Pandora’s Paperwork-filled Box

This month’s post might be a little different than usual. Actually, at this point I’m not convinced this isn’t just a form of catharsis (if I write it all down, I can let it go, right? Right?) We’ll see what happens. In reality, I hope this will be more than just my venting about my last few months in paperwork hell. I would actually like for this to serve as a record in case I have to do some of these things again and perhaps also as a guide for anyone else that has to go through these incredibly tedious processes. So, all I can say is buckle up as I endeavor to take you on a journey of a thousand citas (or “appointments”).

Okay, you might at this point be wondering what the heck I’m even talking about in this post. To clarify (and to account for any absenteeism these last few months), Tucker and I have been absolutely elbow-deep in various administrative processes. It all started in January when Canadian immigration (which we applied for back in 2019) contacted us needing updated and additional documentation to continue their processing of our permanent residency status. They needed another “up-front medical exam” and a copy of my renewed passport.

Up-Front Medical Exam

While not the most complicated of our soon-to-be mountain of administrative tasks, getting a medical exam in a foreign country always comes with a few added challenges. For one, Canada requires the exams be performed by one of their IRCC-approved doctors, of which there are only 12 in Mexico. Super unfortunately, none of these twelve happened to be in Guadalajara. However, there was one clinic in Monterrey, which we knew we’d be driving through in February while on another paperwork errand. The next (and probably somewhat obvious) issue with medical exams abroad is the language barrier. I had to call and make our appointments in Spanish and, of course, all the background questions and instructions throughout the exam were also en español. I learned quite a few new words throughout this process (como altura, vejiga, aguja, y radiografía), and I even made a joke about Tucker needing a paleta after his scary, scary blood draw.

Happy to have an excuse to visit Monterrey, honestly

Passport Renewal

The next request from Canada was for my renewed passport information. This was a tricky one because they needed me to renew it 6 months before it expired! When you live abroad your passport is your main ID, so to change it before we renewed our Mexican residency would have been impossible. We also knew we’d be going back to the border in February, so for this one, I actually appealed to Canadian immigration and asked for an extension. I was somewhat successful.

I think they’re just as sick of me at this point…

Mexican Residency Renewal

Truly our 2nd home in GDL

Of course, we also knew that in February our Mexican residency status would also need to be renewed. Everyone who applies for temporary residency in Mexico is given one year at the start, and after those first 365 days, you have the option to renew for 1, 2, or 3 more years. Since getting our initial residency cards was a fairly straight-forward process, I (perhaps) naively thought the renewal process would be even easier. We’re already in the system, no?! However, a series of extremely unfortunate events had us going back and forth to the Immigration Bureau 5 times (often having to wait weeks in between citas due to the new Covid procedures, thanks a lot Omicron). Unfortunately, one of the main reasons for all of these trips was a confusion with my apellidos (“last names”).  

Reimbursement at SAT

In Spanish “apellido” refers to your family name or last name. In Mexico everyone has 2 apellidos – their paternal surname and their maternal surname. My name actually follows this structure pretty well, nombre: Danielle, apellido 1: Francuz, apellido 2: Rose. So, when the bank processed my payment that’s how the documents were filled out. However, in the eyes of the US (i.e. in my passport) and thus to the Immigration Bureau, I actually have 2 nombres: Danielle Francuz and 1 apellido: Rose. This discrepancy was a huge one in that I had to pay twice and later file for a reimbursement at yet a different office. I’ve now been to the SAT office (Mexico’s version of the IRS) twice to receive instructions and then my very own Mexican tax ID. I’m now in a “virtual line” for a third appointment where I will need to get my electronic signature before hopefully (finally) getting the reimbursement. Fingers crossed!

Import Permit Re-do

Of course, that wasn’t the only problem we had with the residency renewal…another issue came about because in order to straighten out the name debacle and successfully renew our residency cards within the new Covid procedures, we actually went past our initial residency cards’ expiration dates. Fortunately, the office assured us this wouldn’t be a problem with immigration because everyone was given leniency with the new digital cita process; however, very unfortunately, the Banjercito office (at the US-MX border), which issues import permits for foreign vehicles, did not have the same leniency in place. This meant that while we could remain in Mexico beyond our cards’ expiration dates, our car could not.

