Posted by: Jeff | March 8, 2009


Well for the past two weeks I’ve been taking care of some last minute details before classes start. Speaking of starting classes, they start tomorrow officially, but my classes will be Wednesday and Friday, so I still will be without classes for a bit longer.

So enrolling and getting a student visa is surprisingly more difficult than I would have ever imagined. Think of the Soviet-era practice of buying something. Well instead of just whatever and paying right there, you actually get a ticket, and then take your ticket and pay for whatever you just bought. Now, imagine compounding that over and over, and you can get an idea of how my last weeks have been.

First, I had to get a document that said that I didn’t have a criminal record (Certificado de Antecedentes Penales). So, thinking rationally, I go to the government building where it is to go about getting it. Not that simple. You have to call ahead and make a reservation. So I go ahead and go home and make an appointment. Then you show up at the time, get in line and take a number. Then you wait for your number to be called. So I waited for about 30 minutes, then I had a little interview where the scanned my passport and took my fingerprints. The next day my document was ready so I went back to pick it up (again with the ticket…).

The second part was by far the most difficult. I had to go and interview with the head of the chemical engineering department for him to approve my schedule. What a headache! I spent probably a little over three hours on the phone being bounced around from person to person before someone would finally transfer me to his personal secretary (and then it was not easy to explain to her why I needed to speak to this guy, who was incidentally vice-dean of engineering too). So I go for the interview about an hour early to pick up my papers upstairs before the interview.

Well, I should have come two hours earlier. I get up there and they don’t have the correct piece of paper in hand with my classes enumerated. So, I tried to explain to them that simply printing it out would work. The only problem was that they printed out this sheet already in the chemical engineering department (in another location) and to print it out again, they needed some sort of permission (!!). I never really caught what made this measly piece of paper so important, but apparently it was. After, I ran down to the vicedecano’s office for the interview, and thankfully they understood my circumstances.

Things just run a little differently down here. Service is really never a big priority. For example, when I go into the exchange program’s office, I normally wait while two employees there finish up a conversation (usually about their kids…not really business related) before someone looks to help me. It can be lame from an American perspective, but for them it’s life, and thankfully they normally are more apt to let little problems slide when they know they are (partially) at fault.


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