How To Get To Spain (Part 1)

(Not to be considered a complete or even entirely credible guide, since I am not in Spain yet.)


  • (3.5 months before departure.) Get your acceptance letter as a Fulbright ETA in Spain. (You might want to try getting an initial rejection letter first, like I did. It enhances the surprise.)
  • Submit request for a background check to the FBI as soon as humanly possible. Include prepaid priority mail return envelope. (Don’t bother sending return postage; they will not use it.)
  • Set up a doctor’s appointment and fill out all the medical forms for medical clearance.
  • Peruse the website for the Consulte of Spain in Chicago, where you have to apply for your visa. Send an email inquiry that gets bounced back a few times, call and wade through a bilingual phone system a few times, and read several different checklists of the necessary paperwork for a student visa.
  • Set up an appointment with the Consulate for a few weeks later, since the FBI should have your stuff back to you, right?
  • Start looking at flights, hostels, and apartments obsessively.
  • Call FBI periodically to check on your background check.
  • Call FBI again the week before you are supposed to go to the consulate, and realize that they now take up to 8 weeks to process background checks.
  • Despair of ever getting background check from the FBI. Cancel consulate appointment and bus to Chicago. Reschedule for 8 weeks after you sent them your crap.
  • The FBI is probably getting tired of hearing from you. Resolve to only call them once a week.
  • Meticulously gather paperwork into a dorky little filing system. Read the recommendation to avoid making an appointment before gathering all required paperwork, and to avoid buying plane tickets until you have a visa.
  • Book a plane ticket before you have a visa.
  • Book a hostel in Madrid, too – you might as well.
  • Call the consulate to ask if a copy of a previous background check would suffice. (You are a teacher, after all.) Leave messages in English, in Spanish, and maybe in Spanglish. Send emails.
  • The week before you are supposed to go to the consulate, despair at the lack of background check in your mailbox. Cancel appointment and bus to Chicago… again.
  • Finally get an email from the consulate assuring you that you can still apply even if you haven’t received the background check; as long as you have proof you sent paperwork you are fine.
  • Reschedule for two weeks later, which is the next available appointment.
  • Bang your head on your wall a few times, because you could have done all this weeks ago.
  • Get your background check – hallelujah! No crimes here.
  • Take background check to a far-away Secretary of State, to get it authorized with the Apostille.
  • Be informed by the clerk that you cannot get the Apostille unless the document is signed and notarized. (It is not.)
  • Call and leave some more bilingual (or perhaps non-lingual) messages with the consulate.
  • Bang your head on your steering wheel.
  • Get the background check notarized by copying it and having a public notary (thanks, housemate!) notarize that it is an official copy.
  • Go back to the Secretary of State and get the Apostille. (It includes a fancy gold sticker, which is more satisfying than most of the rest of the process.)
  • Try to take your own passport photo for the visa application. Look like a serial killer despite your expensive camera.
  • Four weeks before your (supposed) departure, make copies of all your paperwork and arrange it in your dorky file folder before getting on the bus for Chicago.
  • Give yourself more than ample time to get downtown for your appointment. Wear a dress, because you are going to charm your way into their country if you have to.
  • Get off the train and walk the wrong way down Lake St., about a mile out of your way.
  • Stop for directions and realize where you are (or rather, where you aren’t.) Panic because you have less than ten minutes before your appointment.
  • Have flashbacks to a similar experience where you never made it to Barcelona. Despair of ever getting to Spain.
  • Frantically hail a cab and arrive one minute before your appointment time.
  • Sweat in the fancy elevator.
  • Wait in the lobby 15 minutes because they are running late.
  • Hand over your paperwork and your passport, and forget to use any Spanish other than me pongo nerviosa.
To be continued.

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