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Scared Straight: So, You're Stuck in The States.

I’m a punctual person. So, when I turned in my visa application a little late, I figured luck would be on my side and it wouldn’t matter. Boy was I wrong! This blog is meant to scare you straight, but also to give some insight into my experience while waiting at home.

The visa application is quite the process, so CEA does a wonderful job of compiling some of the trickier documents for you. The rest is all on you: passport-style pictures, bank statements, notarized copies of finances, etc. This was the first major governmental application I had to fill out without my parents’ help, so there was a steep learning curve. Visa applications can take up to 60 days to be processed, and CEA recommends turning them in much earlier than that. If only I had listened!

However, this post is not a pity party. I turned it in late, and now there’s nothing I can do but wait for it to arrive. Instead, I’ll share five tips and coping strategies I’ve been using to keep my spirits up.


Make contact with as many people there as you can.

 

This has been the most vital piece of feeling connected to my study abroad program in Prague. I reached out to my roommate to let her know I would be late, and ever since we’ve kept in close contact. We’ve already planned a couple of trips to take so I can “catch up” once I arrive, and it’s nice to hear about what life will look like (very) shortly for me!

Reach out to your professors!! All of my professors have been extremely accommodating of my situation; and because we all have experience with virtual learning from the pandemic, Teams or Zoom is usually an option. This does mean some early mornings, my 8:00 AM is now a 1:00 AM, but it’s invaluable to be able to interact with professors and classmates live. Professors will all be pleased that you’re still staying engaged in the material given your circumstances. Patience is key! I had a tough first week figuring out a new school’s system remotely (as you can see below), but by the second week, everything went smoothly.

KH - 1

Get ahead in school work.

 

Use this time of boredom and waiting to start working on any assignments that can be completed ahead of the due date. My number one motivation is imagining how much free time to explore I’ll have once I arrive. Now, I’m three weeks ahead in homework for one class, readings are all completed days before class, and I’ve even started thinking about midterm paper topics. This isn’t the most exciting piece of advice, but it will pay off once you land in your new home.

 

Use your visa tracking number.

 

When you mail or turn in your application, ask your consulate for your visa application number. Type your number in the second box pictured below. This option saved me countless calls to the consulate asking if it was approved yet. Each consulate has slightly different systems, so be sure to check with your region’s process.


KH - 2

 

Keep a routine similar to your typical college semester experience.

 

The first week after missing my original arrival date I treated it like an extension of winter break. While it’s always important to take time to relax, it became an endless loop of “lazy days.”

 I noticed a huge improvement in my mental health when I started waking up at 8:00 AM instead of 10:30 AM, going on walks, heading to the library to do homework instead of laying in my bed, and limiting how much TV I was watching. Basically, I was mimicking a typical day at the University of Iowa where I usually study. I found I was more energetic and it was easier to focus on assigned readings.


Lean on your support system at home.

 

It’s okay to grieve your situation. All of my friends who previously studied abroad exclaimed how quickly it goes by, and here I am in the States missing precious weeks of the experience! I’m stuck in a middle ground, not at UIowa but also not in Prague. However, constantly worrying about when my visa will arrive, when I’ll book my flight, or how many authentic Czech meals I’m missing doesn’t make the waiting go by any faster. 

Perspective is crucial. What are you experiencing now that you would have missed if you had left when you expected? I was able to go to my cousin’s birthday party, watch the Super Bowl while eating my mom’s chili, and see my sister score her first goal of the season in soccer. Although it’s not an exciting new European town, I’m still making memories. Find someone close to you to confide in. The good, the bad, the sad.

Before I know it, I’ll be abroad and look back on this time as a bump in the best journey I’ve taken yet. Every day, I choose to use this setback as a way to grow; and I hope you do too.


Kathryn Hilt is the Spring 2022 CEA MOJO Blogger in Prague, Czech Republic, and is currently studying at University of Iowa.
 
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