A first attempt to become a proper academic

When I came back from my first international conference as a PhD student, I was feeling good. There had been a lot of interest in my Fronteiras Explorers project and the research that would ensue and I enjoyed talking about it all academically. This motivated me to apply to deliver a short series of lectures to college students through a research lectures prize promoted by the University of St Andrews, the institution which validates my degree (yes, that’s right, peasants – I am a St Andrews postgraduate student). Granted, it may have been a bit bold for someone who had been a doctoral candidate for a few months to apply to this and – spoiler alert! –  I didn’t get it.

I have recently written about boldness for the PhD Women Scotland blog, which you can read here, but I have come to realise that my own blog is largely about the rejections I’ve faced in the past few years and looking back to that first attempt at applying for an academic job might be useful just now. As I said above, I wasn’t too far into my PhD so I had to look back to my journey and propose to lecture about things that I already knew instead of the things I was yet to discover. So here’s the full pitch:

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Theme: A step beyond transculturalism: syncretic theatre/performance

Lecture 1: From multiculturalism to syncretism

An introductory lecture analysing the development of the concepts of multiculturalism, transculturalism, and syncretism applied to theatre/performance throughout the 20th century to the present day within the respective postcolonial contexts.

Aims: to gain understanding of how the different concepts of fusion in theatrical performance have evolved together with changes in the political context of the world; to identify the differences between multiculturalism, transculturalism, and syncretism.

Lecture 2: Three case studies

Looking at previous research and two practical projects undertaken by the lecturer as foundations for the current investigation into syncretic theatre, a discussion about potential strategies and threats found in this kind of work. The case studies to be analysed are:

  • The Kuarup funeral ritual of the Kamayura tribe of Brazil: religion or performance?
  • Fronteiras Explorers – a three-week artistic residency in South America
  • La Niña Barro – a devised physical theatre piece based on a collection of poems by a Spanish writer, using folk music from Zimbabwe

Aims: to discuss the points of intersection between ritual and performance in a non-European culture; to look at and challenge concrete examples of fused theatrical cultures and techniques.

Lecture 3: Afro/Scottish theatre

Presentation and discussion of a survey of Scottish theatre productions with a connection to African culture staged since 1999.

Aims: to contextualise the object of the research and its relevance in contemporary Scotland.

Statement:

The proposed series of lectures will further the mission of St Leonard’s College by contributing some new research pieces to Arts and Anthropology scholarship, fostering students’ creativity by encouraging them to draw inspiration for their artistic endeavours from a wide range of sources, and inciting discovery by bringing all this information together in a way that enables them to view their own context from a new perspective.

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If you’re still reading, thank you for staying. I don’t think this was too bad a first attempt to put a wee series of lectures together and I only got generic feedback on the rejection – the usual, “there were too many applicants, the level was very high, etc., etc.”. My research has taken a slightly different turn since and I though I would still like to do it at some point, I have never concluded my survey of Afro-Scottish theatre (which was highly motivated by working with the wonderful Mara Menzies). In any case, the ideas are here now and if anyone reading this is interested, I am more than happy to revisit and negotiate a fee with you. 😉

 

 

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Nothing useful

3 months into my PhD, I got the chance to attend my first conference as a doctoral student, TransCultural Exchange in Boston. Though my paper had been accepted almost a year prior, I was chuffed to have received support from the RCS to help with my travel expenses. Getting funding and presenting a paper at an international conference made me feel like this whole PhD thing was actually not a bad idea. I had sorted out my USA visa before moving back to Scotland, I had my accommodation sorted (staying with a good friend, US citizen, and a letter from her to prove it), I had a letter from the conference organisers to show at immigration. More importantly, I had a UK visa to allow me to come back. As always, I took care to book my connecting flights via somewhere in continental Europe, avoiding Heathrow like the Plague. The fear was there, though. This was months before Donald Trump got elected, but it’s not like the USA ever had a reputation for being nice to Latin Americans arriving at their shores. Additionally, this Latin American in particular had been refused visas to the UK and been branded for at least the next decade. The trauma has spread across my group of friends in Edinburgh, too – I can feel them holding their breath every time I leave the country. But a successful academic career hangs on going to conferences and disseminating research, so I had to brave it.

