Winter to summer. I miss wearing coats.

Right, so, where was I? Oh yes, coming out of the dark of depression and surrounded by snow. Well, I’ll have you know I’m on medication, back to my usual antics, and Britain is currently melting into the sea from heat. But what’s happened since then eh?

Of course, we went to America! The weather may have been playing silly buggers, but it was wonderful to see my family again, come rain or shine! It was so strange coming back to Tennessee after being gone seven years. Some things haven’t changed a bit, and some things are unrecognisable now. Poor M had to witness quite a bit of reminiscing, but we took him on a goodly few tours of the attractions in the area. All in all, going somewhere warm with warm hearted people was just what the doctor ordered. I can’t wait until I can see them all again next. ūüôā

What was not so fun in our Transatlantic Tour was that on about day three, little Ophelia went missing. And stayed missing. Friends and family were out canvassing the neighbourhood, posters were put up, and all the tricks were tried to get her home. Of course, she then remained missing the rest of our trip (nearly three weeks!) and we were all beside ourselves wondering where she was. We got home, canvassed the area ourselves, and then with no luck put ourselves to bed.

Lo and behold! Who would show up meowing at us in bed at 4 AM? Oh yes. She was skinny and a bit hoarse, but our little fur face was home safely! ‚̧

After the highs and lows of our big holiday, life settled down into more normal paces. Well, normal for us anyway. At work, I finished two projects on digitising whale skulls and some of the fossils Darwin sent back from his journey on the Beagle. They were both challenges to 3D scan in their own ways, but very cool and totally surreal to handle. And now they’re available to a much wider audience than before!

This April, one of my sister-in-laws and one of my work colleagues were both absolute Wonder Women and successfully ran the London Marathon! M and I came down to watch them run and cheer them on, but mostly just spent the time nearly seeing them and running back to the tube for the next spot. You may not get nearly as many steps as the runners, but cheering for the marathoners is a pretty heavy walking activity itself. It was really interesting to be a witness to such a big event, and I would recommend doing it at least once. I can’t vouch for the running bit – you’d have to ask them! ūüėČ

In a truly miraculous moment at the end of April, I took the UK driving test and PASSED. That’s right, I’m now licensed and insured to drive both manual and automatic cars on my shiny new British license. Honestly, you should all be more concerned.

May snuck up on us and soon enough it was time to head back to Lyme Regis with the Museum team. We brought down a load of 3D printed specimens and our scanner again, but this year we also had a 3D printer in the background for people to watch. I don’t think many people realise quite how long it takes to print something until you see the process. We were shortly mobbed as soon as we opened each day because this year we had play dough to ‘create your own fossil.’ After a child (or some parents) finished with it, we would do a quick 3D scan of it. Let’s just say we’re still processing some of those files. It was popular.

After hours, it was great to catch up with some people that I hadn’t seen since the year before, and we all got to bask in glorious sunshine at the sea – a rare treat not to be taken lightly. Brought home some fossils found on the beach, and some of our staff even won some ice trophies for going above and beyond in helping make the event happen this year. And so, so many chips were eaten. There’s something magical in the fryers at Lyme Regis I think.

A month went by and we all recuperated from Lyme Regis. At the end of it, M and I took a mini holiday to Hungerford for his birthday weekend. It’s a quiet town outside of Reading, and we went when the weather was perfect for it. Took a stroll through town, had dinner at a lovely place off the High Street, and stayed in a listed pub, The Bear Hotel. Parts of the building go back to the 17th century, but the room we stayed in with the view of the river was very much from the 21st century.

The next morning, we packed up and continued west towards Tetbury to spend the rest of the birthday weekend with M’s family. It just so happened to be the weekend of the Tetbury Woolsack Races, so of course we had to go see them. The aim of the game is to carry a sack full of wool and run up the steepest hill in the village. It was quite possibly the most British thing I think I’ve witnessed to date, and it was really fun to watch! We took a stroll DOWN the hill afterwards, and immediately could see why people were so exhausted by the top of it. That hill is deceptively brutal!

For his birthday, M got a homebrew kit from my parents, which of course needed to be tried straightaway. Well, as straightaway as one can brew things anyway. After a quick stop to the shops for brewing sugar, M was busy concocting his brew. I mostly just stayed out of the way until the bottling process, which is more of a two person event. The beers have now finished brewing and have been sampled. The neighbour gives it a solid rating, though M is convinced it tastes more like real ale than the lager it was intended to be. Ah well, just means we need to make more eh?

