Studying in the UK – part 02

I flew to Sao Paulo the day before my interview.

Getting to the place where I needed to hand in the documents was fairly easy from where I was staying. UK visa applications are not handled by the British Consulate directly anymore, but by a third-party contractor, which I am sure is one of the reasons why the process is longer and more expensive now (incidentally: there seem to be a lot of people making a good deal of money out of this whole thing, like legal firms and other companies and freelancers offering specialised visa application services). This company is located in a highly posh business area of Sao Paulo called ‘Brooklin Paulista’, on the ‘United Nations Avenue’, adjacent to a designer furniture shopping centre (I don’t know why I find all of this kinda funny).

I checked in at the reception desk on the ground floor, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the office until my specific appointment time, so as I was about 20 minutes early, I went for a wander around the shopping centre to see things I will never buy. When the time came, I went back to reception and was given a visitor’s pass and allowed to go up in the lift to the 18th floor, where the VSF Visa Application Centre is. There were two offices there, one processing visas for Canada, and the other, for the UK. I walked into the latter, where a nice lady at the door in security uniform asked to check my appointment confirmation and then instructed me to take my documents out of my bag and leave bag, phone, and all other personal belongings in a locker (at least this one was free, unlike the ones across the street from the US Consulate). Following that, I was ushered to a bright, smaller room with two attendants sitting behind bank clerk-like desks and a line of chairs. I was told to sit down and wait for my name to be called.

I stood up and went to the attendant who’d called my name and gave her my documents – a hard copy of the application form I’d completed online, a copy of my CAS statement, a letter from my bank manager confirming I had the funds to support myself for the first year and its translation, and my passport. She asked me whether I had booked my flights yet and I replied that I hadn’t. Then she asked me when I was meant to start my course, I said induction was scheduled for the 21st September (exactly a month after this day). She scribbled some things down, ticked some boxes, and asked me to take a seat again and wait to be called for the interview.

About 10 minutes later, she emerged from behind her desk and asked me to follow her into an even smaller room with a desktop computer set up with headphones and a mic on a small table. The attendant left the room and I sat down, put the headphones on and said hello to the lady on the screen, speaking to me from one of the Home Office cubicles in Sheffield. She introduced herself and explained that this would be a short interview, then asked me to confirm that I was in good physical and mental health and fully aware that my answers would be recorded. I did so, and without a smile or any small talk, she began the interview. She asked me to confirm the name of my intended place of study and when I said the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, she looked puzzled. Cue her faffing about for a couple of minutes, presumably trying to find information about the place, asking where in the UK this ‘conservatory’ was. I wondered if whenever they get someone who isn’t aiming for London, they get confused. She eventually found it on her list and proceeded to ask me why I’d chosen this course. I began: “well, I attended Open Days at other…” and then she interrupted me, saying she didn’t need my life story, just straightforward answers. Taken aback by the sudden rudeness, I replied that I wanted to pursue an academic career and develop my practice further. Her next question was whether I had considered other places of study, which made me a little bit angry and I started my answer with, “as I tried to tell you 30 seconds ago, yes… I attended Open Days at other universities”. I don’t think she liked that. It might have been stupid to give her backchat, but come on…

The interview went on for another few minutes with more roundabout questions such as how this course would benefit me and why it had to be this one. She concluded the chat and asked me to leave the room. I sat outside again, with a terrible feeling that I’d fucked it up. Clerk girl came back and ushered me into another small room, where she took a picture of me and my fingerprints. She explained that everything would be sent to the UK Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, where all South American applications were now processed, and I would be getting emails informing me of the progress of mine. After that, I was done. I collected my belongings from the locker and left.

I was feeling tired and discouraged, but on the way back to my friends’ flat and to Porto Alegre later on the same day, I tried to not think too much about it and focus on La Niña Barro, which was going to a festival in Uruguay in a few weeks’ time and I would only get the visa decision after that.