I flew from Edinburgh to Paris, and from there to Boston. It was February and I’d been checking the weather reports telling me to expect temperatures as low as -20°C! I packed my thickest winter clothes and set off.

It’s a good thing that I don’t actually remember much about going through immigration in Boston. What I do remember is the officer asking me what me PhD was on, and my reply being an apologetic and giggly “nothing useful”. Unmoved by the joke, he stamped my passport and let me through the gates. I collected my suitcase and made my way to meet my friend. It was snowing.

In hindsight, I get angry at myself for that reply. It just gets drilled into us that the arts aren’t useful, and although almost all of my peers will disagree with that, I often wonder whether they have to be. Surely they are valuable in many aspects, but do they have to be useful? It reminds me of a cartoon I saw doing the rounds on the interwebz some time ago (I am not entirely sure about its origin, but it has been attributed to the College of Humanities of the University of Utah):

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I have seen some scientist blogs being offended by this, but my own bias quite likes it. Perhaps this is where the utility (if we must) of the arts lies, in complementing the sciences in a fun and humane way. Of course, I wouldn’t have time to have this discussion with an immigration officer, and although I understand that my reply was also charged with feelings brought about by immigration policies not putting the arts in a place of usefulness or value in society, that conversation would be less to do with arts vs sciences and more to with arts vs business (mainly in the US and the UK).

It’s also good that the immigration officer didn’t have the time or inclination to ask me what my paper was about. I can’t imagine that a chat about a site-specific theatre piece exploring ideas of borders in South America with a multicultural cast would have gone down very well.

I had a lovely week in Boston, a city I had never visited before. It was great to visit such iconic institutions as Harvard University and the MIT and to meet interesting new people. It was also fab to catch up with my friend and collaborator Sophie, a talented musician and puppeteer that I had met and worked together with in Edinburgh.

My first post-visa nightmare entrance back to Scotland was smooth. The immigration officers at Edinburgh airport were kind as they always have been with me, but my possession of a Tier 4 visa card still raised the question on arrival: “what are you studying?”. I always feel like I have to crack a joke in these situations, but this time, I proudly said “I’m doing a PhD in theatre at the RCS. Formerly known as the RSAMD, as taxi drivers in Glasgow will never let you forget”. The officer giggled, stamped my passport, wished me all the best, and let me through.

P.S. In addition to the link posted above to a summarised version of the paper, I did a video interview about my project for Black Sheep talks when I was in Boston, which you can watch here.

 

The Infamous Glasgow Effect

I am writing this blog in retrospect and I was looking at my calendar from February 2016 to remind me of what happened then to write the next post.

There’s a scheduled talk about The Glasgow Effect, the controversial project by artist Ellie Harrison that caused a stir in Scotland two years ago. This might seem disconnected from the central theme of this blog – my saga to defeat the UK Home Office and win the right to remain in Scotland long-term, but bear with me.

You can read about the project in various other blogs and media outlets: my main recommendations would be Jen McGregor’s blog, The Courier, The Wee Review. But please also read Ellie Harrison’s own account of the project on her website and draw your own conclusions about where you stand on the merits of the project itself.

Two years and another significant stooshie involving Creative Scotland on, there are two aspects of the project relevant to my life that I would like to pick up on: artists’ mobility and the funding process operating here.

I put in a Freedom of Information request to see Harrison’s original application to Creative Scotland and its assessment. At the application stage, the project was called Think Global, Act Local and it had at its core a rejection of the current model that values internationalisation of the arts, encouraging artists to take their work all over the world, participating in global events. Harrison’s stance is rooted, rightly so, in a deep concern for the environment, stating that the project is about reducing her own carbon footprint by refusing to travel outside of the (at the time of application) Strathclyde region. Honourable as this may sound, I began to think about what that meant for someone like me. It’s not too bad to lead a successful career as an artist in a city like Glasgow, fourth largest in the UK and flourishing with festivals, venues, partners, and opportunities. All things that do not exist (or do, to a much smaller extent) in my hometown.