What else has happened? Well, M’s other sister and her family have moved into a new, beautiful house and their cats are ALL ABOUT the fact that the downstairs lets them do a circular patrol. We’ve now been in our new build for over a year, and are finally putting down some literal roots in the form of a raised garden bed.

What I didn’t know was that new builds often use whatever junk soil they have available to get the yard to a certain height, and then put on a thin layer of topsoil for the grass to grow on. This was quickly discovered after we tried digging down and hit rock after rock after rock. It was a sweaty, hot day, but after nearly six hours and multiple rest breaks, we finally got the borders in and the plants rooted. As of now, they’re all still alive too!

I have realised at this point that we have had so many BBQs that I’ve stopped taking photos of them. Normally everyone in Britain races to the shops to buy food for a BBQ on a Saturday when there’s a chance the weather might have sun and temperatures above 20C/68F. However with this heatwave, it’s been balmy and sunny for months now.

We’re at the point of planning weekend BBQs without even looking at the weather forecast. People are leaving their laundry on the lines overnight with full confidence that they won’t get dew on them in the morning. Everyone has given up on wearing professional work clothes and just trying to make do with their holiday clothes. Shops have run out of shorts.¬†Truly, Britain is going mad in the heat and sun.

It can’t all be sunny days and BBQs though, and we did have to deal with the stress that is my spousal visa this July. After being married 2.5 years (yay!), it has to be renewed for another 2.5 years. After that, I can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and then even a dual citizenship after that. It ain’t cheap though, and the paperwork required is a righteous pain to compile, even if you’re sensible like we were this time and had organised by month in accordion binders for the last 3 years. All the money has been paid though, and the paperwork sent off, so now it’s just a waiting game to hear back from Home Office. I don’t see why they wouldn’t approve it, but it’s stressful to wait for someone to decide such a big thing in your life.

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The paperwork required this time around for my visa. About half the amount required for the initial application.

After getting that stress sorted, M and I had two partial weeks off, and so we went to the sea to enjoy the sun, and then out into Colchester like tourists. I¬†may have put him on a ‘let’s go find all the really old things in Colchester’ tour, but I think he did remarkably well out of it.

The beach at Walton on the Naze is perfect for lounging in the sand with a book and letting the braver souls toss themselves into the freezing North Sea. (I stuck my toes in it and can confirm that it is still frigid.) The beach huts were absolutely everywhere, and we enjoyed getting a peek inside the ones that were open. They’re basically Sea Sheds, with little kettles, a bed for a nap, and some toys for the beach. I would totally rent one if I thought I was going to spend a few days out there. We also quickly detoured up to the Naze Tower, though didn’t go in as it was getting even hotter and they had the windows shut in it. (!!!)

On our Colchester adventures, we got into town and then promptly into the Castle Museum to avoid the blazing heat of the sun. Colchester is old as all get out, as I have mentioned, and the amount of archaeology they find is impressive. I really enjoy having lived here long enough that I can recognise the names of the streets and villages where the finds were discovered and have an idea of where Roman and medieval Colchester spread.

After the museum, we headed over towards the Balkerne Gate – one of the last Roman gateways still standing in Britain. Next door to it is a pub called The Hole in the Wall, which is quite literal. You can see the Roman wall in the middle of one of the pub walls. Of course we had to pop in, as it definitely fell under the ‘old things’ tour mandate. After a brief stop, we continued on to dinner at the Siege House, which was another old building that was used (and shot at) during the English Civil War. Even if you aren’t into history, the building is beautiful and the food was amazing. Would definitely go back.

So here we are, pretty much caught up with everything in a single post. It’s still too hot in England and the trains are all melting, but other than that life is doing well. Not quite sure what’s in the cards for the next few months, other than praying for rain and keeping on at work. But we shall see, won’t we? ūüôā

 

— Kate

It’s All About the Mentality

Something that you will probably not¬†consider too seriously (but totally should) when studying abroad is what you plan to do with yourself afterwards. After being here a few months I’ve realised that there are three main branches to this – the Education First, the Tourist, and the Not Leaving branches. These are of course geared towards non-EU students doing their entire degree abroad and not study abroad, as it’s all much different and sometimes easier if your country is a part of the European Union. It’s important you figure out early on which one you are, especially if you’re on a limited budget, so you know how to make the best of your year. Let me explain through broad, sweeping stereotypes of the groups.

