The weekend before last, I travelled to Vancouver to apply for my long stay visa at the French consulate. And let me tell you, after all of the preparation leading up to my appointment, and the stress of trying to get all of my documents together, my visa appointment was a bit of a letdown!
Unlike the last time I went to France for 8 months and had to apply for a visa de long séjour, this time I actually had to travel to the nearest French consulate (Vancouver, for us Albertans) to physically hand over my documents and to give biometrics, rather than just sending everything by mail. As a result, a ton of planning and preparation (and money!) went into my Vancouver trip. I booked my visa appointment a month and a half in advance; I requested time off work and prayed that I wouldn’t accidentally get scheduled for those days; I booked my flight and a bed in a downtown hostel; and I spent considerable time filling out forms and photocopying all of the documents that I would need for my application. My biggest fear was that I would get to the Vancouver consulate and would be missing an important document, so that I would have to wait for another visa appointment to open up and then fly to Vancouver again to reapply. Because let’s face it, air travel in Canada is not cheap!
[Also, what kind of consulate gives a list of necessary documents on its website, and then ambiguously adds at the bottom of the page, “Please note that additional documents may be required.” Jerks!!!]
But honestly, I needn’t have worried. My visa appointment was a breeze, almost comically so.
On the morning of my visa appointment, I got up super early (not hard, considering that I had been tossing and turning all night in a hot, stuffy, noisy hostel). My visa appointment was not until 11:10 AM, but by 8:30 or so I was already ready to go! I took extra care with my hair and makeup — I mean, the French are known for being stylish, and what if they decided not to let me into the country because I was too disheveled?! I also dressed myself in blue, white, and red (not intentional, I swear, but when I noticed later I was pretty pleased with myself — maybe I got extra points for French patriotism?). I quadruple-checked that I had all of my documents with me, checked out of the hostel, and walked to the French consulate on West Pender Street. I took the elevator to the 11th floor of this huge office building, showed my passport and appointment confirmation to a young security guard in the hallway, and he let me into the French consulate and told me to make sure my documents were in order while I waited.
I don’t know exactly what I expected the consulate to be like, but I always kind of figured that it would be large and impressive — after all, wouldn’t a country like France want its consular staff to work in a space that reflects the grandeur of their great nation? At the very least, I expected it to be a bit like the Passport Canada offices: big and filled with endless lines of cranky people. However, the best description of the French consulate in Vancouver would probably be a glorified closet. It was a tiny, undecorated room with maybe five plastic chairs and two women sitting at desks behind bulletproof glass. There was nobody there but me, two other young women about my age, and a lady with limited English who was being yelled at by one of the women behind glass for not having all of the required photocopies (gulp). I waited for maybe five minutes while the other two handed over their documents, and then I heard my name. More than a little nervous, I walked up to the formerly yelling woman with my pile of documents in hand, but I was worrying for nothing. The entire appointment went something like this:
Consulate lady: (in English) Hello. Documents please.
(I handed over my passport, arrêté de nomination, visa application form, OFII form, two photos of myself, and multiple photocopies, praying that I wouldn’t get yelled at.)
Consulate lady: What kind of long stay visa are you applying for?
Me: A teaching assistant visa.
Consulate lady: What date are you arriving in the Schengen Zone? (I had forgotten to fill out that part of the visa application … oops!)
Me: September 24th.
Consulate lady: Have you applied for a long stay visa before?
Me: Yes, I studied abroad in Dijon from October 2012 to–
Consulate lady: May 2013, mhmm. (If she had that information already on my application, why was she asking??) Was it a class B visa?
Me: Ummmm … I think so? (Honestly I had no clue!)
Consulate lady: Please place the fingers of your right hand on the pad to your right. (I did, and then did the same with the fingers of my left hand and then both of my thumbs.) Ok, your visa should be ready sometime next week. Here is your original work contract and your tracking number. You should start tracking your visa sometime next week.
Me: Great, thank you!
And that was that. I don’t think the appointment lasted more than 3 minutes! Walking out of the consulate, my thoughts were essentially, I travelled all the way to Vancouver for THAT?!
Luckily, though, I had another good reason to go to Vancouver: to see my best friend Jennifer, who was coming up from Seattle to meet me for the weekend! I hadn’t seen her in 16 months, so we had a couple days of catching up and exploring Vancouver ahead, and that made my trip to Vancouver worth it! We stayed in the cutest AirBnB listing in Kitsilano, had the most delicious meals at local restaurants (for anyone travelling to Vancouver, I HIGHLY recommended Acme Café, Chewies, The Oakwood Canadian Bistro and Fable), did some shopping, got pedicures, drank Nova Scotian wine, and did a ton of walking all over Kitsilano and downtown Vancouver. Not only was it wonderful to see my best friend again, it was my first weekend off all summer, and I didn’t realized how badly I needed both girl time and a bit of a break. I can honestly say that it was the perfect weekend.
The nice thing about our weekend, too, was that it served as an important reminder of why I wanted to move to France again in the first place. Ever since I received my work contract in June, I’ve been really caught up in the logistics of moving to another country, and specifically to a small village where I know nobody and where there will potentially be no wifi. I’m naturally a worrier and (at times) a pessimist, and I have a habit of imagining everything that could go wrong so that my dreams will not all be crushed when things don’t go as planned (and so that I can be pleasantly surprised when things go right!). My worst case scenario vision of France right now includes me sitting alone in a cramped, gloomy apartment as heavy rain falls outside, trying my best to cook a meagre meal on a hot plate and trapped in my tiny village because the bus out of town only runs on weekdays. Not a super encouraging scenario to have in my mind as the departure date approaches!
And yet, the more I think about it, my trip to Vancouver is probably a mini-analogy of my future trip to France. Before I left for Vancouver, I worried endlessly about my visa, but in the end my fears were unfounded and unnecessary. Not every minute was fun (ex. transport problems getting into Vancouver, my shitty hostel, the three-minute visa appointment), but the vast majority of it was! I enjoyed delicious food and great company, had a ton of fun, got to explore a new place, and actually had a bit of a break to relax and reflect on life and some of the crazy things that have happened in the last year. And I think France will be like that too! Not every moment will be Instagram-worthy (though hopefully a lot of them will be, hehe), but that makes sense; I’m going to be living and working there, not just passing through on vacation, and life has its share of ups and downs even in a country as breathtaking as France. I know from experience that dealing with the French administration can be a nightmare, and that there will be times when I struggle to be understood and to understand, and that sometimes I will be lonely and miss home like crazy. But I also know that since I’m only working 12 hours per week, I will finally have some downtime and will be able to explore new places, and have fun, and reflect, and challenge myself in new ways, and hopefully learn a bit about myself in the process! That, in addition to being paid to speak English with French kids, is the whole reason that I wanted to go back to France in the first place! It was a timely reminder to myself, and because of it I am feeling a lot less stressed about the coming year and a lot more excited than I have in a long time.
Also … the consulate lady was right about my visa! It arrived right on schedule, a mere six days after my appointment, which means that the last pre-France administrative obstacle is behind me. France, I’m coming for you in 27 days!!!
[P.S. For any fellow TAPIFers who may be reading this, I can confirm that no additional documents were required in the end. Phew!]