Wow. I haven’t even left yet and I’ve had my first lesson. Becoming an exchange student is harder than it sounds. Paperwork, choices, and all that other great stuff has to be planed and perfect down to the last detail.
First, an exchange student has to choose a program to travel with. I was lucky and was accepted by my first choice, Rotary. But that was only the beginning. After being accepted I needed a physical, a dental exam and a whole mess of paperwork to fill out not once, not twice, not even three times, but four. All signatures had to be in blue ink and signed in front of my coordinator. I went through a rigorous interview process and in the end, I was chosen to go to Santiago Chile.
After I was accepted all of the exchange students were summoned to a small town in Wyoming for an orientation weekend (which just so happened to be prom weekend also I might add). We did exercises and met people and had oodles of endless fun getting to know people who we can relate to about our exchange. It was all fun and games until the next week when i received the next mountain of paperwork to be filled out graciously provided by my travel agent.
If only I knew what i was getting into. The first thing on the list was to get a background check filled out by the FBI. All I had to do was get fingerprinted and send it to the address in the packet. Not too hard, right? No. Some idiot online said that my parents had to be with me since I was a minor (which is completely false) so I decided to wait for my parents to return from California two and a half weeks later when my dad was cleared to fly after his surgery. A couple days after their return we all went down to the local police department where they fingerprinted me and then gave me the card which I sent off the next day to the provided address. I called a week later. I was told by the person on the phone that it would be 3 weeks before I was in the system, then they would send me my certificate. I thought that was a little excessive at the time but I had no idea what awaited me. Five weeks later I was still not in the system. I finally got someone on the phone who was kind enough to try looking me up under my address. He found me right away and the reason the other people couldn’t find me is because someone along the line misspelled my name. I was furious. I had provided them with a address, social security number AND my finger prints. No wonder people think our government is inefficient. It took them two weeks to chance a v to a u. It has been 7 weeks and nothing has changed. This is twice as long as i had planned for and while waiting a number of my papers have expired. Imagine my excitement when after nine weeks they inform me that they will be sending it within the next couple of days. It was time to move on to the other paperwork that had expired.
I needed an AIDS test. Yes, that is correct. Seeing as an AIDS test will expire after 30 days, I had to get an AIDS test not once but twice. The first time I made an appointment with my family doctor and everything went fine the second time, my doctor couldn’t fit me in for two weeks so lucky for me, I got to go to the AIDS clinic in the next town over. I don’t know if you have ever had an AIDS test, but my goodness! That place was sketchy. I pulled up in my mom’s car (because my sister was using ours for the day) and when her car doors were the only ones i could find which were all the same color I almost decided to turn around and speed all the way home. But no, I needed to get this test over with. And so, I summoned all of my courage and walked into the basement of a building that was beyond falling apart and had several for sale signs out front. Expecting the worst, I can honestly say I was pleased with what I walked into. No one had to buzz me in and my first step inside revealed fluorescent lighting and a wall that looked like a rainbow, not because of a cheerful paint job, but because of all the different colors and flavors of condoms. HOORAY!
After my AIDS test adventure I was able to send all of the paperwork into the Chilean consulate in Los Angeles California. Two days later I called to make sure all of the paperwork was correct and to make an appointment but yet another snag in the plan. How was I not surprised? Turns out the notary that notarized most of my papers forgot to sign them. Plus I was given the wrong forms to fill out which delayed my trip even further. Now that I have all the paperwork correct, no one is answering my phone calls or e-mails. All I need is 5 minutes of someone’s time to make an appointment to show up and get my visa.
This is a very frustrating process and It has taught me already that no one else is looking out for my interests and if I just sit by the side and let people take advantage of me then I will never make it to Chile. The best I can do now is keep calling and hope someone cares enough to answer the phone.