Certified American but Certifiably Insane

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I knew pursuing my education abroad would present unique and unpredictable obstacles. How could it not? Stateside school applications are a tedious, arduous process already. Take everything to a foreign country across the world, and it certainly won’t be EASIER. Despite instinctively knowing all of this, I was still shocked at all the road blocks I ran into, and all this before I’ve even stepped on a place. I began my application process in August, and just today, a mere 9 days out, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing everything is in place for my journey.

Let me share my timeline as an earnest “heads up” to anyone mulling over the idea of becoming an international student. I applied to my Australian university in august, but due to technical difficulties on the school’s part, they couldn’t accept my application until October. In fear of flight prices rocketing, I purchased my flight for February 3rd. December 22nd I got word that not only had I been accepted (expected since I had my advisor’s backing), I had actually been awarded a full tuition scholarship for my program’s duration as well as a living stipend.

Now here’s where things get tricky. To study abroad in Australia, you need a Visa, but to get a visa, you need a confirmation of enrollment from your school. By about the end of the first week in January I had still not received my confirmation. So I called the school and soon found out that the offer I signed was a conditional one as they were missing documents. Though they had official transcripts (but never received one of them) and scans of diplomas, evidently it also a requirement to have certified copies of “certificates” as well. In spite of multiple attempts at explaining how American diplomas aren’t certificates and the transcripts are what are certified, they insisted I certify my diplomas. Off to the bank I went, carrying along my two diplomas (one of which is framed). Feeling like the biggest goober ever, I quietly explained the situation to the notary who found it all quite amusing.

Whilst I mailed my notarized diplomas to Australia as quickly as possible, a dear friend of mine drove to Meredith College in order to procure another official transcript and mailed it with due haste to Australia as well. A week later I called the school to confirm they had received all the documents and was issued confirmation of enrollment. 15 days to departure.

My last step of the process was obtaining a student Visa. I sent in the online application (very straightforward for once), and paid the fee (something around 500 AUD). As I finished the application, I quickly realized I would need to pay my notary another visit. The Visa application required certified copies of your passport, birth certificate, and I got my social security card notarized just for good measure. Mind you, this was the second time I’d gotten these documents certified, as the school had required them for the initial application.

Though the Australian Immigration warns that Visas can take up to 14 days to review and issue, mine was confirmed in less than 48 hours. At last, 12 days out and I had everything handled….or so I thought.

I had not realized my student Visa had a condition in which I am required to have Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) from the day I arrive (not just the day I become a student, as I had been previously informed). Since my school had organized the health cover, I had to go through them to not only get my OSHC processed (they hadn’t started processing the plan since my course doesn’t start until March technically), but I then had to get the start date to line up with arrival.

Thankfully the panic in my voice instilled some urgency in my Victoria Internationals contact who took it upon herself to sort everything out by day’s end. Friday morning I received the confirmation I’d so anxiously been awaiting. I finally had confirmation of enrollment, a valid student visa, and health coverage. 11 days to departure.

This experience has been exhausting. I have spent most of my time feeling anxious, nervous, lost and wondering what my next hurdle will be. It’s not that I wouldn’t have gone through with this if I knew how challenging it would be, I just would do the whole process very differently. I would wait until the last minute to buy my flight (screw the price). My biggest sense of urgency was sorting everything out before my flight left, and not having that impending date would have made for a much less stressful experience. I would also go out the first day and get everything in my life notarized. I would get each document notarized three times so I’d never run out. I understand the necessity of confirming identities and scholastic achievements, but even so it seemed to be overkill.

Anyway, I wanted to give an explanation for the disappearing act I’ve pulled for the last few weeks. The thought of catching everyone up on the chaos of my world without knowing anything for sure was entirely overwhelming, but hopefully now my friends and family have an idea of what I was up against.

So at long last I can say I am leaving for Australia, and though I may be certified American, at this point, I am also certifiably insane.

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27 Days

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Though I haven’t yet made it to the other side yet, I feel confident in proclaiming that the most challenging part of this life change for me, and perhaps most people, is the transition phase. It is where the unknown meets the second-guessing. There are no assurances, no concretes and no tangible affirmations. Most people weave their way through this period in a matter of days or weeks, but for me this period is now just shy of 9 months. Shall I compare thee to a pregnancy, oh great Australia trip?

No, but really. Last April it was confirmed that this adventure was mine for the taking, and yet, even now, nine long (but scarily short) months later, I still have certain aspects of my trip (very important aspects, mind you) that are out of my control. I am four weeks from departure, well 27 days according to Tripit (great mobile app for travelers), and I have a flight but no Visa, a scholarship offer from a university but no confirmation of enrollment, and a longing for some warm weather, but a snow-logged Iowa. Ok, fine, the last one doesn’t count for trip stress, just physical torture to a frigid degree.

I knew going international was going to be a challenge, but I didn’t truly understand all the obstacles that going SO international would present. Australian is a bit of an international extreme in that the country seems to be a bit in it’s own world. It is a world that has only an hour or two cross-over time for business hours between it and the U.S. So by the time I get a response from my university there, every government office here has closed.

16 hours difference is almost mind-boggling. I joke with my dad that when I get there he can call me to ask about tomorrow. It’s a joke, but an eerily accurate one. I’ve also started laying groundwork for celebrating two birthdays- my Australian one, and then, 16 hours later, my US one. On that note, adjusting to the idea that my birthday, which has always been a gateway from spring to summer, is now the transition between fall and winter is a bit of a mind warp too.

Obstacles and oddities aside, I am still excited. I am excited to start my journey towards a PhD (just call me Dr. Woessner—in 3-4 years). I am excited to start a new adventure, but mostly I’m just excited to END this transition period. I feel like once I am just there, the unknowns will shift to knowns, and good or bad, I’d rather just KNOW what my world will be. I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. Everyone has transition periods throughout their life and likely finds them just as frustrating as I have. Though I definitely have the throw my hands in the air and stomp my feet moments, overall I try and remember that “this too shall pass.” Transitions are, by definition, not permanent states of being…So here I go, tapping into the Aussie attitude I so desperately need in my world, signing off with a cheerful “no worries mate.”