Flo, the trouble-maker

For this reason, we had to drive back to the border (before the expiration date) not exactly knowing what we would be able to do without the new residency cards to tie the permit to. Turns out there wasn’t anything we could do. You have to have either a tourist entry or a residency card to get an import permit (both of which were impossible for us as we were in limbo with cards on the verge of expiring and a scheduled appointment in another month). We also couldn’t just drive in Mexico without the permit and/or an expired permit because if we got caught, or when we came back to get a new permit, they could impound the car. Therefore, we opted for door number 3: drive the car across the border, store it for 6 weeks while we get our new residency cards, and fly up at a later date to re-do our permit and drive back down. OMG.

Police Certificates

If that wasn’t enough, while we were dealing with all the chaos of our Mexican residency renewal, Canada asked for MORE documents. With our updated location (i.e. Mexico) we needed to provide a police certificate verifying our legal/non-criminal status in yet another country (they already have these forms from us for the US, Poland, and China). However, completing the background check process in Mexico was yet another new experience for us, and it led us to another new office: the Fiscalía General Del Estado de Jalisco. Here, it took us a scouting mission, a few phone calls (en español), 3 citas, and a trip to another office (for a permission slip of all things) to finally get our fingerprints taken. Although, “fingerprints” is not really the right word. In Mexico, they take prints of your fingers, your palms, and the sides of your hands, it was actually really interesting. I’m also happy to say that I am officially NOT a criminal in Mexico. Tucker’s still waiting on his results…

Passport Renewal (for real this time)

Okay, so now it’s April. We’ve got our renewed residency cards (good until 2025), got our car with its rightful import permit back in GDL. Our appointment to try again for the reimbursement is pending, police certificates are in process, medical exams have been sent to Canada…time to renew my passport (still several months early, but what Canada wants, apparently, Canada gets). Much like all the other processes, this one took me 2 attempts. Forms, photos, payment methods, etc. everything the website says differs from the actual requirements in person, on the day. However, I have now successfully crossed this off my to-do list as well, and the new passport should be shipped sometime in the next 2-5 weeks. Praise be!  

And with that, I think we’re done, or at least very nearly. I do feel a little better getting all of this off my chest. I also feel extremely proud that we were able to juggle various forms of bureaucracy from three different countries all at once. Sometimes I think people see my travel photos and have the idea that Tucker and I are on a perpetual vacation, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t easy to live abroad. Of course, for me, it’s worth absolutely any amount of paperwork! This is my life now. 🙂  

Five Years From Fulbright

Loved every minute of it!

It’s hard for me to believe, but this month marks five years from when Tucker and I first embarked on a long term, overseas adventure. It’s hard to say when exactly we decided that life abroad was something we wanted for our future, but I do remember asking if we could just stay in Finland indefinitely when we took our first international trip, just after our wedding/university graduation. I was immediately hooked on the adventure, but for Tucker, I think having a set plan and an entire, relatively stable year of not only living but also working in another country gave him the insight he needed, which ended up shifting our life plan pretty drastically.

At both Dalton State and Georgia State we had wanted to study abroad, but it was just way too expensive, even with scholarship help. However, in grad school I learned about Fulbright. An exchange program that provides grants for individual research projects, or in the case of the ETA program, specifically assigned teaching posts. It was obviously an amazing opportunity to not only experience another culture, life abroad, professional development, etc. but to also make money in the process – something extremely valuable to those graduating with student loans. However, before you can apply for a highly competitive Fulbright grant, you first have to choose a country/placement that interests you (and that will hopefully give you a good chance of success). For us, this was another easy choice and an incredible opportunity; we chose Poland.

2015-2016 Cohort

My heritage ties, solid grades, and excellent letters of recommendation (thanks again mentors!) eventually pushed us across the almost year long application/waiting process. We got the “congratulations” email in March, with a departure date in September. It was our first experience with a State Department exchange program, and it made a lasting impression. Meeting my fellow Fulbrighters, the Fulbright Commission staff in Warsaw, and eventually my mentor and colleagues at the University of Łódź completely solidified my respect for cultural exchange and soft diplomacy. I learned so much about Poland, the United States, history, politics, teaching, you name it, but I think what surprised me most was how much I learned about myself.