In her post-project report at the start of 2017, Harrison called herself an ‘economic migrant’. I think it’s safe to assume she did not have to go through the motions of applying for a visa to move from England to Scotland (if only we’d won the Indyref, but alas…), so that made me feel uncomfortable. My problem with this aspect of The Glasgow Effect was how simplistic and one-dimensional it was. Here I stand, having to jump through all sorts of loops (which has now taken years of my life) to satisfy the powers that be that my work as a Brazilian artist [?] has value in Scotland, so forgive me if I feel discomfort and – yes – anger at hearing a successful British artist with a steady job, many gigs, and public support call herself an ‘economic migrant’ and claiming that you can be just as successful making work in your back garden.

The other thing that rubbed me up the wrong way was the funding process itself. As I understand, the Open Project funding guidelines clearly stated the funding should not be used for academic research purposes. Harrison declares on her application that the funding would be use to relieve her of teaching duties at the Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee to free up her time and save her the travel. It then emerged she would give the money to the college to hire her replacement, and that this application was submitted as part of her work as a lecturer/researcher. Though the college eventually withdrew support and granted her unpaid leave so she could keep the funding, Creative Scotland never quite clarified the breach of their own guidelines in this case. This happened when I was in the second term of my first year as a PhD student, thinking about how I was going to fund my research practice and being told with all letters that I would not be able to apply for Open Project funds. With an increasingly large number of artists straddling academia (out of necessity or genuine curiosity), maybe Creative Scotland should revise its guidelines, particularly after accidentally funding an academic research project.

The project shifted its shape, content, aims, many times throughout the year and I am still not entirely sure of its outcomes. What remains and every so often returns, however, is this wave of angst. I am still angry at Ellie Harrison. Not for creating the project, not for getting funded, but for having an excellent platform and not tackling deeper issues. For not actually challenging the educational system and the current industry models as she said she would, for missing an opportunity of speaking up for all the actual migrant artists whose work is measured solely on mobility and grandiose for the purposes of an Exceptional Talent visa. For not turning her privilege and position on its head and making a really radical decision of pointing out the flaws in the process. I kept expecting her to turn around and say that this was the game all along, but that didn’t happen. And now, just over two years on, I don’t know what Ellie is doing, but I’m still bending over backwards working more than I should to dig myself out of my overdraft, to pay for my PhD out of my own pocket, and trying to create internationally relevant work so I stand a smidge of a chance of remaining in Scotland.

 

 

Re-entering the industry

I had been ‘in exile’ for three years, between September 2012 and November 2015. That may not seem like a lot, but when you work at such small-scale in such a closed industry like theatre and performance, it feels like a huge gap in your career. I tried to keep developing professionally as best as possible during that period, attending workshops and residencies that were within my reach and organising my own projects to keep being seen on both sides of the Atlantic. Within a couple of months of arriving back in Porto Alegre, I organised an intervention for the International Migrants Day. In early 2013, I managed to get a grant from Creative Scotland to run a residency in my hometown. In 2014, I created La Niña Barro, working for 6 months over skype with the performers in Spain, and took it to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it had a nightmare run, but it went on to tour Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, and the USA, winning an award in Miami just after I moved back to Edinburgh. I mean, I tried to keep myself in the loop, relevant, and in people’s minds. It’s hard enough when you are in the same city, let alone in a different continent. But now I was back and to make the most of the 3 years ahead, I had to re-enter the Scottish theatre industry.

For the first couple of months back, I signed up to everything I could. I needed to show face, catch up with people. I attended an excellent two-day seminar in Glasgow organised by Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, including a one-to-one appointment with a producer facilitated by the Federation of Scottish Theatre. I went to a launch event for a network of artists of colour. I attended the recently-formed EPAD networking events. I turned up at Creative Salon meet-ups. And I went to the theatre furiously. I went to see lots and lots of plays – granted, mostly at our main stages.

