Oh My Visas! Summer Trips - Section one

In January 2016 I was invited by the Graduate School of North American Studies (GSNAS) at Freie Universität Berlin to present at a conference called “Dimensions of (Im)mobility in North America”. Almost immediately after this invitation, a university course I had introduced to the University of Ottawa’s International Office was selected for Cathoolique de Lille’s European Summer Program; the prospective months seemed marvelous! Fly to Berlin, give a talk on my recent paper “How Much Student Mobility Has Become an Immigration Issue” ON MY BIRTHDAY, hang around in Europe for a couple of weeks, then go to France to teach my course on the very favorite topic of Political Economy. These both were indeed prestigious assignments - which should possibly allow me now to go on and rant about how successful I am at climbing ladders in academia, professionalism, proposal writing and funding applications!

But this post is in fact very much written on the left field; before starting to blog about my summer travels, I should touch upon some very tangible dimension of immobility. From "internationalization" point of view, educational capital is normally presumed to facilitate intellectual expansion; be it domestic or international. Broadly speaking so long that one can prove that they have enough financial, institutional and network capital, so that they that can potentially benefit the state of their destination, visas are for allowing mobility. Even though I am well aware of border-crossing restrictions, I could not foresee how these restrictions create counter arguments to their very own merit. As much as I had assumed the above-mentioned assignments would help easing up my travelling, mobility regulations technically worked in contrary to them.  In fact, the trip that I finally went on and I am going to blog about, was a modified version of the original travelling plan.

Let me Explain…

In order to enter Europe, I was [am] required to obtain a Schengen visa. In other words I had to “convince” the consular section of the embassy of the relevant state - France in this case - that I was going there for those [in my case presenting and teaching] purposes, that I will exit the Schnegen area in time and that I will come back to Canada; this translated into having to purchase my flight tickets [1] to and from my destinations months ahead.

Now, this and the hassle of collecting all other required documents, going on a day trip to Toronto during a working week for a simple visa application (since there are no consular sections in Ottawa), paying the application fees and so on all seemed worth it if I could really do what I was looking forward to doing; presenting and teaching. Not surprisingly however, after I inquired about the mentioned visa weeks after weeks of my application I realized that some time consuming bureaucratic practices and the manner in which a teaching abroad assignment was dealt with, as well the hosting university’s unfamiliarity with the administrative requirements of mobility for international instructors resulted in not receiving the visa in time. Not only I missed my first conference presentation abroad[2], I also was left with plane tickets I had purchased to prove to the very same consulate that I had no plans for staying in Europe beyond the designated time!

The anxiety and toll of this process and how much one can feel bullied, if you will, under some bizarre administrative behavior is one thing. The very fact that I had [to] already book my “means” of travelling prior to knowing if I actually was “allowed” to travel was another thing. But this was not the first time I had to sustain such structural consequences that are completely out of my control; I have missed close friends’ weddings, family holidays, (other) International conferences, and many occasions and events that were each significant to me in one way or another. Noteworthy is that I have never been denied a visa, in each occasion, the required visa was issued either too late or, the application procedures had me caught up in providing proof for legality and legitimacy of my residency, permits, and travelling documents so long that in the end, even by obtaining them all required documents, I technically could not attend in time.

This time around, I was not able to afford the financial loss of having to return all of those tickets! More importantly, I still did want to travel - I still had my friends to give me a local perspective to European cities and I still was eager to visit my family in Tehran after 5 years. Therefore, folllowing cancelling my first application, I applied to another consulate (Netherlands) and received a Schengen visa. A two-month long chaotic process finally allowed me to go on the mentioned two month-long travel. During July and August I visited Amsterdam, Barcelona, Valencia, Altea, Benidorm, Alicante, Madrid and Tehran.

I will be writing about my observations; will go through objects, art work, imaginary and material traces of my trip or what from the perspective of  the Mobilities Paradigm (Urry, 2007) demonstrate what being on the move is. For now, this is a drawing I made out of one of the many favorite spots I came to visit during my trip.

Amsterdam Central Station. Crowded with people, bikes and boats, this was the starting point of a thorough navigation in a city; one that invited me to spontaneously sit by its canals - and to feel in sync and at peace, in its own historic way.


[1] I am aware that there exist such service as reserving your tickets at a cost less than the actual price of the tickets, however, that process is too time consuming for most of such visa application.

[2] The teaching assignment got cancelled which contributed to the complexity of visa acquirement/application