Friday, 25 May 2012

Applying for a US student visa at the Brussels Embassy: things they don't tell you

1. You should try to get there as early as possible: the earlier you get there, the less you'll have to wait. 

My appointment was at 8.30, and I was there around 8.10. (A minor miracle in itself.) But there were already nine people ahead of me in the queue. You stand outside, and after ticking your name off on the list they let you in one by one to have your passport checked and your bags scanned.

2. If you ask, you can take a wallet in with you, or a book, or a magazine, and there is somewhere you can leave the rest of your things safely.

The call-centre guy had refused to tell me anything about whether there would be anywhere I could leave my bag, and the website had insisted that I could only take the relevant documents in with me - absolutely nothing else. Hence much panic about what I would do with my stuff and how I would pass the hours that I had been warned I would spend in there. 

3. If you don't take in your book or magazine, never fear: CNN is on. 

However, in the mornings, it's all the international stuff, which is terribly disappointing if you're me and you just want to hear about Mitt Romney's latest gaffe on the campaign trail. (But of course it's in the middle of the night in America, so even he is relatively safe from gaffing.)

You can also admire the photos of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and President Obama hanging on the wall. I liked them - their smiles seemed to say "welcome to America". That's what I liked to think, anyway.

4. Like everywhere else in Belgium, you take a number as you walk in, then wait for it to come up on the screen. 

At this point, they'll ask you to hand over most of your documentation, then take your fingerprints. Then you sit back down and wait for your number to flash up again, at which point you go round the corner to a different booth. I was expecting interview rooms, for some reason. But no - just a booth. 

5. They probably won't ask you anything you've prepared yourself to answer. 

For example, I had a whole list of reasons why I have enough ties to Belgium to come back when my course is over, and a whole speech prepared about why the MFA at American University is perfect for me. I wasn't asked any of that. But when I said I taught French, the guy switched into French - just to check, I think - and he also asked me what my father's job is. (He's contributing financially, so it's not as random as it seems.) The first question was "what's your background"? A little vague, perhaps. The second was "what makes you want to write"? and I blanked and totally forgot to mention Aaron Sorkin, thus squandering a nice little anecdote about how it's thanks to him that I got my visa. Instead, I'll have to tell the story of feeling a little treacherous, as I walked away, for not having given credit where credit is, in fact, due. 

6. They tell you there and then whether you've been approved.

I was expecting a nail-biting wait. I was very glad not to have one!

7. You walk out realising you still have various pieces of documentation that you took great pains to find or print, and checked multiple times. 

I'm not sure what that's about. I mean, if they wanted a photo of me, why didn't they ask me for it? But whatever. I'm approved. I don't care anymore! It's over.

8. It's nowhere near as scary as all the stuff you've read might suggest. 

When I said "oh, I wasn't expecting that question", I didn't get a black mark against me or my head bitten off, but rather a friendly joke. The people are nice and not at all intimidating. Don't be scared!


Jennifer said...

I'm happy for you, Claire! I know how stressful getting visas can be, so I'm glad you were treated well. Are you going to AU in Washington, D.C.? I lived on the Tenley Campus one summer while I was doing research for my dissertation and it was really nice. Bonne chance et amusez-vous aux États-Unis!!! :)

Milagros Kilduff said...

First of all, congratulations on getting your student visa to the US! I’m sure you’ll have a grand time learning there. Secondly, I definitely agree with this list, especially the part about them not asking questions you prepared for. The best thing to do during visa application interviews is to just stay calm, be yourself, and tell the truth. They usually ask questions about you as a person, maybe to throw you off or maybe to make sure you know what you’re doing.