So picking up where I left off…A week after my breakdown at the SF consulate I received a call informing me that I could come pick up my passport. I arrived and of course the same man was there to give it to me. I hated him with all of my soul. I didn’t even say hello; I didn’t feel he deserved a single word or any indication from me that I thought he deserved politeness, as I felt he had given me the same indication. He handed me my passport, open to the page with my visa on it. I was shocked. He had given me a visa? He said, that’s the best I could do, and I looked at the expiration date: February 1, 2013. Triumphant, I left without saying goodbye. I had prevailed! (spoiler alert: I had not prevailed! Mistake #2)
I went back to Paris in September (2012) and had a great time in my program at the Sorbonne. Maybe one day I will write a post about my experience in the program, but for now I’ll just say that I highly recommend it. My professor was great and I improved so much. I went home for Christmas, and my visa didn’t expire until February, so I decided to just deal with extending my visa in Paris after I got back from the States for the holidays. (Mistake #3)
I flew ALL THE WAY TO OAKLAND, CA for Christmas and did not use the opportunity to go to the consulate and get a new visa. This is because I didn’t know that I needed a new visa. I thought I had a student visa, which can easily be extended in France if you have all the right paperwork (which I do). Surprise! The mean man at the consulate did not give me a student visa. He gave me a special type of visa that is called “long séjour temporaire – dispense titre de séjour.” I didn’t notice. I had looked over the visa a few times after I stupidly left the consulate without asking any follow-up queestions, and I just didn’t notice that “étudiant” was not anywhere to be found. I guess I was looking, but not seeing. If I had noticed, I could have looked here, where it lists my exact type of visa and then states underneath: This is a temporary visa to stay in France for 3-6 months. The owner of the visa is not allowed to apply for a carte de séjour in France; they must return to their home country when it expires.
Sure enough, when I went to three different offices of the Prefecture de Police in Paris I was told the same thing by everyone working there: you have to go back to the US. I felt so stupid for not realizing sooner (before Christmas, for example!). As the reality of my situation sunk in, so did the devastation. The thought of leaving France brought me to tears all that week- if I’d had any doubts about whether I wanted to stay before, they were definitely gone now. I spent the week attempting to find a way to renew my visa without having to return to the US. I even worked with this company to see if they could find a solution. If you find yourself in a similar situation as me, I highly recommend that you contact Olivier – he’s a tireless creative thinker who can find a solution to almost any problem that involves French bureaucrats. I say almost because even he couldn’t get around my visa.
Luckily, the round-trip tickets were the lowest price I’ve ever seen them! So, I made an appointment at the French consulate in SF, booked my ticket, and came back home just one month after I had left from Christmas. I triple checked what documents I would need and I had several people look at the website with me to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I am now humble and admit that everyone needs two pairs of eyes for things like this! I went on Monday morning to my appointment, and sure enough, it was the same man from the summer.
I waited in the row of chairs, breathing slowly and deeply. When he called my name, I braced myself for an evil glare or a snarky comment. But I shouldn’t have flattered myself that much, because he had no idea who I was. He asked for papers one by one, and I provided everything instantly. We discussed everything in French and he didn’t correct me, although I know I made some weird mistakes because I was nervous. He asked me why I was going and my reply was that I wanted to learn French. When he found out that I had already completed a bachelor’s degree, he asked me why I hadn’t majored in French. The way he said it, he made it seem like I was stupid for not beginning my French studies at the age of 5. I replied as politely and nicely as possible even though I was thinking: Um…because I majored in music?! I also mentioned that I will apply for a Master’s in France for next fall.
After that, everything went smoothly and he said it would take less than a week. I got a call on Wednesday that I could come in to pick up my passport. I went in on Thursday and when he called me up, something was wrong. He had all the documents from my dossier spread out. He informed me that I had not re-registered for Campus France and paid the fee again, and that I would have to register again and reapply for a visa after I received all the documentation from Campus France. I knew there was no way that would be an option for me, since it would take weeks to do all of that. I stayed calm and simply said, hmmm, that poses a little bit of a problem…
He agreed. I kept saying gently and with a bit of pleading, I just didn’t know, I didn’t know you had to re-register with Campus France…and he was silent for a bit. He told me to sit down and wait. When he called me back up he said, I decided to give it to you anyways. !!! I looked at the visa in my passport he had just handed me, and saw that it was a student visa for a whole year. He must have really trusted me when I said I was applying for a Master’s. Why couldn’t he have trusted me when I said I was taking 2 semesters of classes? That is what makes me want to pull my hair out when dealing with these people. But whatever…this time I really had prevailed!
This whole experience has been anything but fun. It was costly, stressful, and frustrating. But at least I learned some big lessons during this whole process.
1 – It never helps to get overly emotional when dealing with governmental procedures. Those people are just doing their jobs (poorly) and they have to follow the rules (loosely). You have no power – accept it! You might get caught with someone when they are having a bad day, or when body-snatchers have taken over, as was clearly the case with my friend at the SF consulate. So be polite, say you are wrong, say they are right, don’t yell, and hope for the best.
2 – Apparently I am blind; it’s best to ask for help when things are really precise.
3 – Start these processes early. Give yourself time to f*ck up and then time to fix things so you don’t have to buy international flights unexpectedly.
4 – As with pretty much everything in life, have about 5x as much in your savings than you think you’ll need.
5 – Accept change. Part of the reason why I had remained so calm the second time at the consulate was because I had accepted my fate. I wasn’t sure if I would get a new visa, so I had already made a plan to move back to Oakland and work until I could save up enough to move back to France. If I hadn’t gotten another student visa, I would have made it work. There is not only one city that I can live in and be happy! I try to do the best I can with hurdles that come up, and then move on! But, lucky for me, I get to go back! See you back in Paris.