Posts Tagged With: United States

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

Back from Outerspace

My transatlantic journeys are always trying.  This one was no different.  As I am trying (and failing) to overcome jet lag, I thought I’d give you the latest update of my journey back to the States.

Yesterday involved Skype, a Yellow Cab, lunch with a close friend, and a five-hour delay.  And it looked a lot like this:

Got technology?

Got technology?

By the time my brother and father picked me up at the St. Louis airport, I was on the point of flaking out and hardly uttered a word at the back of the car.  Two days of travel plus two taxi rides plus two bags of almost 50 lbs each equals one very tired traveler.

And now it’s 7 a.m. in St. Louis and I am wide awake.  I might as well go for a run and enjoy the sunshine that had been absent from my life for the past ten months…

I’ve got a big blog project that I’m going to launch in a day or two, so keep your eyes peeled!

Categories: Daily Life, United States | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Visit

Welcoming the pilgrims

Welcoming the pilgrims

Remember that wedding I attended in August in the gorgeous Sand Hills of Nebraska? The (not so) newlyweds are finally on their honeymoon, backpacking across the Camino de Santiago de Compostela over a month-and-a-half period (crazy, I know).  But I was also lucky enough to have had the privilege of hosting my two friends over the past weekend.  They arrived last Friday, bringing with them beautiful spring sunshine and blooming flowers.  The entire day was absolutely gorgeous, and we made sure to take advantage of the Parc Saint Pierre in its full spring splendor.

When you have lived in several different places, be it a few cities or a few countries, one of the great rewards of life is to have a visitor from one of your “worlds” come and visit you at another.  I’ve had my Swiss sisters come to Omaha and see me in Amiens, and I’ve had multiple members of my family visit me in France and Switzerland.  This is the first time, however, that I’ve had close friends from the United States treat me to a visit, spending extra money and going out of their way to see me and my quaint little French town.  I felt like an eager kid showing off his preschool to his parents, everything from his playground friends to his favorite teacher, and I know that Hedi, long accustomed to living in Amiens, was able to view the city with the eyes of a tourist.  Wow, that Cathedral is gorgeous and look at all those old buildings!  Hedi was suddenly thrust into a world of English, and I kept speaking the wrong language to the wrong person.  Rarely have I had such an opportunity to constantly be speaking more than one language side by side, although I’ve already noticed a new stage in my bilingualism since working at a school where English is constantly spoken and returning home to speak and read in and listen constantly to French.

I had a bit of all my different worlds join forces together at My Goodness on Friday night: the old and the new, friends from College, from my Masters program, from my first study abroad experience, from my new job.  It was quite pleasant, especially to share stories about British English vs. American English, to talk about meeting one’s other half (and all the risks of the unknown), and to combine a bit of everything I have ever known.  We were American, English, Tunisian, and French, using a variety of languages and comparing the foreignness of our different experiences.

Time was spent in the Cathedral, walking around the city, visiting the beautiful floating gardens, playing Settlers of Catan, and cooking various delicious meals.  We went to the large souk-like market on Sunday and came back bearing halal roast chickens, more types of olives than my friends had ever seen in their entire lives, loaves of bread, and a variety of honey-saturated North African pastries.  We even got to Skype with a mutual friend to end a weekend of startling juxtaposition.  And off the pilgrims go, on their way through the Northwestern coast of Spain.  À la prochaine!


Categories: Amiens, Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Resolutions

My trip to the States has come to an end, and I finally feel like I can look towards the New Year with some purpose and a bit of apprehension.  My thirteen days with family and friends were incredible—nothing beats being able to hug your mom, telling your dad that you love him and plotting with your best friends.  Nothing except being able to kiss the man you love as he waits patiently for you at the train station.

I’ve come up with three New Year’s resolutions that I wanted to share with you (and a few more that are restricted to my journal entries—no need to lay all my dirty laundry out to dry):

1) In 2013 I will be better about communicating: Granted, I’ve been pretty darn good in 2012 about staying in touch with those I love.  It was a lot easier, as I spent eight months of the year in the United States, four and a half of which I was in an American university where my closest friends were a five-minute walk away and the rest the five-minute span of a text message and response.  The long distance communication—to France and Switzerland—took no effort at all, as I worked night hours, enjoyed almost daily Skype conversations to Amiens, and had established an infrequent but consistent email/Skype relationship over the past four years with my Swiss family.