Tucker in the midst of solving a problem…

Being in a completely new environment always shifts one’s focus, and I would argue that living in a new environment (such as in a new country/culture) shifts it permanently. I absolutely loved that every day was an adventure. Going to the bank, setting up our internet connection, grocery shopping: it was all exciting and gave us new insights into everything from security and privacy to historical ties and familial influence. For problem-solvers like me and Tucker, it was a constant string of puzzles and challenges to work through often with the most amusing results and exciting successes. It also allowed for exceptional personal growth – interpersonal skills, patience, dealing with ambiguity. These skills I now cherish were addressed and honed day after day as an expat. 

Legendary hospitality!

Then there is everything we learned about Poland and about my family and my heritage. Seeing some of the “quirks” of my family represented by an entire culture, experiencing the long-lasting effects of World War II, celebrating Wigilia with new friends, eating as many pierogi and kopytka as humanly possible – we tried to soak in as much as we could. In fact, there are many habits we picked up in Poland that are still a part of our everyday lives. I discovered my love of both herbata (tea) and piwo (beer) in Poland. Tucker and I developed an interest in history and politics that we didn’t really have before. We saw firsthand how important fresh, wholesome food is and we learned how to shed some of our homegrown laziness, both of which have influenced our daily lives ever since.

Another unexpected gain from my time with Fulbright was a shift from a strong interest in teaching language (an obvious passion of mine) to an even stronger passion of teaching and discussing culture as well. After Fulbright I learned about the English Language Fellow Program, which allowed me to continue this combined effort of teaching English/language skills while at the same time learning from each other as our mutual understanding and friendships grew. Tucker and I are now considering taking this idea one step further and potentially joining the foreign service in order to continue developing meaningful intercultural relationships with people from all over the world. Fulbright gave us a glimpse into the many incredibly powerful things exchange programs can do.

Looking back at this seemingly small part of my academic/professional career, it’s clear to see it definitely had a huge impact on my life. It changed the way I view myself and my culture as well as how I see the world. From Fulbright 2015-2016 right up to the craziness that is 2020 and hopefully beyond, I plan to continue sharing my experiences in exchanging culture and shifting perspectives, whether with the help of specially designed programs like Fulbright, through my online teaching of international students, or throughout my life as an expat anywhere in the world. These five years have absolutely flown by, but I will forever be grateful for every step along the way. Thank you, Fulbright, and dziękujemy, Poland.

So thankful

My Progress Report

We (Fulbrighters + Tucker) recently reached the halfway point of our grant period and had a great time catching up in Warsaw at our mid-term meeting. While it is extremely difficult to believe we’re over halfway finished, it was really inspiring to hear what my fellow Fulbrighters have accomplished thus far. During our time together we commiserated on how difficult teaching can be, we compared notes on what our cities and schedules are like, and, of course, we had to formally present our personal and professional achievements from this past semester. I’m generally terrible at presenting information about myself, especially when supervisors are watching (i.e. judging), and unfortunately, I feel I lived up to this particular shortcoming at this meeting where I unexpectedly lost my voice right before I had to give my three minute presentation. It wasn’t a great moment, but it’s okay because I really have done some amazing things here, and I’m so happy to share some of them with a different (but equally important) audience…in written form, which is apparently much better for me.

2015-2016 Fulbright Polska ETAs at the mid-term meeting, not at all hungover…

When I think of all the opportunities I’ve been given since the start of my grant, I’m absolutely blown away. I could never have imagined what this experience would do for me as a teacher, a researcher, and as an individual. However, Fulbright is not really about what we can gain, it’s more about what we can share; thus, I’d like to perpetuate the sharing by describing some of my contributions, connections, and developments (so far) in the hope that they will sparks ideas, conversations, or even change in others.

Contributions: One of my main contributions has been in the classes that I teach at the University of Łódź. I’m trained in Applied Linguistics (thanks GSU!), and I absolutely love the language learning process, so spending time with future English teachers, translators, and researchers is a great use of my time. I feel that my teaching style and enthusiasm in the classroom have really had an effect on these students, who are at the end of their degree program and are feeling drained and perhaps a little apathetic. It has been my pleasure to revive them and remind them how awesome the field of linguistics is! Aside from my own students, I’ve also been able to help others in the university’s writing center, ERIC. Writing is not my favorite subject (as with many of these students), but it gets the job done. By focusing on a very practical approach to academic writing, I hope I’ve been able to show them it’s not quite as painful as it seems, and that it has a purpose. I’ve had a great time getting to know these students, and I’m looking forward to another semester with both new and old friends.

