sung. The pigs had flown around the world and back. I was not going to Spain. This sucks. But, the tale does not end there…I am writing this blog after all. Sparing many details, I somehow, someway scraped and clawed my way to that ISA deadline and got my materials to Austin, Texas on time. It involved daily phone calls with my parents, dozens of light rail trips downtown, repetitive head banging on the steering wheels of friends cars, hundreds of dollars of expedite fees, and hours upon hours of restless anxiety. Needless to say, it was not exactly a mosey through a meadow on a spring morning, and I would not recommend it or wish it on anybody.
However, that two week experience, taught me my first two, and perhaps most important, lessons of my study abroad experience:
1.) Be prepared and organized, only bad things happen when you aren’t.
2.) Relax, breathe and know that things will eventually, somehow, by some miracle, work themselves out…usually.
Have you ever studied abroad? How did you prepare? Respond below!