This post is about my brutal but hopefully rewarding trip to New York City, New York to file for my Belgian Student Visa.
I have plenty of great things to say about my experience but I also have plenty of bad things to say about my experiences. Small disclaimer, however. I get through life believing that ignorance is the BEST form of bliss possible. Situations are never as bad as they truly are to me because why stress about things that I cannot control. That is probably why my day in NYC didn’t suck as much as it should have.
Game plan for New York:
- Flight from Cincinnati Airport to LaGuardia – 6:35-8:05.
- Bus ride from LaGuardia to first subway station I saw.
- Subway ride to area of Belgian Consulate.
- Relax at a swanky brunch place, grab a bagel and cappuccino, chat with locals.
- Head up to the Belgian Consulate (on the 41st floor of a skyscraper!) and charm some nice lady into letting me have a Student Visa.
- Jump for joy.
- Explore the Museum of Modern Art
- Go to a Cat Cafe
- Make my way back to the airport with all the satisfaction in the world.
- Fly home to Cincinnati with zero worries – 8:05-10:30.
I literally had so many fun things planned!
I hate to tell you that three of those things happened that day. My flights two and from, and I also purchased a bagel (If I lived in NYC this is where I would frequent). If you think eleven things on a to-do list is crazy then you do not even want to hear the rest of my story. Except you really want to because I conquered this city in twelve hours, you also probably want to hear it in person.
You read correctly, I didn’t obtain my student visa that day… it’s fine, I’m only really bitter. I will explain why I didn’t later on, and why everything will be okay. This is what really happened.
Actual events that occurred:
- Flight from Cincinnati Airport to LaGuardia – 6:35-8:05. (3:00 am wake up)
- Jumped on the first bus that pulled up to my terminal, luckily I used Google Maps and it happened to be the right one.
- Google Maps helped me find the subway station, however I was too afraid to step off the bus at the right stop due to the fact that on the bus, two German students introduced themselves and asked me if I would be able to take them to a subway station. The pressure killed me so I lost my cool.
- Walked around the Bronx for 45 minutes until “we found the subway station”.
- Said “farewell” to my new German friends, very glad I met them. And departed from the train only five blocks from the Belgian Consulate.
- I had just enough time to go change into niceish clothing and pump some caffeine into my veins. Obviously I Yelped for a Starbucks (little did I know that would be the Starbucks I would basically live at for the rest of the day.)
- I decided I should show up to my appointment early so I walked in an hour before my scheduled time, good thing too.
- I would like to tell you how my appointment went, but I actually completely blacked out the entire time, so I remember nothing. The next thing I remember I was speed walking (running) to a FedEx three city blocks down the street to copy some very important documents that I had failed to include, lovely.
- Copied documents, returned with five minutes to spare.
- Begged the nice lady at the consulate to give me more information on how I can still get my Visa in time for my departure date.
- Walked around the city aimlessly for 20 mins.
- Purchased and consumed the BEST bagel I’ve ever came in contact with.
- Impromptu doctor’s appointment (Nothing happened, I’ll explain).
- NYC excursions that only I would enjoy like walking past the United Nations and Trump World Tower (both were simultaneously cool and anticlimactic)
- TWO HOUR BUS RIDE from Spanish Harlem to LaGuardia, I could write a whole other post about how stupid I was to try to hike back to the airport during New York rush hour. Never do it, the bus was crowded and I had the pleasure of walking half a mile to my terminal. I was, however, smart enough to leave for the airport three hours early.
- Arrive at LaGuardia, change terminal three times, watch multiple flights get cancelled, pray a bit, sit in the runway for an hour, fall asleep on the flight home, groggingly find my dad at the airport.
Wow, what a rush. The only thing I would actually change about that day, though, is that I would have actually filed for my Visa correctly. That’s about it.
So you didn’t actually file for your Visa?