I told myself, when I moved indefinitely to France, that I would make a huge effort to keep up with those I love back home.  As all those who have lived abroad can attest, you discover very quickly who thinks you are worth making the effort to stay in touch and who prefers to hear about your adventures once a year or two over a cup of coffee, but couldn’t care less the rest of the time.  That’s partly why I started this blog—it’s easier to live vicariously through me without investing extra time and effort.  But I wanted to do more than share about my life; I need a personal communication with the individuals who have touched my life over the years.  I started with letters once a week.  I’ve gotten four responses so far, partly due to my own slacking off on the letter writing.  Nothing is more personal or more appreciated than a hand-written letter, but it certainly requires time and a little bit of money.  Equally personally, although slightly more complicated to arrange, is the Skype date.  I’ve had a handful of these with my close friends and weekly Skype calls with my immediate family.  There’s also the phone call from my international phone line, which for 20€ a month allows me unlimited conversation with the United States.  The connection is often less than incredible, and it’s hard to time the spontaneous phone calls with a 7-hour time difference and varying schedules.  Then there’s the personal email, which allows for a lot of narration and less dialogue.  This is definitely where I failed in communicating with friends.  Slightly less personal but incredibly useful is the mass email, similar to a blog entry but much less colorful.  And last, the incredibly impersonal but necessary social media, that’s to say, Facebook.  I’ve become an expert at jumping on all my close contacts who happen to connect to Facebook chat or gchat (you are now forewarned).

I don’t look at Blog writing as a means of communication with close family and friends.  Sure, I’m thrilled that many of my friends and relatives enjoy reading my posts and, somewhat uncannily, know all the details I’ve published of my last four months, but I see a blog as a way of reaching out to those who have shared a similar experience abroad or can relate to my desire to live, travel, work or study in an unfamiliar environment.  I’ve always loved to write, and I view Expatlove as a way of expressing myself, both my frustrations and my triumphs (though there have been less of that so far!).  It’s part of making this big global world a little bit more like home, through reaching out to other global citizens and travelers.

Short-term goal: I will consistently send emails to at least twenty individuals who are important to me, at least one email a month.  Four months is really not acceptable.

2) In 2013 I will start running again: A little known secret about me… I am actually quite athletic.  Part of my apathy this past year has resulted from the easiest of excuses: I’m not running because I can’t afford to go to the gym, because it’s too cold outside or wet, because I live on the fifth floor with no elevator, because I walk almost everywhere, because I don’t have enough time.  Basically, I’m just lazy.  From what I can tell, there will never be enough time in my life unless I make time to go run, or find some forsaken public tennis court (where are all the public tennis courts in France!?), or get a job and join a gym, or rent a bike.

Short-term goal: Run once a week (really pathetic, as I used to train for half-marathons, but you have to start somewhere).

3) In 2013 I will find a job: Well, this will happen at some point in 2013 because I won’t have a choice… somewhere down the line (and perhaps very soon), I will run out of money and resort to moving where I can work at least minimum wage.  Hopefully I’ll find a job in France, but I really have no idea how to go about doing this.  Working at a language school, a restaurant, teaching English in the black, anything.  The degree I’m currently working on won’t throw anything my way until September 2013, assuming I pass both the first year Master’s and the CAPES/CAFEP (for teaching in private schools).  Which would be awesome, but in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath… Let me know if you have any ideas!

Short-term goal: Make more than 12€ a week…

Categories: Daily Life, Expats, Seasons | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Top Expat blogs of 2012

2012 was a year of graduations, of new beginnings, of movings and endings and lots of changes.  It also marks the year I began this blog, first intermittently and then more steadily as I began to settle in to life in France.

I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to know the blogsphere and discovering other blogs by expats and travelers, among other topics.  I am continuously fascinated by the shared perspective of those living abroad, whether or not we experience foreign cultures differently.  Some blogs I’ve followed faithfully from their first posts, several months ago, and some I’ve discovered recently.

I wanted to share with you my top five Expat blogs.  I’ve read many different types, from travel journals to professional food photography.  While each has value, I decided to limit the blogs I’d describe by creating a set of rules: The writer has to be an American who has lived abroad continuously for a few months and has been writing for at least three months.