All the networking amounts to nothing if you don’t have much to talk about, though. OK, I had my PhD to talk about, but I needed to start making theatre again. I hadn’t flexed my directing muscles since La Niña Barro, which had been over a year before. Understandably, I was a bit aprehensive about getting back into a rehearsal room with some actors, so my first project after coming back was a low-risk, yet stimulating one: I volunteered as a director for a 24-hour play event at the RCS. Led by some of the MACCT students, the event involved all levels of courses at the institution. We all met at the RCS on the evening of 1st February, 2015 and each director was paired with a playwright and then we got to choose 4 or 5 actors. The actors were sent home and the director/playwright pairs convened in one of MA students’ flat to write a 10-minute script overnight. We gathered back with the actors at the RCS the next morning and rehearsed during the day. In the evening, we showed our pieces to a sold out house. The slightly annoying thing about it was that years ago, back in 2009 or 2010, my friend/long-term collaborator/other side of my brain Jen McGregor and I had tried to run a similar project in Edinburgh, specifically themed for Halloween. We simply could not find a venue that would take us (Summerhall didn’t exist yet, they might have gone for it) and had to abandon the idea. I licked my wounds and got on with it, and I’m glad I did. I got to work with a bunch of fun, talented new people and got to experiment a little with my cultural fusion thing. I had a cast of British, Czech, and Portuguese actors with a Singaporean writer and was allowed to use some Indonesian gamelan instruments. It actually turned out quite beautifully. One of the organisers said he welled up during our tech run.

It was a great challenge and an excellent way to worm my way back into directing without risking my sanity so soon. It was also a way of getting more involved with life at the RCS, as I would have to start honing my academic skills pretty sharply as well. It didn’t actually mean re-entering the industry per se, as it was a student project, but it gave me that little confidence boost that was necessary to pursue bigger things, and something to talk about at networking events.

24hourplay

 

 

 

New strategies: job hunting

OK, so I had made my way back. I had bought myself 3 years to find a way of remaining. I would need to review my strategies and begin to search for a job that would allow me to get a word visa post-PhD. I had already organised to do some volunteer Front of House work for the History Festival, which I really enjoyed doing but was unpaid. I thought I could relax a bit in the first few months as I still had money coming in from my freelance translator work, and therefore avoid wasting too much time and energy in dead-end jobs in hospitality or retail. Don’t get me wrong, a job is a job when you really need it and I have massive respect for people who work in those industries, as I did too during my undergraduate years, but at this stage I needed something to make my CV more attractive to recruiters in the arts and academia.

Just before leaving Brazil again, I had applied to an Assistant Director job with a company specifically seeking an AD that could speak Spanish. I got my rejection email the day after I arrived back in Edinburgh. As usual, no feedback other than ‘we’re not taking your application further, but will keep your CV on file for future reference’. The first email I received was also not meant for me, but for someone called Alejandro – I had to write back and request that my own rejection be confirmed.

Within the first week of being back, I also contacted another organisation about an advert they had put out for a part-time administrator and I never heard back. I also got in touch with someone doing a theatrical project involving multiple languages, who was looking for someone to join the crew. We met and had a great chat, but didn’t end up working together for some reason that I can’t even recall now. I got in touch with a translation agency that I had done some work for before, asking whether they had any in-house vacancies and they said they didn’t. I applied for jobs at the Edinburgh Art Festival and with a publisher, both fruitless. Within a month, I cracked and found myself requesting application packs from a wine shop, which I couldn’t proceed with, as they were advertising full-time positions only and I am restricted by my visa to working no more than 20 hours a week. Just before Christmas, I managed to secure an interview for a customer service role in a well-known tourist attraction. I thought I had done well both at the group and individual interviews, focusing on my previous experience working with walking tours and Edinburgh Castle, but I was turned down. When I asked for feedback, I was told my skill set did not quite match up what they were after. A fried who worked there then told me they weren’t impressed with the fact I was wearing a thick knit jumper for the interview, and that was the real reason why I was turned down.

I tried expanding my search to jobs in Glasgow. I applied for a receptionist position at an art studio, unsuccessfully.

When 2016 started, I applied for Development Officer and box office positions that either never got back to me or just said no. I was worried now. I had been back for nearly three months and hadn’t even found a low-profile part-time job. This was when a good friend stepped in and offered me a temporary gig selling books for Blackwell’s at my old university campus for a couple of weeks. It was minimum wage, it involved some heavy lifting, and it was in Musselburgh, but I was very happy to have that. It was like running my own tiny bookshop and I got to catch up with some former lecturers and update them on what I’m doing now (playing the long game here).

