Despite quickly approaching, my upcoming move to Ecuador has seemed distant. Getting my 12-VIII Cultural Exchange Visa changed that.
I have not felt the tangibility of the move because there are so many variables. I do not have an apartment to plan for, I do not know the classes I will be teaching so I cannot prepare, and truthfully I do not know much about the area to fantasize about.
In short, my flight to my new life in less than one month did not feel real.
So, to make this adventure official I headed to Chicago last week to apply for my 12-VIII cultural exchange visa from the Ecuadorian consulate.
Due to my internship at the Office for International Students and Scholars at Michigan State University I have a renewed interest in the visa process. At this internship I process J-1 Cultural Exchange Visas for visiting students, student interns, and scholars to the university. How cool—I am receiving a similar visa for my service at an Ecuadorian university!
I had expected my experience to be similar to when I applied for my Spanish visa. For that I had scheduled an appointment online, shown up early to a packed waiting room to deliver the paperwork, was asked a few questions, and told to go to the post office to pre-pay a FedEx envelope, which they would send my visa and passport in when completed.
I quickly learned that Ecuador is not Spain.
To get a visa appointment I attempted to navigate the Ecuadorian-Chicago consulate website. There was nowhere to schedule an appointment. This was strange. After some searching I did manage to find a number to call. Perhaps Ecuadorians prefer the phone to the computer. Fine. After about 15 calls without an answer over 3 or 4 days, I gave up and decided against every single type-A bone in my body to wing it.
When I arrived at the consulate I was not greeted. In fact, I do not believe that there was a receptionist at all. I walked through the small office trying to find someone, anyone that could help me, but nobody was there. Finally I was greeted by a woman, who explained in Spanish that they were very short staffed, and to please have a seat.
The actual visa process was very easy. After taking my carefully organized paperwork the officer told me that it would be ready in two hours.
While this experience may seem negative it was not. Instead, it was important. Not only did it make my new adventure more concrete in my mind, but it also taught me the concept of Ecuador time.
I have witnessed firsthand Spanish time and African time. Everything seems to move slowly in these parts of the world, although perhaps it is just that we move so quickly in the United States. While this is cultural, Ecuador’s sense of time and organization seems to be linked to something more.
Ecuador is a small, poor country. It will be a far different experience than my time in Europe, or even my time in South Africa. There are only a handful of people that work at the consulate. While tourism is huge, the industry still pales in comparison to other countries. This is a country that is trying its best without the resources or manpower that those others countries may have.
So, after two hours and a lovely (hot) day in Chicago I received a tangible reminder of my trip. My new life for the next year became real with the official stamp of the Ecuadorian government. I could finally get excited about a job that I knew nothing about, a city that I had never seen and an apartment that I had not yet leased because it was all happening, ready or not.
As a side note—if ever in Chicago be sure to visit Kumas Corner for the best burger and mac n cheese of your entire life.