Outside the university, I’ve been working to develop a series of workshops for fellow instructors/presenters. I have a different educational and cultural background than my colleagues, and I’ve seen how curious they are to learn about typical presentation methods in the US. Therefore, I’m planning workshops centered around presentation software, audience interaction, and the use of visual aids/technology. Another contribution I am quite proud of is a book chapter on the L2 Writing situation in Poland, which I am co-authoring with my Polish language instructor and friend, Mateusz. We discovered that his job here and my job in the US are mirror images of each other (the only difference being the fact that I teach English and he teaches Polish). So we put our heads and keyboards together and have submitted an abstract, which hopefully will become part of an edited volume focused on non-English L2 writing contexts. Last but not least, my slow-burning contribution is the research I’m conducting on the influence grammatical gender has on societal perceptions of physical gender. I have already met some extremely insightful people and have had wonderful discussions about gender equality and fluidity in Poland. I’m really excited about where this research has taken me thus far, and I can’t wait to continue the process.

Connections: I am very happy with the contributions I have been able to make, but to me the personal connections have been even more valuable. I have been extremely lucky to have made great connections with colleagues and students here in Łódź as well as in several other Polish cities. Many of these connections and friendships have been sparked by school visits. There are students (and teachers) all around Poland who are learning English and love the opportunity to practice and speak with a native English-speaking American. Because of this now global trend, I’ve been invited to visit students all over Poland and to give presentations on everything from Thanksgiving to Higher Education in the US. I absolutely love getting to see so many Poles in their element, and I doubt I’ll ever forget the random questions I’ve been asked (including, of course, the ever popular “What is your favorite color?”). Another amazing way I’ve been able to connect to different groups of people has been through the weekly conversation club I lead at the American Corner. These groups have been such an awesome place for me to ask all my questions about Polish culture and to have some extremely interesting discussions and revelations. Personally, one of my favorites was the complete shock and disgust many people felt after we told them about the excessive number of water fountains in the US.

Of course, not all my connections have been so formal. I have truly made some great friends here in Poland, locals and expats alike! It seems so amazing to me how much we can share just by having fun and hanging out at restaurants, bars, escape games, concerts, trains, wherever. I know Tucker and I will leave here with some life-long connections, and I’m so grateful for that. Another way I keep connected is (gasp) through social media. These posts allow me to continuously share some of my impressions, conversations, and experiences abroad with my friends and family in the US. My written words (plus the plethora of photos I post) is my way of bringing the intercultural knowledge I’m gaining every day back to my home country. There is so much we can learn about each and every culture, but I find the similarities and connections between them the most important of all.

Developments: Something that has really surprised me during my time in Poland is how much I’ve changed and developed as a person. These developments are another important part of this process, and I definitely view them as personal achievements. Being immersed in a new culture often brings about new challenges. During my time in Poland, my independence, confidence, and patience has been tested as it never was in the US. I’m extremely fortunate to have had this experience, which I believe has made me more perceptive and more adaptable than ever before. As a language teacher, I think another important aspect in my development has been living with a language barrier. It’s a completely unique experience to not be able to express yourself clearly and completely when you need to, and while I’ve previously had this feeling in a foreign language classroom, it’s magnified ten-fold in real life.

During this time, I’ve also been lucky enough to partake in some professional development by attending several conferences and multicultural events. The number and diversity of such events has been astounding, and I’m looking forward to attending (and hopefully presenting at) more conferences in the future. In addition to all these amazing experiences I’ve be able to have in Poland, my time in Europe has also afforded me the opportunity to travel to many other countries. In my opinion, travelling to new places is perhaps one of the best ways to grow as an individual. For me, the feeling is almost indescribable. There is so much to explore both in the world and in our own minds, and travelling seems to bring the two together in the most beautiful way. I’m so incredibly lucky to be having these experiences now, and I know that they will categorically shape me and my life forever.

Shockingly (or rather not) I went into more detail than I had intended, yet it still wasn’t quite enough. I wish I could share every experience and every detail because they have been so incredible. I do hope my “progress report” is inspiring and encouraging for others because one thing I’ve realized is that I didn’t have to come to Poland to make contributions, connections, and developments like this. There are so many amazing experiences and open doors ready and waiting for anyone willing to look for them.