Let me start this blog post by saying that my Erasmus experience, so far, is the best that has ever happened in my life. If you are the type of person who wants adventure, who wants to try something new, who is outgoing and wants to meet a lot of people, and who wants to be exposed and serve as a melting pot of different cultures and personalities, then this challenge is definitely for you. If you are up to the challenge of packing your whole life in a couple of bags and suitcases, moving in to a new country and adjust all over again almost every six months, moving out just when everything is almost settling in, then I encourage you to apply.
To the new batch of IMFSE students who already started their journey, congratulations! This experience is a roller-coaster-ride of emotions. You will probably experience a lot of “first times”. I, through IMFSE, experienced for the first time to go out of my country, to see and play snow, to do backpacking and visit different countries in just a couple of days, to eat local delicacies, to try authentic Belgian waffles, beers, and fries, to shop at the famous IKEA in Sweden where it is actually from, to have “fika”, to say common Belgian and Swedish phrases, to know how -18°C feels like, and a lot more.
But, let me burst your bubble. Being in a mobility program is not only rainbows and chocolates. There is always the stress of finding accommodation. You will, at some point, experience being a homeless person, scouring the streets of the city trying to find a place you can call home. There is the stress of putting everything in your luggage and hoping that it will not weigh over the limit as things accumulate over time. There is the emotional stress of leaving people you made friends with and of sad the possibility that you might never see them again.
But for me, and I am speaking this based on experience, the worst side of being in a mobility program is the bureaucratic process; i.e., VISA APPLICATION. For the lucky holders of the powerful passports in the world, you can end reading this blog post if you opt to, hahaha! But for those who are in the bottom of the passport ranking list, you might find this post helpful in the future and you know who to contact just in case this unfortunate events regarding visa happen to you which I hope not, though. These tips apply mostly for UK Visa but there are other things that you might find helpful as well.
- Request for your CAS number immediately after receiving your Offer Letter.
- Read the instructions of the visa application carefully and prepare all necessary documents. I was refused an entry clearance visa because apparently, I did not submit a tuberculosis screening test. There is an exemption to the rule, though. There is a clause that, at the time of online application, if you have been living in a country for more than 6 months which is not required to submit that test and was not away from that country for more than 6 months as well. Remember that this requirement is based on residency and not on nationality.
- If you believe that your application has strong grounds, request for an administrative review. You can ask the university for help if the case is a bit too complicated. They are very supportive to their future students and they can contact the Home Office directly.
- Better check with the Visa Application Center first than to shell out money to call and email the Home Office.
- Do not buy flight tickets if you do not have your passport in your hands. An assurance that you will receive the passport is not enough.
- Always have a back-up plan. I missed my flight and because late bookings are very expensive, the cheapest option to go from Brussels to Edinburgh is using two bus journeys although it took me 20 hours to arrive.
- Do not lose hope and bring with you a lot of patience. Patience is a virtue, indeed.
Despite all the hardships that I went through to get to Edinburgh, the journey made me a better person, I met good people along the way and experienced cool stuff. One notable person is the Border Police who checked my documents. He then saw the glorious “International Master of Science in Fire Safety Engineering” in my school documents. “You should have been here a few hours ago. We had a small fire earlier.” I smiled back and we had a short chat. He wished me well for my studies and he told me to have a good time in the UK. I also got to experience crossing the underwater tunnel at the English Channel. The bus went inside a gigantic train! After less than two hours of being shaken, the bus went out of the train. Voila! “I am in the UK, finally!” Although the journey to Edinburgh did not become easy on me, so far I am in love with this city so stay tuned to next adventures.
The bus going inside the train!
This last part is a shout-out to all the persons and institutions who were part of this overwhelming turn of events. To Jane O’ Loughlin of the International Student Advisory Service who called the Home Office personally to expedite the administrative review and to follow-up on my passport, thanks a lot! To Grunde Jomaas, our professor, I appreciate that you keep updating on me from time to time and that you even moved one class the next day for me to be there.
To the Paris Visa Application Center, the university told me that two other students got delayed when they applied from your office. I hope that in the future, other students will not suffer the same misfortune.