It didn’t solve any of my main problems but it helped me relax for at least another few weeks and get on with stuff. I could do my own reading while on shift during quiet periods, and because the bookshop was set inside the library, it was handy to do some PhD work too. Also, the staff discount to buy my own books was much appreciated.

I would have to face the job hunt again later that month, but for now, things were OK.

 

The smell of hops and chips

I have a few friends who first moved to Edinburgh because of a loved one. That’s not what brought me here, but I wrote about the reasons behind choosing Edinburgh in the first place in another post. This one is about what made me want to stay.

It’s a question I get asked often – twice the past week. So here’s why.

After the mad rush to get everything ready and fly back which followed getting my latest visa and 3 days of airports and airplanes and very little sleep, I landed.

I felt a lot of tension, but unlike previous times, with that validation on my passport, I swiftly breezed through immigration, only a couple of easy questions asked. As ever, the immigration officer at Edinburgh Airport was welcoming and polite. I pity people who have no choice but to enter the UK via Heathrow. On the other side of the gates, two of my most loyal friends awaited patiently and the reunion was joyful. They were also going to welcome me in their home for the next wee while.

It was Halloween. We got back to the flat, had some dinner, I took a shower and slipped my semi-improvised Typhoid Mary costume on and headed out to meet the rest of the gang to celebrate our favourite holiday, but also the date we have defined as our friendship anniversary. 9 years before, the first big night out we’d had together as a group was on Halloween. This was when, during a West Side Story-esque dispute against the Acting department, we decided we’d call ourselves the DTA MoFos (short for Drama and Theatre Arts Motherfuckers, obviously). The name stuck and the bond only grew stronger. I don’t know many groups of friends as large as ours that have manage to stick together for so long. Together, we’ve been through bereavement, illness, exile, divorce… but also travels, the most hilarious nights out, a whole degree and a half (in the case of people who took a year out or who were the year below us anyway), multiple theatre projects, lavish weddings and weddings on a shoestring, a lot of silliness… and now we have added partners, a couple of extra-university friends, and we are starting to train the next generation to cause havoc with the third MoFo sprog on its way. Some of us have moved away from Edinburgh for a few years, but eventually gravitated back. A couple of us were still away but always kept in the loop and coming together for important events. It feels quite magical, actually. This group of friends is the greatest part of my wish to stay in Edinburgh. I’m not afraid of being OTT and confidently claim I can’t live without them.

Then, there’s Edinburgh itself. Edinburgh is highly addictive. It’s the safest city I’ve ever been in. It’s small enough and compact enough to allow you to walk everywhere and to get a real sense of community from it, but also large enough to find everything you need and never get bored. It’s the capital city of Scotland. It’s the festival capital of the world. There’s always stuff to do in Edinburgh. And it’s SO PRETTY! Fucking hovering castle right in the city centre, to begin with. Loads of lush green areas to frolic around in the summer. We complain a lot about the cold and the rain, but the truth is Edinburgh is beautiful in any weather. It’s mysterious in the rain and fog, and breathtaking in the sunshine. The topography of the city is incredibly dramatic and confusing to first-timers. And this is one of the things I love the most – although walking tour guides will tell you that the Old Town tenements were the first skyscrapers in the world, there are no skyscrapers of the kind modern cities get now, so you can always see the vast sky above. And what skies! The quality of the light in Edinburgh is fascinating – it yields the most amazing sunrises and sunsets and does bizarre things in between. It goes from deep purples and intense oranges to the darkest greys that contrast wonderfully with the bright green of Princes Street gardens and bring out the hues of Castle Rock and Arthur’s Seat. And the sky feels bigger and closer up here.

I usually tell people that the typical smell of hospitals/formaldehyde that most people hate makes me feel comforted, because of my medical family. Hospitals and surgeries smell like my parents, so I feel at home when I’m in one. Edinburgh smells of hops and chips. And I noticed when I headed out in my corset and fishnets, covered in fake blood and carrying a plastic sword that night, that as soon as the zesty and greasy whiff hit my nostrils, I felt comforted, at home.

