Monday, August 30, 2010

Stepanka Happens

So, the tale of getting a green card in the Czech Republic is an entertaining one to say the least! It has not been easy, and as of this moment, I do not have one, so hopefully that'll change before September 13. :)

Back in early July, my new company, Wattsenglish, sent me all the paperwork to apply for a temporary work visa and green card in the Czech Republic. I filled out the paperwork and had them review it before submitting it to the Czech Consulate. Finding a consulate to answer my questions was the first challenge. I first called the Consulate in San Francisco (as I was in northern CA), who responded to my call two days later saying they are an auxilliarly office and therefore can only answer questions. I thought that was great, because really I had a lot of questions. So, I started asking, and the guy quickly responded that he didn't know the answer and I should call the LA office. I had already tried to call and e-mail them so I looked for more information. I finally found the Chicago Czech Consulate information and contacted them (Since my permanent address is in Iowa, they have to process the information). Great. So, I call them and the first question the lovely woman I'm speaking with says - "have you looked at our website?" I said I had not yet looked. She said to look at it and then call with any questions, but "it was clearly written what needed to be done." Ok, well, I looked and it wasn't so
"clear" but I figured it out. Along the way, I realized I needed to have my university diploma Apostilled. What's that you might ask? Grand question! An Apostille is the process one goes through to certify a government document is legitimate so another country's government will recognize it. Sounds easy enough! To do this, you have to have a copy of the diploma notarized, and then have that copy certified by the Secretary of State for your state.

So, I go to my local notary in Davis, CA and then take an adventure to the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento. I waved to the Governator across the way and went about my business. For the low price of $26, a nice government employee wearing shorts and sucking on a blow pop wrote a simple letter to the Czech government and therefore apostilling (yes, I'm making this word up) my diploma! Yay!

The next day, I call the Chicago Consulate again to verify that I have everything I need. She asks which state my diploma is from, and I tell her Iowa. She quickly states that the California will NOT Apostille a document issued from another state. I kindly reply that I have already completed the Apostille process in California. There's a short pause and she responds with "oh...hold on please." Five minutes or so go by, and then she comes back to say that they cannot accept this Apostille, and that it must be done in Iowa. I then ask her how to do this, and she says it's easy. In my head I'm thinking, right, because everything about this process has been so easy! She says to call Iowa State University to get a duplicate copy of the diploma and ask them to send it to the Iowa Secretary of State...easy. Right. It is now about the 20th of July, and I was supposed to have submitted my paperwork weeks ago. I leave for Prague in 6 weeks, and I'm wondering just how long it will take for my Iowa version of the Apostille.

So, I call the lovely ladies in the Office of the Registrar at Iowa State University. I can picture them in my head in the lower level of Alumni Hall (sorry, I know it's Enrollment Services Building now) at their computers in a tiny room. I call and the ONLY person who can issue a duplicate copy is out of the office until Monday. It is Thursday, and I don't have time to spare! So, I call the Iowa Secretary of State and ask for their advice. The kind lady there says that I can send my diploma to her and she'll copy and notarize it and then process the Apostille in the office as well. All for the low, low price of $5. I love it! So, I scoot to the post office and my documents are on their way! The following Monday, the nice lady from the Secretary of State calls with a not so nice message. She left a voicemail stating that if I didn't call her back by 2 pm Iowa time, she was sending all my materials back, because I forgot to indicate which country I needed the documents for. Jeez...let's be a little more dramatic about this! So, I call her back, and all is well.

I get my documents back on Wednesday, July 28 and take them to the FedEx office so I can submit my packet of information to the Chicago Czech Consulate. I verify on the website that the cost is $62. This includes a processing fee as well as a fee to verify the translation of my diploma that was also required. They would not translate it for me, and I was required to pay $35 to have it translated by a certified translator so that I could pay the Consulate $14 to verify the translation. I love it! So, I send it off and they receive it on Friday, July 30. Relief!

