Getting a Visa: Prepare to be Not so Prepared

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Emma Basco
August 21, 2022
Brooklyn bridge hero

Spring of 2022 rolled around and I felt more than prepared. I had done all my research, confiding, doubting. My sights were set on studying abroad in Amsterdam in fall of 2022. In addition, as if my readiness for upcoming deadlines hadn’t bolstered my confidence enough, I’d already realized my passport was due to expire by the end of the year. “Perfect,” I mused. “All I have to do to renew my passport is send all my documents and information to the facility!” It was not even March. If I calculated the shipping and processing time correctly, my passport would arrive in no time.

My preparedness was astounding.

Although I was ahead of schedule, the process for getting it renewed was annoyingly tedious. I took the train down to my relatives’ apartment in Brooklyn so that I could take my picture, print it out, cut it into a 2” by 2” square, and staple it to the form as if we don’t live in the 21st century. My English uncle shook his head unbelievably as I redid the stapling. “The American process is so primitive.”

I sent everything off, expecting my new passport to arrive at my parents’ house in three to four weeks. Around mid-March, my dad texted me a triumphant picture of himself holding a big white envelope. “Maybe keep it in the envelope until I need to upload scans of it,” I told him. 

“I’ll keep it safe,” he assured me. I continued my studies, relieved that my study abroad experience was starting out smoothly and, importantly, ahead of schedule.

Before I knew it, April arrived. Study abroad deadlines now loomed with my school assignments. I asked my dad to send me scans of my passport to easily upload to the portal. His text to me read: “Uh oh, there’s an issue."

I froze. My dad followed up with a picture of a letter from the passport agency informing me that because I obtained my passport prior to my 16th birthday, I was required to apply for a brand new passport. This process could not be done by mail.

I frantically emailed Kate Gossom, my IES Abroad program advisor, letting her know of the situation. She gently urged me to expedite the process because I would need my passport for my residence permit, the application for which was due July 4th. Every site told me something different about processing time: “four to five weeks," “six to seven weeks," or, “It may take longer for expedited passports due to COVID-19 related setbacks."

“No matter," I told myself, wiping a sweaty brow as I scanned the U.S post office website for nearby and available appointments. No matter, except that it was now the end of April and every American above the age of 16 was applying for a new passport.

The earliest appointment I could find was out in the middle of Long Island on the Thursday morning after spring semester ended. I booked another appointment on the Upper East Side for the following week, which was geographically closer but further delayed getting my passport. I felt slightly guilty for taking another person’s slot, but it was only a final measure.

At 7:30 a.m. on a muggy Thursday morning, I was on the train to the post office in the unremarkable hamlet of Carle Place. I arrived half an hour early. The office opened exactly when my appointment was scheduled, so I bought an overpriced bagel and sat down outside of the deli. By 9 a.m. I was hovering inside the foyer for ten minutes as the post office worker slowly unlocked the door. Internally, I was in a rush. But that was just me, so I couldn’t expect her to move any faster. She disappeared into the back for eight minutes before reappearing and waving me up to the window. Double-checking my documents and filling out forms took all of fifteen minutes.

“You need another proof of ID. Your California driver’s license won’t work because you are applying in New York state.”

I frowned, realizing I didn’t bring my student ID. “I don’t have another proof of ID on me." 

She sighed. “Okay, I’ll send this packet out. They’ll email you when they need another proof of ID. You email a scanned copy to them.”

The woman’s request seemed absurd seeing as I showed her my California driver’s license and a copy of my birth certificate, but I paid the processing fee with a smile and left. The train back to the city was delayed. I languished on the platform in the climbing humidity.

“Now it’s out of my hands,” I told myself. I counted the weeks on my fingers. If sites were correct and it was sent out the second week in May, then the latest my passport could arrive was the week right before the 4th.

My mom was on my back about making sure I checked my inbox for the supposed email to send the agency what they needed. As the weeks went on, she finally said what I was thinking, “I think that lady didn’t know what she was talking about.” 

June 13th was the blessed day. My dad sent me a picture of another big white envelope; this time, we opened it immediately. He shipped the passport overnight to me in New York, where I was staying for a summer internship. I slapped my John Hancock in the crisp new book and with one satisfying click, sent a copy off to the Dutch government for approval.

The moral of the story is two-fold: be prepared for your study abroad application process and be prepared for something to go wrong. The process is difficult to accomplish all on your own, so lean on the trusted people in your life to help you through the stressful parts. Try not to worry about the parts of the process you cannot control. And maybe don’t trust that every U.S post office employee knows what they are talking about.

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Headshot of Emma Basco.

Emma Basco

My name is Emma Basco and I am originally from Sacramento, California. I am currently studying literature and writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. I love to read on the beach, doodle on post it notes, paint with watercolors, and unearth new cafes and restaurants. My hidden talent is that I can make an excellent pot of noodles from packaged ramen.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
Home University:
Sarah Lawrence College
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