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Dramatic Edinburgh sky – photo by my lovely friend Kit Millar, who kindly authorised me to use it for the blog

A Turkish detour

At such short notice, the cheapest flights I could find were via Sao Paulo and Istanbul with long layovers at both airports.

My bags never properly got unpacked since 2012 and I had left a number of boxes with some of my belongings scattered around friends’ houses in Edinburgh, which I couldn’t wait to get reunited with (friends and boxes). Within a week of getting the new visa, I was ready to go.

I said my goodbyes to family and friends in Porto Alegre once again and flew to Sao Paulo, where I waited for 10 hours overnight. There was no point trying to leave the airport and I had some translation work to do, so I took as much advantage of the free wifi signing in with different email addresses as possible. Your passport and visa gets checked before leaving the country, so I went through security and immigration there and finally boarded my flight to Istanbul in the morning.

I’d never flown with Turkish Airlines before – they were actually quite a good company. I loved flying over the Sahara Desert in the daytime – it’s a bizarre thing, but you can see the desert moving from above. Truly amazing. I’d never been to Turkey before either, but regrettably, I’d get to Istanbul quite late and although I’d have to wait there for 8 hours, I wouldn’t risk going into the city centre at night so that would have to be a holiday at some point in the future.

I never felt insecure travelling by myself, but I did have a couple of odd moments after landing. First, as soon as I got to the lounge, I noticed that there was a guy following me. I wasn’t sure if he’d been on the same flight or not, but I kept walking and took a few turns and stops to see if he’d go a different way or keep going and he turned when I did, stopped when I stopped. I was under the impression he’d said something about me quietly, but I couldn’t make out what. I then spotted a large group of backpackers sat near one of the shops and made my way there, pretending they were my friends. The guy then disappeared. I saw an empty spot on the floor next to the group and sat there. I took my purse out of my rucksack and started sorting out my money to get some food soon and then another guy approached. Smiling, he took a bag of sweets out of his bag and offered me one. I declined and thanked him, he insisted, shoving the bag in my hand. I lied that I was diabetic and couldn’t eat sweets, which made him give up thankfully. He could be just a genuinely nice guy offering a random some sweets, but again… wouldn’t risk it!

After those two occurrences, the rest of my night at the Istanbul airport was fine. I had some food and some mad ice cream, worked a bit more, drank lots of coffee and eventually made my way to my departure gate, where they checked my visa and my backpack for a third time since I started my journey. The woman doing that was a bit confused about the visa, because the actual stamp on my passport had an expiry date in 7 days because the system changed and I now needed to collect a residency card upon arrival in Edinburgh. I appreciate that the card has biometric data and can be used as ID, which means I don’t have to carry my passport around with me and that’s good, but they could have informed all the people conducting checks that this is how it works so we avoid suspicion and embarrassment. I suppose that’s asking too much.

After all explanations made and accepted, I was allowed to board and head to my final destination – my beloved Edinburgh! This was end of October 2015, when after 3 years in limbo I was allowed to return – not permanently yet, but it was the best shot I had.

One more storm…

I got notified by email that a decision had been made about my latest visa application, but the email did not say whether the outcome was positive or not. I would have to wait until I got my passport back to find out. Time was ticking, I had already missed the official induction and first few weeks of my PhD programme. I was in Porto Alegre with my mum and my sister, waiting.

I had been provided with a tracking number for the package containing my documents, including my current and expired passports, and the answer to end my agony. I would check the Brazilian postal services tracking system every day, until this one day when I logged on and the status of the package was showing as DELIVERED. Except that I didn’t have it. I rushed downstairs to check the letterbox, only leaflets from restaurants and bills. So I did what a sane person would do and rang the Brazilian mail customer service, a generic number to a central in Sao Paulo. The attendant on the other side helpfully informed me that the package was showing as delivered in their system, which I obviously knew, but kept trying to explain that I didn’t get it. Delivered where, then? I don’t know, madam. Ok, can you give me the contact details to the Porto Alegre distribution centre, please? Sorry, madam, I’m not authorised to do that. Great. Next stop, Google. I called the main distribution centre in Porto Alegre, they said they didn’t have it and gave me the number to another distribution centre. I rang that many times and no one was picking up.

