Sunday, August 14, 2011

How I'm going to South Africa after all (hopefully)

I was supposed to take a plane to Cape Town today. At least that was the plan until about two weeks ago, when I got back to Germany and realized that, despite the laid-back attitude of my future employers, getting a study permit to go down there would take at least all the time I had.

The first thing I did, after one night in my parental home, was order a police certificate at city hall. I spent the next day running from doctor to doctor to get someone to x-ray my chest, certify that I didn't have TB, and sign off on a form saying I was in good health. They took my blood and my urine, and despite considerable practice it took me three trips to the bathroom to produce the latter.
Then, fill in a bunch of forms, and express-mail everything to the consulate -- all because I hadn't thought to do these things earlier. And because I couldn't really send my passport anywhere before I needed it to get on a plane home.

So at first I was hopeful, and figured maybe everything would work out. Then, a lady from the consulate, let's call her Ms T, called my home.
- "What will you be doing in South Africa?"
- "I'll be teaching, and I'll be a student at --- University."
She doesn't know that I'll mostly be teaching, and a student only for administrative purposes; but that's not her concern:
- "Your letter from --- says you will be doing research. But you filled in the wrong form, you applied for a study permit."
- "All graduate students do research, it's part of the program."
- "I need a letter to say that you're a student, if you do research, you need a work visa; this letter is contradictory. I can't work like this."

That was the short version. The actual conversation had a lot more of me going "students do research", and her going "will you be a researcher or a student?", and several insults to my cognitive abilities.

What ensued was about a week of emails going back and forth between me and the institute I will be working at, and between me and the consulate. The university for some reason did not just write me a new letter. They kept instructing me to tell the embassy things, while the embassy kept asking other things. People were changing their minds about what kind of permit I even needed. People were telling me I would have to wait 10 to 15 days to get anything. People kept telling me to fill in different forms.

Eventually on Thursday (three days before my putative flight), Ms T said: "To settle this for once and for all, I need another letter from ---", and they finally sent me another letter. An exact copy of the one I originally sent in with my application, with a different date. And the next morning T called me to tell me, much friendlier than she had ever been before, that my study permit had been issued and would go out that afternoon.

Of course it was too late to make it for my flight today, and so I'll be getting another week of vacation at home. But holy shit was this an experience in ridiculous bureaucracy.

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