On Monday, August 2, I get a call from Stepanka at the Consulate asking me to call her back. I missed the call and when I tried to call back, they had left early for the day. So, I tried the next morning. Tuesday morning I call about 9 am Chicago time, and am quickly told that they can only help people physically in the consulate in Chicago in the morning and I must call after 12:30. Ok then...I was wondering why they answered the phone...but whatever! I call back later and the lovely Stepanka (Who truly is incredibly nice) told me that I was $7 short in my application. The prices change from month to month and since they didn't start processing my paperwork until Monday, I was short. The prices change because of the currency conversion. So, not only does she need $7, but she needs it by Thursday, because they need to get my stuff to the Czech Republic. Great. There is no possible way Stepanka can spot me $7 in the meantime or I can pay with a credit card, I have to go and overnight $7 to her. For the low price of $18.30. Awesome! And she says, there's one more form we need you to fill out. So send that too. At this point I'm just laughing because I don't know what else to do. So, that goes out and gets to Chicago on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Stepanka calls again. She asks if I have filled out an affidavit. I ask her what it is for, and she says it is to prove I have not committed a crime. I said I hadn't done it, because on the website it said it was something they may ask for later, but that it was not required for all applicants. By the way she told me Tuesday that I had to have the money to her by Thursday, because that was the day my packet was being sent to the Czech Republic. She continues to say that it would be good to have it, so that in case they ask for it, we don't waste more time. It is now just over 4 weeks from my departure date, so every day counts. So, she sends me the form, which I fill out and once again take to my local notary. This time I'm in San Jose, so it's a new experience.

I go to the Notary at a postal annex shop. This kind woman originally from India with broken English helps me out. The affidavit is half in Czech and half in English. At the top it says Affidavit/7 words in Czech I do not know. She asks me what that means. I tell her I don't know, and she gets a little annoyed at me for not knowing what it says. In my head I'm thinking, please don't judge me. I know I don't understand Czech and I'm moving there, I don't need guilt from you who is clearly speaking English as a second language and doing it fairly well. Of all people, can you please understand? So, we move on and I tell her what the document is, so she says she can do it. She asks for my driver's license and then asks me to raise my right hand. So, I'm standing in a strip mall postal annex mini-mart, raising my right hand, and swearing to this cute Indian woman that I have not committed a crime. I'm sure glad this scientific process is necessary to get a green card in the Czech Republic! It sure made me laugh! I took it to the post office and once again overnighted the documents to Chicago for the low price of $18.30...again.

Well just last week, I still hadn't heard anything, so I decide to call the consulate and I talked to Stepanka again. We're pretty good friends at this point! I ask about things and she says it hasn't been processed yet and that when it is, she'll call me. I tell her that I'm leaving in a week and I don't have my passport. She said I didn't need the green card to get in the country, which I know. I said that wasn't my issue, but that I needed my passport. She then realizes they have it there. I ask her to send it back and she says she can, but we should wait until Monday in case they hear by then. I'm not really sure why that's necessary as they don't send me anything for the green card, because I have to pick it up in Prague. But whatever. I talked to Stepanka again today and she's sending it my way. I tracked my pre-paid package on FedEx and it was picked up in Chicago. I should have it tomorrow. Whew! Now, let's just keep our fingers crossed that I can get my green card in time to start work in a week and a half!

This whole thing gave me peace in knowing that the US government is not the only one riddled with bureaucracy!

I can't wait for more adventures!

***The title of this is not meant to be offensive to anyone named Stepanka, it just makes for a great title and makes more sense as you read along. :)


Well, there is no great excuse for why it has been a year since I have written. And not to worry, I'm not about to catch you up on a years worth of fun in one entry. ;) Since I last wrote, however, I have the privilege of working at UC-Berkeley for 4 months as a Hall Director. One of the Hall Directors there went on Semester at Sea, so I was hired to fill in. I had a great time working with amazing students and exploring the area. I am grateful to have met many wonderful friends in California and hope to spend more time in the bay area again soon!

I also had the pleasure of spending time with my sister and family in San Jose, CA and Davis, CA this summer. I can truly say that I love Northern California! Many great adventures!

I'm now back in Iowa after a 3-week trip from CA back to Iowa with wonderful stops in Laramie, WY; Denver, CO; Colorado Springs, CO; Ames, IA; Stevens Point, WI; and Lawrence, KS. I'm truly grateful to have so many wonderful friends and family across this country (and conveniently located close to I-80). :)

I'm now in Bettendorf, IA hanging with my parents and getting ready to head to Prague, Czech Republic on Saturday. I'll be teaching English as a second language to school children starting September 13. I'm incredibly excited and a bit nervous to start this adventure!