Friday, July 2, 2010

The Visa Chronicles

I need to learn to call places to make sure they will be open before I leave home.

Common sense should have told me that the Ecuadorian consulate in Toronto might possibly have been closed during the G20. But having checked their website and realizing that the building was outside of the exclusion zone and Ecuador wasn't part of the G20 anyway, I went ahead and drove the 2 hours into Toronto (3 actually, with road closures and traffic) without placing the all-important phone call. Good call, Maddy, good call. I arrived at the consulate building bright and early in the morning, documents in briefcase, briefcase in hand, only to be informed by a security guard that the Ecuadorian consulate was closed for the G20 summit.

Not my finest hour, I'll be first to admit. I am impossibly absent-minded and my talent with handling the more bureaucratic aspects of life is pretty limited.

That was the Friday before last. The next Wednesday I made the trip to Toronto for a second time (having called the day before just to be sure) and actually got my visa application submitted. Ecuador is one of the easier countries for which to obtain a visa (especially compared to Europe, from what I've heard), and my experience at the consulate definitely reflected this. I walked into the building (a very posh address on Bloor Street only about 100 metres from the Royal Ontario Museum), up the elevator, down the hall, and into a single office. There was a small waiting room with a few chairs and a giant flag and not much else. I walked up to the counter, told the lady at the desk that I needed to apply for a cultural exchange visa, handed over my guarantee forms, my passport, a police check, a doctor's certificate, some passport-sized photos, and the single-page application form which I had previously printed from the consulate's website. I paid my $80 USD (a trifle for a visa), collected my pick-up slip, and walked right out. That was the extent of the application process. It couldn't have taken more than 8 minutes in total.

By the time my elevator arrived at the ground floor, I realized something. The pick-up date for my visa was scheduled for July 15th. I am leaving for a family vacation in California on July 16th. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except that the consulate has possession of my passport while they process the visa. And I need my passport to get into the United States for my vacation. As long as they really do get my visa processed by the date they say, I'll be fine. My dad is driving me into Toronto on the 15th. I just hope that the Ecuadorian bureaucracy doesn't fail me now.

The whole applying-for-the-visa thing just makes this whole process seem so much more real. I mean, every hallmark (being accepted to the program, having my first orientation, finding out my host country, getting my guarantee forms, booking my plane ticket...) makes it seem just that much more real, but now it's truly getting down to the wire. I leave in only 7 weeks (!!!), and I've truly never been more excited about anything in my entire life, but of course I'm starting to become just ever-so-slightly nervous as well. I'm also really excited for my fellow outbounds to start departing though (I'm one of the last in my district to leave), so I can read about their adventures as I prepare for my own. This is such a crazy and unpredictable experience but I'm so glad that I have this opportunity. I'm preparing for lots of the unknown in the next few months, both pleasant and unpleasant, but for now I'm just going to enjoy the sense of anticipation and my last few weeks in Canada. Until next time!


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