In Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris describes his experience living abroad, saying, “Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.” I love that, and I think it’s very apt to describe the experience — while I don’t think it’s necessarily something everyone should do, it was definitely something I needed to do, for myriad reasons. And the risks and challenges have been well worth it — traveling and living abroad, I have moved toward a new perspective on myself, the world around me, and my place therein.
And now I have my very first visa, a hard copy representation of the journey to go along with the more abstract — that is, less tangible but no less real — elements of the experience.
My lunchtime private student cancelled our meeting last Tuesday, so I took advantage of a few free hours between my morning and evening classes to head downtown to pick up my visa, having recently received notice that my application had been processed and approved.
I arrived at the government building at 10:30am, went to the third floor as directed by the sign downstairs, showed the little old man on duty my passport and letter from the government inviting me to pick up my visa, and then went down to the second floor, as directed, with a slip of paper indicating that I was line-waiter number 229.
When I walked in the door of the waiting room on the second floor, I was not terribly surprised (nor terrifically happy) to see by the big electronic sign that they were currently assisting line-waiter number 101. One hundred and eighteen people ahead of me, eh? Good thing I brought my Kindle. And a sandwich.
The wait was long but not unpleasant. I read a fair amount; wrote a bit in my journal; and later struck up a conversation with a fellow line-waiter, a man from Haiti who was picking up his renewed documentation after living in Chile for nine years. He spoke no English, and I speak no French, so we talked in (not always flowing) Spanish, whiling away the minutes until his number came up.
Minutes and hours passed, and finally, at a little past 2pm, it was my turn. I handed over my passport and government letter for inspection, and went back to wait again. A short while later they called my name and returned my passport to me, and I was elated to see my very first visa pasted neatly inside.
So now I am officially a legal, documented immigrant in Chile, albeit a temporary one. Very cool.
As Sadaris says, it isn’t always easy living in a foreign country; in fact there are times when it’s decidedly not easy. But, in my view at least, there are very few things in life that are both easy and transformative. And living abroad is nothing if not transformative.