The Education First

The Education First¬†is at this university because it was the best option for their career choices. They can love, hate, or be indifferent towards this new country because they already have a goal workplace in mind (or lined up¬†for them if they’re lucky). This person will go to events and see cultural attractions if it’s reasonable or doesn’t upend their workload, because their priority is first and foremost towards their education. Depending on the situation, they’ll go home for the long holiday periods and may go home for their dissertation if it’s economically feasible. This student will likely be the one with the smallest sum of student loans, because they’ve been planning in the long term what they want to do with their life.

The Tourist

The Tourist is likely planning on going back to their home country after their degree, but they may try for a job in their host country. Regardless, they aren’t entirely sure when they’ll be back in this new country and want to see and do as much as they can with this definite period of time. They will be travelling to see new cities every other weekend and out on the town as much as they can. They’ll likely try to make as many friends (and memories) as possible because this is a liminal year and should be lived to the fullest. This student¬†will want to save up as much money as possible beforehand and be chill about cheap accomodation and odd hours for inexpensive¬†transport options.

The Not Leaving

The Not Leaving is¬†decently versed in visa regulations and is determined to become one of the limited accepted immigrants into their new country when their degree is done. They will likely be jockeying for anything to tack on their CVs that will make them stand out and will (like the Education First) be hesistant to going out on many¬†adventures across the country. It’s not that they don’t want to go, but they see it as something to be visited later when they’ve got jobs and instead save the money for the few months post-degree that they’ll be applying for work before the student visa runs up. These students will want to save up money like the Tourist, but hoard it for the costs that trying to stay inevitably drag up.

When it comes down to it, most people in this experience won’t know for sure what they want to do until they’re already here. I know there are some folks in my programme that definitely started in one group and have migrated to another, and there are others who came here knowing exactly what they intended to do and are sticking to it. And you know what? That’s awesome either way. It’s just something you need to stop and think about when you decide to do your higher education in another country, and something to consider of the friends you make while you’re there. I know I haven’t gone on as many trips and events as some of the people in my group, and I only hope they don’t think I’m horribly antisocial, just maybe taking a different mentality of my time here. Or maybe that I’m just perpetually broke being a student on student loans. :p

— Kate

 

turns out meeting new people is a lot more complicated than I'd originally thought

The Great Visa Event

You always hear horror stories every now and then with anyone having to deal with federal governments, especially for permits and visas and such. For everyone following my summer’s rambles, you’ve realized that I quickly became one of these stories. At this point, I’ve decided to make a timeline of this ordeal for anyone else that may be searching the internet wondering where their visa and passport are if they end up in a weird situation like I did with an approved visa that just wouldn’t come home!

Without further ado, I give you – The Great Visa Event:

June 30: Completed the application online and paid the visa fee. After recovering from the pain of the standard cost of a visa ($527 in total), I did not choose to pay the additional $170 to have it fast-tracked to me.

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July 3: Completed biometrics in town and received my required receipt. Overnighted the application and all associated documents to the New York City British Consulate. (Didn’t arrive until July 5 due to the federal holiday and honestly probably wasn’t even looked at until Monday, July 7. The overnighting made me feel like I had some control though.) [3 days from start]

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July 8: Received confirmation that my application had been opened and that I should expect a decision in approximately 10 business days. [8 days from start]

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July 17: Visa was approved and I was notified via email in only 7 business days! [17 days from start]

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July 24: Received email stating that I had not sent my application with¬†a completed pre-paid return shipping label and appropriate packaging. (I did, but I’m not going to pick a fight over this. It may have just gotten lost.) Was told to follow specific instructions to give them a PDF of a pre-paid label via email to¬†UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk. I followed instructions and emailed the PDF to the consulate¬†the same day.¬†[24¬†days from start]

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July 31: Used UKVI’s contact form to ask why my tracking information still said pre-shipment. Was told to wait a few days and re-contact them with details.¬†[31¬†days from start]

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August 7: Messaged UKVI through their contact form again and was told that my visa had been approved and they would alert me when it was mailed out. Of which I was already aware.  Tracking status through USPS still showed pre-shipment. [38 days from start]

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August 8: Bought a second shipping label and emailed it to the consulate at UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk again as requested, assuming the first was lost in a spam box.  Sent a message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk as suggested by others that had gone through the approved-application-gone-missing process and asked why my papers were still not in the mail. No response from either, and tracking status still showed as pre-shipment. [39 days from start]

