Visa Vision

For all of you who have been following my adventures over the past few years, and those of you stumbling upon my blog at a later date, you might have thought that I disappeared into the abyss that is Danbury, CT. That is, I haven’t updated you on my trials and tribulations, my struggles and successes since arriving well over a month ago in the region known as New England.


Eid al Fitr fun

I’m still alive. I even made friends. From my first few weeks of Spartan living to figuring out the new culture of the corporate world, I have thrived so far in Connecticut – I’ve managed to shape it into the kind of environment I crave wherever I choose to live : diverse, multicultural, full of language and culture and good food and great people. In the span of a few short weeks, I have learned more about Brazil – actually I have learned a ton about Brazil, from my Brazilian colleagues, the Brazilian language trainers I hunt for on the internet and interact with via telephone and email, and the Brazilian exchange student I will soon be big-sistering as a volunteer for my former high school exchange program – and Pakistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, small town upstate New York, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Italy, and Germany, from the lovely Germans with whom I interact (albeit virtually) on a daily basis.


This whole time I have begun and finished the month of Ramadan, my third and the hardest yet physically. It’s a beautiful, beautiful month in which to meet people and to sample savory new dishes, to gorge yourself on rich pudding and basboussa. I feel so blessed to have met such wonderful people who invited me to break fast with them for a fabulous last week of Ramadan.

Time's Square... for all of 4 seconds (we're too cool for school)

Time’s Square… for all of 4 seconds (we’re too cool for school)

I visited a dear friend in New York, after seven months apart (despite our 10 minute conversation during my brief stop-over in New York City in June).  We walked everywhere – the High Line, through Central Park, along the Hudson (which I mistook for an ocean, silly me), back and forth throughout Manhattan.  We also witnessed this fun ensemble:

I had another friend drive all the way from New Jersey to come visit me… that’s the Midwesterner in me, thinking that passing through three states is far away – it was only a two-hour drive. We sampled Mediterranean food at a very strange kitsch restaurant. I have gone out with my coworkers, to a diner for delicious breakfast, numerous shopping excursions and trips to Whole Foods with L and M, farewell lunches for those leaving the company at a Chinese restaurant and a new Meatball place (Mima’s Meatballs, the vegetarian meatballs and frittes are fabulous!).

All of this new is somewhat filling in the hole where the old used to be. That is, somewhat. Come Monday, I will begin my first ever “school year” where I am not physically in a school building, listening to professors or grabbing a bite to eat with classmates. I’m still trudging through my MBA classes (economics this session, I’m actually really excited!), but online classes are a result of necessity and convenience, not because of preference or choice. For seventeen or more years, my life had been defined by the rhythm of the school year – summers, back to school, holidays, world travel, study abroad, exams. Now it is subdivided into quarterly earnings, sick leave, vacation time, and metrics.

The biggest aching hole, besides missing the culture, food, and people I left behind (you always leave someone behind somewhere), is what you could call my other half. What’s taking so long? When is Hedi going to arrive? What’s new with Hedi’s visa? Have you set a date for the wedding? The answer is no, no, I don’t know, I wish I did.  We are nearly 75 days into the visa process, with no news. For the K-1 visa, the agony is the waiting, the separation, the not knowing when or where or how. Five months waiting for the NOA-2, assuming we don’t get an RFE (request for evidence, the dreaded horror of all American+international couples trying to emigrate to the United States), probably a month to get our file sent to the National Visa Center and then sent onward to the American Consulate in Tunis, while trying to sort out paperwork, proof of financial sponsorship, medical visits, background checks, tax forms, all while waiting for THE interview that we have been dreading, which he has to do alone.  I’m hoping for a nice birthday surprise for Hedi in November, or an end of the year bonus in December, or a New Year’s blessing come January… the waiting has been driving me insane, and it’s only been three months since this whole journey began.

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself busy – two jobs, volunteering, learning Italian and eventually German, Arabic, and Portuguese, taking classes, meeting people, making friends, being an adult. Let’s hope the wait time is a period for growth and for savings, for deepened friendships and new beginnings. Insha’allah.

Categories: Bureacracy, Daily Life, Repatriation, Visa | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

I’m Not in Kansas Anymore

Ok, I was never really in Kansas, but you get the idea. I am now officially moved into my apartment in Connecticut, or as moved in as one can be without any furniture or a bed, and I survived the long solo trek from Missouri to New England. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio – three-day hiatus in Columbus to visit a friend from college – and then Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut. I narrowly avoided having my bike fall off the back of my car and found my way through fog, rain, and the summer construction season. I somehow managed to arrive at all my stops despite not having a GPS or a Smartphone (it’s called maps, folks!), but now I’m hit with the clincher – no internet for a week! I’ll have to make due at Starbucks this weekend (I have yet to find the public library, I should probably Mapquest that), pretending like I’m consuming their Tall Medium Roast Coffee (cheapest thing on the menu besides a kids’ drink) while I’m really fasting for Ramadan. $1.86 must be the going rate for Wifi.