This was a Saturday, so the chances of sorting this out over the weekend were looking increasingly unlikely. I was narrating the saga to friends online, who justifiably wondered how many things could still go wrong with my attempts to move back to Scotland. At this point, I started thinking that either the postie would still deliver the package on that same day, or they had delivered it the day before to a neighbour. I had been out most of the day with my family, so that was possible. I also thought that if that was the case, said neighbour would have given the envelope to me by then, but hey… Saturday mornings.

While I waited, I began thinking… if this envelope was lost, I would have to report 3 passports lost (including the expired ones), ask QMU to re-issue my BA diploma, report my US visa lost and apply for a new one, and then try to find out somehow whether or not I had been issued a UK visa and apply for a new one AGAIN! And get a new passport, obviously. Meaning that would result in a whole year wasted. Granted, it looked like this could be the Brazilian mail system’s fault, but I couldn’t help thinking that all the hassle could be avoided if the UK hadn’t given their visa business to a third-party agent and operated in a similar line to the US, who deliver passports to your nearest consular unit and you just pick it up from there. I never thought I’d speak highly of the USA, but there. Although I only applied for a visitor’s visa with them, my experience was way better.

It was approaching 11am and still no sign of the mail. I was planning to start knocking on doors soon, deeming that an acceptable time. I began to assess my neighbours and the likelihood of them holding my envelope hostage: my favourite neighbour was a retired Art lecturer across the hall, who knew I stayed up late and had my number, so even if he had received the envelope but had to go out or something, he would have sent me a message about it. Next door, a guy I never spoke to much, who seemed a bit odd but not crazy. He wouldn’t have any reason to withhold the package. Downstairs there was an empty flat, a girl I’d never seen, only heard about, and another guy who had passed me in the hall the previous night and said hello – presumably, if he had the envelope, he’d have mentioned it/given it to me then.

I decided to go and camp out downstairs, waiting for the postie. Art lecturer across the hall went out, I told him about the drama, he said he had received a parcel he’d been expecting the day before, but nothing for me. I kept on waiting. Guy next door went out with his dog, said he hadn’t been at home either so he hadn’t received anything on my behalf. I waited some more. Eventually, a random car pulled over and a guy wearing normal clothes came to the front gate holding an envelope. I ran towards him and lo and behold, it WAS MY FUCKING ENVELOPE! Given that this guy was clearly not a postman in service, I believe there was a genuine fuck-up somewhere in their delivery system. But all that stopped being important because I dashed upstairs to open the envelope and find all my documents intact and MY SHINY NEW UK VISA in my current passport! Words can’t describe the relief that overcame me. It was only buying time, but I was finally going home.

Round 374 (and counting)

My Administrative Review request outcome was that I was right – the translations had been included and the printed pdf of the bank letter was acceptable as an original, HOWEVER, they were still unconvinced about the 28 days thing. Their decision was maintained but I could re-apply if I wished.

Here we go again… back to the UK Visas website, fill out the neverending form again, pay another application fee, pay another NHS surcharge (they said they would refund the fee I’d paid for the rejected application, but only at a later date), book another interview in Sao Paulo, flights, etc.

This time, I made sure I travelled back to my hometown and went into the bank branch and had the manager write the letter in English directly, print it on proper headed paper and sign it, and took it away with me. Back to Porto Alegre, fly to SP, go to the interview.

There was another girl sitting in the waiting room at VFS Global with me, and I began talking to her. She had had an application rejected too for similar reasons to mine – seems to be standard. I had been wondering whether my issue was that I was using a small co-operative bank that perhaps wasn’t rated as trustworthy by the almighty British Consulate, but this girl banked with Citibank and still got rejected.

They called me to the desk, I handed my paperwork over and asked if they could provide me with a checklist confirming they had received everything, so I wouldn’t have the same problem of missing documents again. The girl at the desk told me she couldn’t do that. I explained what had happened and asked what kind of reassurance she could give me that documents wouldn’t be misplaced and she just gave me her word. Great. That’s what £800 in admin fees gets you. Awesome admin, guys.