Man, I wish. When a student applies for a visa, the consulate requires a plethora of documents ranging from a letter of acceptance from the University they plan to attend to their 1040 tax-return statements. I had an entire manilla folder full of stuff ready to just hand over and call it good. Unfortunately, that is not how things went down. They asked for things, in a different order than I had the documents in so that threw me off. The desk clerk could tell I was nervous and also upset when she rejected a few of my documents. the guide I was using specifically states that I need THREE COPIES of every document I provide. Um, no it did not. I had three copies of every single document… except for two. Hence the running around NYC part of my story. The consulate also requires certain documents to have legislature (notarization), while others do not. Me being the person I am, decided that stuff doesn’t matter. It 100% matters, toute le monde. Listen to me when I tell you that when something needs to be notarized with an apostille, they mean business. And don’t notarize something that doesn’t need it. Double legislation is a huge deal at the Belgian consulate, apparently. Okay, which twenty-year-old knows all of this? I sure did not.
You had to go to the doctor?
Yeah, super weird reason why but my doctor’s visit in NYC was actually one of my favorite parts. One of the documents that was rejected by the consulate was my Medical Form. It was a form that basically stated that I wasn’t about to carry deadly diseases like TB, the Black Plaque, or Polio into Belgium anytime soon. I mean, I get it. But come on. The reason that I’m so bitter about the rejection of this form is because this was the form that was filled out and approved first, back in May. The problem with my Medical Form was that it wasn’t notarized with an apostille (do not ask me with an apostille is, still do not know, some further form of legislation past notarization).
When I was informed that I need a notarized signature for this form I literally laughed at the desk clerk at the Consulate. Notaries have to be there when said signer is signing said document. Basically impossible to arrange in a doctor’s office. Cool, not going to Belgium. However, there is another option. A handful of physicians across the country are somehow certified by the Belgian Consulate to check out patients who are filing for visa and clear them for travel/residency. Luckily, there were three in New York. The reason I didn’t choose this option in the beginning is because I wasn’t about to travel ten hours just for a doctor’s visit, but when in the city. My luck changed a bit when I discovered that one of the certified doctors in the city was not only available to see me that day but he was also two blocks away!
Three parts life advice, One part doctor’s visit.
That’s how my doctor’s visit with Dr. Michel Moulin went. Picture the cute, old, and french grandpa you’ve always dreamed of, that’s Dr. Moulin. I walked into his office and he has me filling out dozens of forms before he even asked me what my name was. Instead of actually examining me and he asked me what I thought my blood pressure was, and what my temperature might be… then he actually took the tests. After he reads over the papers I filled out, he asks me to “explain my life” to him. Okay, where do I start? Long story short, I find out that his nephew attends Audencia School of Management in Nantes and he has family in Ghent. So many connections today! Dr. Moulin explained to me why he came to the United States and how easier it was to settle down in the city back in the seventies. I could have been out of there in 45 minutes, except he wanted me to explain to him why I would “only be in the city for five more hours?!”. Oh believe me sir, this place is fabulous. I finally received the proper paper work from Dr. Moulin and I was on my way feeling super accomplished.
That was one of my tweets during the thick of it all. I was basically lost, mooching wifi from a McDonald’s that specifically said no loitering (I purchased zero food items), and helpless in a city until 8 pm that night. But I LOVED every second of it. Why? I learned how to navigate through a huge city by myself, think extremely quickly on my feet, use my internal instincts, make the right new friends, and enjoy myself. I feel that I truly made the best out of a situation that could have really ruined my day.
I could have sent in my visa application, I could have brought a buddy to NYC with me. I am so glad that I didn’t. That strenuous experience gave me the raw and utter confidence that I needed to no longer feel nervous about leaving for Europe. Before last Monday, people would ask me “Are you excited about Europe?” and of course I would say yes. In my head, I would actually be screaming, “OMG no, so many things I do not know how to do!!” Back then I honestly just wanted to get that transition over with, I just wanted to get over there and start my routine as an international exchange student. Now, I am beyond thrilled to take on my next challenge of a fourteen hour flight to one of the biggest airports in the world, three intermodal train rides, and a small trek to my apartment building in Ghent. Lets hope it all works out. Thank you, NYC, for helping me let go of all of my solo-travel inhibitions. Until next time!