I officially feel out of my element, more so than when I moved to France, even back in 2011 when I didn’t know anyone. I am for the first time (more or less) no longer a student, and I don’t have the typical student support network. I can’t go up to random strangers (or I suppose I could, but I won’t) and ask them to direct me to where to buy groceries, set up my internet, buy a shower curtain, or what to do when I am lost. Luckily, I’ve managed all those on my own, once I figured out how to get to AT&T. There’s a nice big shopping street through the center of Danbury (or is it Brookfield?) with everything you could want: a pharmacy, a furniture store (those purchases will be much further down the road), Bed Bath & Beyond, a Starbucks (thank you cheap internet), and a grocery store all on the same stretch. I am very far from having a “walkable” city experience, however, smack in the middle of Suburbia. Thank goodness for my new used car, which luckily survived the trip over with me.

And the grocery store I went to! I had one of those typical culture shock experiences. I’m used to my St. Louis grocery stores or even the Omaha Hyvee – straight, symmetrical aisles that are carefully labeled with plenty of elbow room for turning around. Stew Leonard’s was nothing like your Schnuck’s or your Dierberg’s. Touted as the world’s biggest dairy (I did pick up their store variety milk, orange juice, and peanut butter, just in case it is also cheaper to buy locally), it looks like one gigantic barn chock-full of people. You turn in a labyrinthine pattern following some apparently intuitive layout (I had to walk around the entire store four times in order to find sugar and flour, dodging traffic as I sidestepped between grocery carts). It was a full-blown experience, with noise and smells. I am happy to say that the selection of cheese and bread looks excellent. I immediately bought some New York sharp cheddar, which I have been craving for months. When I stop hemorrhaging money, I might even occasionally treat myself to gruyère and the five thousand other varieties of cheese I saw (it was the biggest selection in America that I have seen by far, they weren’t kidding when they said that they were the “world’s biggest dairy”).

There’s nothing scarier than being in a new place where you don’t know anyone and you feel like you are camping in your too-big-for-one-person apartment. And I don’t even have Game of Thrones to watch in the evening to help me get through this period on my own.

Good thing I’m having my first ever Italian lesson tomorrow and a Meetup indie movie night where I must be the youngest person by ten years.  That, and a refrigerator full of groceries. I think I’ll survive.


Categories: Repatriation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment


My eyes are super dilated right now. I look like a cat in a dark room and when I step outside, the light is blinding.


No, I am not having a severe case of reverse culture shock but rather, I just came from the ophthalmologist. But it certainly is an apt metaphor for what life is like now readjusting – moving back from life abroad, moving to another city where I know no one, and entering the corporate world.

For instance, I am now taking an online MBA class. I just had my midterm last night, and I spent the three days preceding that studying terms like SWOT analysis, venture capitalists, and trade deficits. I had to write an essay on the steps of a PERT diagram. My teacher said it was one of the best responses he’s ever read. What is the world coming to? I’m becoming an expert on PERT diagrams!

Suffice it to say that my literary fantasy world of life in Europe is being replaced by a new reality of business, car payments, and health benefit plans.  Gone are the days of studying metaphysics, medieval philosophy, and the history of Western Europe. In short, I am going to need to find my own culture because I am no longer a full-time student.

Welcome to the real world.

For many people, reverse culture shock is extreme. I know people who have spent three years in Africa, who live in South America on a small stipend, who haven’t seen shopping malls for months. I won’t pretend that my transition from living in France to being back in my hometown of Saint Louis has been quite as traumatic. My culture shock is double, though – in one fell swoop, I am officially grown up, with a real world job, real world car payments, and real world problems.

I think I preferred living in France.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved spending the past three weeks with family and friends. I bought a beautiful new used car from my friend’s brother. I had a great conversation about life in South America with a friend over tapas at a Spanish bar while watching Brazil slaughter Spain in the Confederation Cup. I caught up with close friends in a more meaningful way than I had for many months (email can only do so much). And I ate in more restaurants in one weekend than I had for the entire time I was in France.

Readjusting is never easy. It’s taking a new status quo and making it your reality. If I weren’t moving in a week, my life would slowly take up a new normal. If I weren’t (impatiently) waiting for Hedi’s visa to arrive (we’re 26 days into the waiting process), I could be taking more advantage of my newly upgraded life.

Part of me is somewhat depressed: I want to live abroad, I want to learn languages in an immersion setting, and I want to be able to go out with my fiancé on a regular basis.

Part of me is exhilarated: I have new challenges in front of me, new goals, I’ll be living an hour away from New York City and from one of my closest friends, I’ll get to show Hedi my country, and we’ll finally have enough money to (eventually) travel.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

I’ll get over this transition period fairly soon. Right now, though, my eyes hurt.


Categories: Repatriation | Tags: | 2 Comments

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