Monday, July 24, 2006

The Visas and other Stories - Part 1

The time before we actually went to Europe was so troublesome that it will take me three parts to recount it.

Here is how it worked. We were going to the EDHEC Business School in Nice, France for a 3 month exchange program. As it happened there was a one month break between end of term at IIM Calcutta and the start at EDHEC. Such a providential gift of free time could not possibly be wasted sitting at home!!

Hence formed the plan of using that time to wander a bit more around Europe. That was easier said than done. One of my dad's friends, Jayendra Thobani, had always been very enthusiastic about me coming to visit them in London. So I asked my dad to talk to him and ask him if he would agree to us staying at his place for some time. He also needed to agree to Tirthankar staying at his place. He agreed to both.

But that was just the start of the complications. Most of the complications were introduced due to visa issues. Visa issues continue to be spooky even in this age of globalisation. Things like the country of origin, country of stay, country of first entry and the well meant but not entirely accurate advise of travel agents can drive you nuts when applying for a visa.

Since we were going to live in France we needed to apply for a visa to France first. But we wanted to visit London on the way so we needed a ticket which took us from Mumbai to London and then to some city in France (not decided at that point). According to the travel agent if we landed in London first the French embassy would ask us to take a UK visa first. Similiarly since our ultimate destination was France the UK embassy would ask us take a French visa first. Hence the travel agent came up with a good suggestion that we book both kinds of tickets, show the one going directly to France to the French embassy, cancel it, and then show the other one to the UK consulate. The UK consulate was there in Kolkata. But the French one was in Delhi. On top of that the travel agent didnt know much about how to get French visas, and even lesser how to get a French student visa. The French embassy website wasnt very helpful and gave instructions contrary to what the embassy gave on calling up. We were absolutely unsure about what to do. The travel agent added his bit by forgeting to tell us that only the iternary of the flight and not the flight ticket itself is required for the the visa. If we wanted some level of certainty about our trip we needed to apply for a French visa early so that we could apply for a UK one well in time as well as book our tickets with some surity. Obviously the more we delayed the more expensive the tickets became.

Managing the trip to Delhi (for French visas) wasnt proving to be easy, forget doing an Euro trip! The 4th term at IIM Calcutta is the most hectic and the French embassy would entertain us on only Wednesday and that too only within a short window of time. I had spoken to a female called Archana at the French embassy and she had clearly and authoritatively outlined the procedure. I was really thankfully to find a person who spoke with some assurance.
(All this was connected to London because if we didnt have to do the visas so early, for fitting in London, I could have peacefully got the visa in Mumbai itself, after end of term)


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