Friday, November 20, 2009

Visa time

As you may recall, my current visa is good for 90 days. But since it's a student visa, I don't have to leave Russia to extend it.

Sometimes everything is just a little too casual for my liking. For example, I was told that my visa would be changed from a single-entry to a multi-entry when I arrived. But I recently found out that the switch was never made. I guess they had forgotten and I hadn't asked. This happened with a few other documents as well. I usually know enough to ask questions, but I wonder what happens to people who are here for the first time and/or don't speak Russian!

So this is what I had to do to extend my current visa...

Day 1

"I'm here to extend my visa," I announced. +/-

"Through December?" she asked, referring to the original dates.

"Ummm, no, my visa should already be good through December...I wanted to extend it for another 6 months beyond that."

This seemed like new information for her even though we had originally agreed on 9 months.

"Hmmmmm. Let's see." She had to think about what to do with me. The university has recently started requiring that you pay immediately for your classes per the number of hours you will study, then use that to sign a contract which you use to start the visa process. However, the university does not yet know their schedule for the next semester, so they couldn't determine the number of hours I would be studying. :)

After twiddling her pencil and making a few phone calls, the administrator said that we could make an educated guess about the number of holidays in the next semester, and subtract those hours from my tuition. Then if it ended up being more hours, we would have to draw up an additional contract. If less, I could have a few private lessons.

Day 2

I didn't have time to pay the fees that day since I didn't know how long it would take. I wanted to try paying with my VISA debit and not cash, since the sum was large enough to have required several trips to the ATM.

The next day, using the map from Elena the administrator, I entered the main grounds of Herzen university and began to search for the building where I could find the cashier.

After wandering around for about 15 minutes, I determined which building I needed to enter, and eventually, found a working entrance. A few babushkas immediately accosted me and asked where I was going. "The cashier," I said, flashing my student ID.

"Okay. Wipe your feet."

I ascended to what I thought was the third floor and began to look for the office. There was a labyrinth of corridors with windowless wooden doors, labeled by black and gold placards with very long titles.

I found myself alone in a large corridor lined with huge portraits of the tsars. It was a very regal (and slightly intimidating) atmosphere.

I finally asked someone where to go. "You need the third floor," he said. I was only on the second floor.

On the third floor, I was supposed to take a right and then a left, but I couldn't tell what actually counted as a turn. I got lost again.

I entered an office with a lot of desks and asked if this was the cashier. "It's opposite," a woman said. I knocked at the door that was across the hall. "Try next door," they said. I tried the next door, but it turned out to be connected to the previous one.

"The cashier is right there! Can't you read?" I turned, and saw a window in the wall, with a small black label, "Cashier." Oh. All this time, I had been looking for an actual room!

I talked to the lady through the glass and asked if I could use my VISA card here. "Building 11, room 11. First floor." I was in Building 5.

I headed outside to start over. I had seen Building 11, but it was labeled "Department of Psychology." There were students milling about, and I looked for a different entrance. On one door, a sign read "for questions related to payment, go through the main entrance."

I walked past the students and into Building 11. I opened the door to room 11 and ordinary classroom. No, this wasn't it. I eventually found a sign that said something related to payment, and followed the signs up to the second floor. Entering an office, I asked again where to go. "You want room 11b," they said.

I went back downstairs and headed towards room 11. A woman was guarding some textbooks for sale. She told me to enter room 11 and immediately turn left. When I did so, there was a door marked "terminal." Ummmm. Creepy? I opened the door and found a closet-sized room divided by a curtain. There sat a woman in a purple sweater, sipping coffee from an ornate teacup. On the desk sat one of those machines that you run credit cards through.

I had finally found the right place, and she began to process my payment right away. After the first try, she said, "No connection with the bank. We'll have to wait five minutes. Would you like a cup of coffee?" I refused the coffee, but took a few pieces of candy as I hadn't had lunch. Then I pulled a random pamphlet out of my bag and started to read. We tried about three more times made a few phone calls, and eventually had success.

Next stop-the bank, to pay another fee. This time I knew where to go, but didn't know what kind of line there would be. When I arrived, there were two windows in operation, but one had been abandoned, and at the other stood a young woman in a fur coat, buying lottery tickets and scratching them off one at a time. Finally someone appeared at the second window and took care of me.

Final stop-the administrator of the international department. She shuffled some papers around and then took me to the passport/visa department, where they did some stamping and photocopying. They handed me a photocopy of my passport and my migration card, saying to check back in a month. I looked back at my passport as I walked away...hopefully they'll take good care of it!

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