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August 12: Sent a repeat email of the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk asking where my documents had gone. Found another contact form through the UKVI website to lodge a complaint about missing documents after waiting 10 days. Sent them a message with my email and phone number to contact me. (Never did get a response from them, come to think of it.) [43 days from start]

August 13: Sent the PDF of the shipping label to UKVINewYork.Shipping@fco.gov.uk yet again and repeated my message to UKVINewYork.Correspondence@fco.gov.uk again. Called the pay-line for the UKVI and got to speak to a human who told me that there have been delays in shipping out processed visas. (That would have been nice to know.) He sent me all the information he had on shipping instructions for New York and said he’d escalate my case. I was told to call back Friday if I had received no word.¬†[44 days from start]

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August 14: Notified by email that my package would be in the mail in one business day. Email from USPS tracking that stated the package was leaving NYC by the afternoon and later that it had been dropped off at the New York City post office. [45 days from start]

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August 17: USPS tracking showed the package had arrived and left Boise, ID and was expected to be delivered by August 18th. [48 days from start]

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August 18: Visa is here¬†7 weeks¬†from the start of the¬†application! They returned it with my current and expired passport, as well as my original final transcript and the extra passport photos I had sent along. The visa is basically a pretty fancy sticker placed on an empty page in the back of your passport. (Perfectly placed ink line on my left eye there, haha.) Being there for a year for courses allows me to be there one month before and four months after, so it’s valid from September 2014 to the end of January 2016.¬†[49 days from start]

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Needless to say, I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS. A beastly, massive-sized weight of stress has been taken off me and I can now enjoy my last two weeks (two weeks!!) in peace with my friends and family. Let’s do this. I’ve got it. ūüôā

 

[Edit]: Gianni from¬†acrossthehogsback¬†(Another brave soul crossing the pond for a higher education. Go check her out, she’s awesome!) had a great question that I kind of over-answered, but realized that I never mentioned before. After dealing with the¬†vagaries of federal government requests, I can only hope it’ll help someone else looking at the required documents for their student visa. This is all from an American perspective though, so your mileage may vary.

Gianni asked, “Regarding transcripts, was it actually necessary for you to send them or did you just do it preemptively? And did you send newly ordered, official, sealed transcripts?”

Excellent question! I preemptively sent in more than the minimum required documents to avoid any delays (ha!) for my application. In my package to the UK Consulate I sent:

  • A completed application form with my biometrics receipt attached (duh, a requirement).
  • I didn‚Äôt need the Appendix 8 form for my major, so nothing there.
  • My current passport as well as the expired passport
  • 4 passport photographs (The post office only prints them in packs of 8, so I figured some spares wouldn‚Äôt hurt.)
  • My proof of student loan letter from the university, proving I had the ¬£820 a month minimum necessary for my time there (Crazy that living in London will make that ¬£1020 a month!) I thought about adding bank statements for my savings account, but never did. Couldn‚Äôt hurt you if you have it.
  • A printout of my CAS information webpage that the school sent me.
  • Didn‚Äôt need to do the NQF assessment for mine, nor the ATAS clearance.
  • I hadn‚Äôt paid any money to the university because I‚Äôm doing loans, but I did put money down on my flat, so I sent them copies of my email receipts. Apparently that will look good.

For the ‚Äúdocuments used to obtain your CAS‚ÄĚ I sent:

  • An official final transcript from the¬†university I graduated from (I went to 3 before graduating with my BA, long story)
  • Added in copies of the info from the other schools (Reeeeally didn‚Äôt want to pay them more money for official transcripts when ISU had all the info on my final transcript with them.)
  • A photocopy of my fancy degree paper.

Basically, as a US citizen we’re super low risk and they really don’t need much, but if you want to send them everything they have on the list including the things that don’t count for Low Risk Countries, it’s fine.

Oh, and for the love of all that is holy, DON‚ÄôT FORGET THE RETURN ENVELOPE. ūüėȬ†And remember to put the consulate address as the sender!

 

 

— Kate

Oh pants.

Finally just paid the £1.37 a minute to speak to the UKVI help line, even though I feared it would just give me the runaround like their email contact form did. I would like to send a fruit basket or something to the customer service there, as he was able to escalate my case and get me this confirmation this morning:

Visa return email

I can finally chill out and enjoy my last three weeks! (And everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that I have nothing to panic over anymore. ūüėČ ) I’ll now bring you back to the original post due up today – just had to get the good news out before we hit Yellowstone for the weekend and I disappear into a service-free zone.