I was ushered back into the small interview room, now familiar with the procedure. I put on the headset and was greeted by a man on the screen. He was much friendlier and more relaxed than the woman that had interviewed me two months earlier. Although much of the script was the same, this round felt easier. I went into the next room to have my picture and fingerprints taken again, and then was released.

On the way back to my friends’ flat, in the metro, I had a good feeling for the first time in years. I thought this time, everything would finally be alright. Just another few weeks of waiting now.

Another visa application bites the dust

Timeline check: this is mid-September 2015. I applied for my PhD in January, was interviewed via Skype in April, got the offer in May and confirmed acceptance of the place right away. I received my CAS statement in August (which made me miss the Fringe), applied for the student visa in the same month, went to Sao Paulo for the interview and then to Uruguay with La Niña Barro. Coming back to the festival in Las Piedras, as Eli and Alex made their way to perform in Madrid, I had to deal with my newest rejection letter.

This time, the reasons stated for the rejection were that the letter from my bank confirming I had sufficient funds as required was not an original, wasn’t provided with a translation, and didn’t actually prove that I had the funds. Here we go:

1 – At the time, I was required to prove that I had had the equivalent to around £15,000 in my account for 28 days. This could be done via a letter from the bank manager confirming this information.

2 – The bank branch I used for this was in my hometown of Santana do Livramento. When applying for the visa, I was in Porto Alegre, 500km away. So my bank manager sent me the letter via email, on a pdf format, to speed things up. I printed this pdf out, which the Home Office took for a copy – except I didn’t actually have an original as such.

3 – I included translations done and signed by a fellow professional translator for all the documents which were not in English originally. My only conclusion here was that the translations had somehow been lost between the desk in Sao Paulo and the Home Office sector in the UK Consulate in Bogota. How does one prove that, though?

4 – The letter from the bank manager stated the date when I opened that savings account and made the deposit (01/06/2015) and the current date (13/08/2016) with the amount in BRL and GBP, stating the official currency conversion as per the Central Bank of Brazil. Assuming visa officers can read and do basic maths, you’d think they would have understood that there are more than 28 days between 1st June and 13th August. Apparently, that isn’t the case.

This should have been, as one my dear friends calls it, the point of resignation. This should have been the moment of surrender and admitting defeat. But I am way too stubborn and I now had secured a PhD and a scholarship at a fabulous institution and I wasn’t ready to let go.

The next couple of days were hell again, while I considered all my options. One of my closest friends in Edinburgh was getting married soon, I thought about just going over to her hen do in Belfast, staying until the wedding and then heading back to Brazil and think about what to do. That would cost a lot of money, though. I thought about just starting a new application right away, but the taste of injustice was still bitter in my mouth. Finally, after another two sleepless nights, I sent a formal complaint to VFS Global, the third-party company which handles applications in Brazil, stating that I had delivered all my documents with their respective translation in person at the desk in SP and my rejection letter said the translations weren’t included with the application. I also complained that when I received my documents back, my diploma and passports displayed marks of folding and wrinkling, which showed the lack of care with which they had been handled. My third and final complaint was that the rejection letter detailed my right to request and Administrative Review following the enclosed instructions and using the form attached, but these were not in the envelope I received. I concluded asking to register my complaint against poor services which I had paid a lot for and would cause me to disburse even more, as well as delay the start of my research studies programme. Thus, without being certain that I was following the correct protocol, since the instructions weren’t actually sent to me and the information online was conflicting, I downloaded a form from the UKVI website and posted it to the UK Embassy in Colombia to file for Administrative Review, since apparently, this could not be done via email. The Admin Review process would take up to 28 days (obsessed) and the Brazilian postal services went on strike the day after I posted my form, so at this point, I really had no idea of what would happen.

ukvi-bullshit

LOL

I informed the RCS that this had happened and they were very supportive and understanding, saying they were happy to wait for the Home Office’s reply to get me started on the PhD. The saga must go on…

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