Sunday, January 27, 2013

Moscow To Madrid: Katie's Here!

     As most of you know, my girlfriend Katie was teaching in Moscow from October to December. And when she left to go home for a couple weeks in December, she was planning on returning. But an email she had sent weeks before to the Auxiliar de Conversación program here in Spain was finally replied to, offering her a position in Madrid. And so began the frustrating process of dealing with Spanish bureaucracy.
     To come to Spain for longer than three months, you need a visa. To get a visa, you need a letter from the institution which has invited you to stay for longer than three months. To get the letter in a timely fashion, you need to hound this organization daily and treat it like a child and hold its hand. The most striking difference between Spain and America is each one's perception of time. From this difference stems a variety of cultural contrasts, which I will be writing about soon. Needless to say, it took us bending over backwards to get the letter so that Katie could spend hundreds of dollars to get to Spain.
     After a sworn handshake from one of the program's coordinators, assuring me that Katie would have her letter Monday morning (because he just couldn't send it on Friday because, although he was in charge of printing it, he had to have someone else sign it, and that person wasn't in the office), I told Katie she could book her flight to Houston. Why did she have to go to Houston? Because the Spanish Consulate absolutely requires that in order to get a visa, you must hand in the required documents in person. No exceptions, ever. What this means is that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a flight to get to the consulate (there are only a handful of consulates in the U.S.), and many hours, so that you can spend thirty seconds giving them the documents in person.
     After boarding the flight without yet receiving her invitation letter as promised (which is crucial for the visa), Katie flew to Houston. She received the letter while in transit, after the program had emailed me telling me it was urgent and they needed her passport information, which of course I didn't have, and so I had to email her, and she had to email them, and then I had to call them after she called me telling me they still hadn't sent her letter after she had sent them her information, at which point they told me they handn't received an email, after which I said that was silly because she emailed them three minutes after they had emailed me and I had called them the first time, at which point they actually looked at their emails and saw her email and told me they had received it after all. Very efficient.
     Katie arrived at the consulate with her letter on her laptop, not printed. She had called the consulate before she had left and asked whether she could print the letter at the office. They said of course she could. She waited in line to hand in her information. She handed it in, and asked to print the letter. They said no way they could do that. She told the lady (the same one she had asked on the phone), that she had been told she could print the letter there. The lady told her she didn't know why she had told Katie she could, but she couldn't. So off Katie went in search of a printer. After finding one at a salon, she returned and handed in her information and flew back to Nashville.
     A visa should take a few days. Maybe a week. A Spanish visa takes a month, with no option to expedite the process. There is no reason for this other than that the U.S. makes it difficult for other nationalities to get visas, so Spain decided they would do the same thing with Americans. I had gone into the Auxiliar program's office twice, begging them to do something to get the visa sped up, because we had a long-planned vacation coming up with non-changeable, non-refundable flights, and also because Katie already had a non-refundable ticket back to Madrid. They pretty much told me they couldn't do anything, which by then I knew was malarky but that I couldn't fight. The lady at the consulate had "flagged" her visa application in an "attempt" to speed it up, which meant it did nothing whatsoever.
     There are more trivialities to this story but it just isn't worth talking about, because after several missed flights and more purchased, Katie arrived in Madrid on January 1st! She was just in time to hang out with Alex and Derek, who were here visiting during a few days to celebrate the new year. Since then, everything has been going very well: she really likes her school (she works with six and seven year olds at a bilingual school), she's taking Russian classes at the Russian Center, she's starting Spanish classes next week, and we've been to Toledo and to Salamanca. Posts on those great cities are coming shortly.
     At the end of the day, dealing with Spanish bureaucracy is maddening but because of it Katie was able to move here, and to help Spanish kids become bilingual, so I can't say anything too terrible about the process. And I can't say anything bad about the program— it's really wonderful and is an incredibly progressive step in bilingual education. So here we are, in Madrid, teaching English and learning about a different culture through traveling, the language, customs, and bureaucracy. I couldn't be happier.

(In Salamanca, Spain)

P.S.— Katie still has a suitcase in Moscow. Looks like I might get to experience that great country.

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