Let us speak about pants and other adventures in the changes of English. You know, there are all those US-UK translation guides, but at this point surely everyone knows the whole “a fag is a cigarette” and “a bum bag is a fanny pack” and not to mix the two. Honestly though, I don’t smoke and the¬†hip-held¬†bags have not been hip since the middle of the 90s. What would be useful would be to¬†explain such things as PANTS on a more regular basis. There are a lot of slang words that just haven’t crossed either direction and I’m still having to ask for definitions. Hopefully I have learned to safely avoid unknown offensive words, which unless totally confident will consist of my non-acknowledgement of any ethnicity or race. At times, I really think it’d be easier having to actually learn an entirely new language than this shift between Englishes, but it’s entertaining at times too. I remain convinced that American English and British English are not homogenizing, but instead are continuing to separate into different languages entirely. Maybe within the next 250 years.

— Kate

This will be the one to kill me, I swear.

Study Abroad

Got another form letter back from the New York embassy yesterday:

UKVI email 4

Not a peep from the VAC about it being posted via SMS, email, or junk mail (I assume physical post?) Don’t have a receipt from the VAC with any number to track either. From what I’ve found, they can take up to 10-15 business days to send it out, so it might be sitting around in New York until August 15th for all I know. Ugh, whatever. As long as it gets here before the start of September. Surely to god it doesn’t take a month to send an already approved visa and passport back?

Anyway, may as well focus on something brighter and more useful, so I thought I’d tell you all about my family and our history of hosting exchange students.¬†We have¬†had exchange students nearly every year since I was 15 – almost a decade now. I have been honored to learn from students from Germany, South Korea, Finland, Switzerland, Thailand, and Mexico while they lived with us for nearly a year. Living with internationals can sometimes be rough at first as you both get a crash-course in cultural differences, but by the end you have a new member of the family. I cannot help but believe that this unique experience has led me in the direction to¬†where I am going now.

I cannot recommend hosting an exchange student enough. You learn so much about their worldview as well as your own (and oh are teenagers brutally honest), and it’s the closest thing to broadening your mind with travel if you cannot afford to travel yourself. You will be wiser on current events around the world and start to see the US from a foreign perspective. You get to try delicious food they cook and occasional sweets when family back home sends care packages. (Germany has excellent chocolate, and Finland’s cloudberries are amazing!) You will learn that language alone can greatly dictate a worldview and get an idea for a culture by the language they speak. (You will also learn the useful skill of defining abstract concepts in English to students that don’t understand the words.) You realize that other people in the world are different – not weird, not wrong, not right – just different.

If you’ve ever considered hosting an exchange student, let me recommend the programs we went through – Youth For Understanding (YFU)¬† and Education First (EF). Hosting a student is not nearly so expensive as many people think. At the bare minimum you are only required to provide¬†a separate bed, suitable study area and three meals per day. However, they quickly become another member of the family and you’ll end up treating them just the same. People do the programs for many reasons – to just enjoy the experience, to expand the minds of their own family, to pay it forward, to stave off empty nest syndrome, or even for the chance of a scholarship to be exchange students too! And an important point – you aren’t just given a kid with no warning. You get a list of potential students to pick from with all kinds of important criteria you can sort through like¬†age, religion, home country, gender and hobbies.

So consider an exchange student for a year. You’ll come out a changed and better person for it. ūüôā

— Kate

Take chances when you’re young.

It’s now been a little over a month since I sent out all my paperwork and passport to the UKVI for my visa and while I’ve been accepted, I’ve yet to get said visa back. Somewhere along the way, my pre-paid return envelope has been lost and so a week after accepting me, they told me they needed another one. Urg. So I sent them one via email as requested on July 24th. They did warn me:

Problem with Application email

And so I wait with no word. The shipping info on USPS doesn’t show a thing, but it’s also USPS so I’m not really surprised that it has no tracking available. Priority mail should only take 3 days once shipped, and it’s now been 8 (business, not weekend) days. After scouring the interwebs, I only found a general email as a contact to their office, so I sent them a message and got a fairly prompt reply:

UKVI email 5

So I’ve sent¬†them an email this afternoon to see what’s up. I can hope that USPS just goofed and didn’t get the tracking in, but I fear my passport is still sitting in a drawer somewhere in New York when I’m supposed to be outta here in less than a month. No bueno. No bueno indeed.

 

— Kate