 

 

 

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A Spanish Preview and a Nervous Flight

We reached the end of our rehearsal period and scheduled a preview of La Niña Barro for family and friends at Las Cigarreras, to run the show in front of an audience before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. After much negotiation with the venue and a tad stressful tech run, I’m happy to inform it went rather well. It also went very fast. I think we were all inevitably anxious about test-driving this piece we’d been working on for months, working through broken limbs, family illness and immigration problems, and all that bottled up energy suddenly came out on stage and the girls rushed a bit. It still went well.

The day after our preview, I was even more of a nervous wreck. I would be flying to Edinburgh that afternoon, a few days before Eli and Alex. I also spent an extra £90 on my flight to go directly from Alicante, avoiding a London stop. You see, all the horror stories I’ve heard happened at London airports, so I avoid them if I can. In my experience, Edinburgh immigration officers are much more polite and understanding (i.e. they will treat you as a human being). Besides, if I have any problems in Edinburgh, I know all it takes is one phone call to have half the city at the airport to help me (I’m not being smug, I just honestly know A LOT of people).

Despite taking measures to curb my anxiety, I can’t help feeling massively nervous every time I fly to a different country now, and I think this feeling will linger for a long time. But flying to Scotland, back to Edinburgh, is so meaningful to me that it provokes butterflies akin to those you are meant to get at the most special moments in your life: your 15th birthday party (if you’re a Latin American girl – if you’re not, wikipedia explains what this means), getting your exam results, your graduation, your wedding, that sort of thing. So I am in this state of mind when Carlos and Eli drive me to the airport in Alicante, on a very warm Sunday afternoon.

I’ve done the online check-in but need to take my suitcase to the counter. Before they can check in my luggage, however, I need to go to Jet2’s sales counter so they can start verifying my authenticity before I even leave the Schengen zone. The attendant asks to see my reservation and my passport and then, flicking through the pages, asks me: “just to confirm – you don’t have a visa for the UK?”. I say I don’t, but that I’m coming as a tourist, so I don’t require one. He looks me sideways, types stuff into his computer, looks at my passport again, asks me how long I’m going to the UK for. I reply that I will be there for 2 months and offer to show him my return ticket from Madrid to Porto Alegre, explaining that I just haven’t booked my return from Edinburgh to Madrid yet because I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of events I might be attending. He finally agrees to stamp my boarding pass and let me finalise my check-in. Eli just shakes her head in awe that I have to go through this.

I say goodbye to Eli, go through security and finally board the plane, but the pressure on my chest only gets worse. The plane lands and there I am, completed landing card, passport and my folder with a stack of paper to prove that I have no intention of illegally settling in Scotland. The queue wasn’t too bad, I got to the counter much more quickly than the last time – maybe because this time I arrived a few days before all the festival malarkey kicked off. Now, I wasn’t sure whether my passport would make the alarm bells sounds or not this time. My old passport expired at the start of the year, so this was a new one. I’d been refused a visa on my old passport, but I didn’t get to apply for the actual visa on this one, having only been refused the Arts Council endorsement. Turns out the refusal is actually attached to your name, not to your passport. The lady who served me at the immigration desk looked at her screen for a few moments while flicking through the pages and then smiled and asked if this was my first time in Edinburgh. I said no and proceeded to telling her my potted life story and visa saga, showing documents as they were mentioned, including the letter from the Fringe office confirming I was bringing a show this year. This allowed me to ask for an Entertainer Visitor visa, which differs from a Tourist visa only in the sense that I was allowed to take payment for the performances we did at the Fringe. She took all the paperwork from me and went into the back room, asking me to wait. She came back in less than 10 minutes and stamped my passport, explaining that I was allowed to stay for up to six months. She then asked me if I would be looking for a job during my time in Edinburgh and I said I intended to, but did not have ay interviews lined up yet. She stressed that it would be fine for me to go to interviews, but I was not allowed to take up employment on this visa, I would then need to change to a Tier 2 or Tier 5. I reassured her that I was well aware of that and had no intention of working illegally. She gave me my stamped passport back and wished me luck with a smile.

NB: Preview and pre-flight nerves aside, this was a fast and pleasant experience, if compared to last year’s visit, or to this story of a Malaysian photographer who was in a very similar situation but wasn’t so lucky – arriving in London two days before I arrived in Edinburgh this year

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