My Top 5 Expat blogs of 2012

1-The first blog is called Arabic Zeal and is written by an American named Holly who currently resides in Dubai with her Palestinian husband and three kids.  I fell in love with this blog back in 2011, with its gorgeous design, professional photography, and skillful writing.  I am incredibly interested in Arabic culture and found myself mesmerized by Holly’s life and perspective.  Her blog has become more and more centered on food, making it into a hybrid of travel/food culture as well as a narrative on life abroad, but I like that we can experience Dubai and Holly’s travels through the recipes and photos that she posts.  I encourage you to take a look at Arabic Zeal if you’d like to step into the land of One Thousand and One Nights.

2-The author of my second blog I knew personally at my Alma Mater, as we took an English class together, back when she was pursuing a creative writing degree.  Whitney has since moved to Senegal, where she has embarked on a Peace Corps adventure that reads like a novel.  On It’s Time for Africa!, you get a taste for what life in this amazing African country has to offer as well as get to know the fascinating people who live there.  Whitney’s writing often reads like prose and her blog is as vibrant as her personality.  Trust me, you’ll get hooked by her infrequent yet immensely rich posts.

3-The third blog might be a relatively recent discovery for me, but Becca’s blog Fumbling toward home (which I discovered under the name of Paris at my Doorstep) has chronicled her and her husband’s adventures living in Edinburgh, Scotland for five years and then a year in Paris, before they repatriated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which to many is as much a foreign experience as any.  The years and experience of blog writing is evident, as well as Becca’s passion for photography.  The posts are frequent, full of beautiful photography and insightful comments.  Becca and her husband Scotty travel extensively, and it will still take me some time to sort through the many posts of the past few years.  I’ve been reading beginning with their year living in France, as it is more recent and more familiar to me as an Expat in France.

4-chanceofsun is as whimsical and sunny as the author, Christina, an Arizona native who moved to Düsseldorf, Germany with her German husband in 2011.  In it she expresses some of her personal takes on life abroad, from remarks on the weather to her daily struggles and delights.  She has also been adding snapshots that are just as expressive and delightful as her short but satisfying blog posts.  With my introduction to the German culture over the past few months, I am always delighted to read a post by Christina with her “adventures, impressions, and random thoughts.”

5-My last blog brings back memories of my high school days during my Gap year in Geneva.  Although Maddi is mostly addressing friends and family back home, I feel like I have gotten to know her through her blog 3805miles where she takes us through life in a French high school, with a French family, and French and international friends in Toulouse, France.  Maddi is hilarious and offers us a unique snapshot of high school life abroad.  I have personally discovered many elements of French society of which I have been unaware until Maddi posted about them.  She is also a talented photographer and conveys the many serendipities of a high school exchange.

I also wanted to briefly mention two blogs that don’t fit my rules but are worth sharing:

My French Heaven is written by Frenchman Stéphane Gabart who lived for ten years in the United States before returning to his homeland.  His blog is superb and has the advantage of being written in both English and French, which is a great exercise for those who would like to read natural, colloquial French while still relying on the English version for comprehension’s sake.  His posts are always mouth-watering, with beautiful photographs and tasty recipes as Stéphane describes all the elements that make French food and culture renowned worldwide.

Outside Looking In also didn’t qualify because it is brand new, but I find it has great potential to be one of my favorite Expat blogs.  Going under the name Bosmosis, the author is an American who has been living in South Korea for fifteen years and is mainly targeting the expat community abroad.  He writes,

“I’d like to welcome anyone who is living in the cultural space between the motherland and some other place. My goal here is to create a space for thoughtful global citizens to meet, have a laugh, and reflect on life on the outside looking in.”

I look forward to sharing my thoughts and getting to know more of the global expat community.

Happy reading and happy new year!  I’m hoping 2013 will be a great one!

Categories: Expats | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Visite d’OFII

In the past four years of my life, where I have three times over experienced what it means to be an “other,” someone who does not quite belong, as I have made close and lasting friendships with immigrants both in France and the United States, and as I myself have attempted to emigrate, I have never felt more like a foreigner than when going to the routine “visite d’OFII.”  For those of you who might never have requested a “visa de long séjour” or spent more than three months in France on a visa, you won’t be very familiar with this procedure.  In essence, all visa-holders coming from non-European Union countries are required to declare their presence on the French territory from the moment they arrive in their host city and have their visa stamped at customs.

Within the next three months, l’OFII (The French Office of Immigration and Integration, there’s one in each major French city) will at whim send you a convocation to attend one (or two, this time) rendez-vous in which you will get a shiny sticker on your passport that serves as your titre de séjour (residency permit).  You must pay 58 € in addition to the 50 € paid when you originally requested your visa (not to mention the 70 € I paid for Campus France!), and you must undergo a standard radiograph examination (to make sure you don’t have TB) and a doctor’s visit.  The whole process takes several hours, as they cram at least fifty people into each interview time slot, and you have no say over when the visit will be scheduled.  If you fail to show up the first time, they will send you a warning with another time slot, and then if you still don’t show up, you will not be permitted back into France if you leave l’espace Schengen (the Schengen zone).  And once you have your vignette, you are good to go for the remainder of your visa.  This visit is only required for the first year of a visa/titre de long séjour.

However, if you leave France and come back with another visa de long séjour (as in my case), you are required to attend yet again this uncomfortable and lengthy medical/administrative visit, regardless of the fact that you might be in the same city at the same school with a folder full of radiographs and medical reports from your visit a year ago.  Whatever, it’s another bureaucratic hurdle that I have to overcome in order to live in France.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t always feel like a foreigner when living in France.  After all, I’m descended from white Europeans, even look relatively “European” (I’m small and brunette and blue-eyed), and I don’t wear the headscarf.  I speak passably fluent French that for the past four years I have been trying to perfect, including my accent.  Although when I speak, a Francophone would be able to identify me as a non-Francophone, he is often not able to pinpoint the country (USA) or even the language group (English-speaker), unless he is very familiar with certain idiosyncracies of the English language (ways of structuring our thoughts, a tendency to speak with the back of our mouth, and, in my case, a lack of consistency in pronouncing the French “u”).  I always take it as a compliment that they might not know where I’m from, as a signal that my French has vastly improved.  My friends tend to be cosmopolitan, prone to travel, and conscious of what it’s like to live, even briefly, in another country, or they are foreigners themselves, in which case I feel like co-conspirators.  But occasionally, even among friends, I am made to feel like an un-invited guest, or as a representative of my country seemingly having all the answers for “why we do what we do” (as if I am responsible for all 312 million U.S. citizens or for the government’s actions worldwide).  Being American abroad makes you both proudly conscious and ashamed of your heritage, with a schizophrenic need to justify something over which you have largely no control.  Neither my Swiss second family nor my multinational group of friends understands why I don’t immediately volunteer “I’m from the U.S.!” upon being acquainted with a stranger or when buying vegetables.  Apparently, being from a different country requires you to constantly wear a name tag that you must pull out on demand.  And to think I wanted to “blend in.”

But despite my whining, I must admit that I really have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to being an immigrant.  Sure, I have to deal with all the incredibly annoying bureaucratic requirements, but so does the majority of people who live in France.  Sure, I have a little accent and grow red when I have to “defend” things that happen in the U.S. that I was never ok with, but I am not a real immigrant.  I am a privileged white American who is here to study a Master’s in France, and I have the luxury of returning to my home country whenever (theoretically) I like.  I chose to come to France, and I did not flee war, terror, poverty, lack of job opportunities, or famine, and France does not place a quota on the number of U.S. citizens who choose to study abroad.  I had been separated from a loved one for only one year.  I might face ignorance or bigotry because of my nationality, but I will not suffer from the implicit racism that most North African Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans perceive on arriving upon French soil.   I speak French and English, the two most highly valued languages for finding a job in France.

As I sat for an hour in a small, cramped room at l’OFII last Friday, my e-reader in hand as I tried to pass the time, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the room, myself and one other excluded, was of African or Asian descent.  (Europeans do not have to pass through l’OFII).  As I snuck a look at some of the passports, I remarked that a disproportionate number of individuals came from former French colonies or “areas of influence” such as Senegal or Morocco.  In the post-colonial era, why is it that so many former colonies still educate their young in French?  Why is it that there are so few job opportunities or that so many students try to make a life in France instead of their own country?  Were these all students? Here on exchange or for the full five to eight years of undergraduate-masters-doctors study?  What does this all mean?

I’d appreciate your comments if you have any insight or would like to share your own experiences as an immigrant/emigrant abroad.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, Expats, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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