Sunday, January 15, 2012

How I Moved To London (The First Time)

It's entirely possible that my family didn't already know the whole truth behind why I moved to London (the first time) but, since they do now, I feel I should say this: it was so worth it.  Also, sorry.

Anyway, now that you've all enjoyed that story, it's time to tell you about how I moved to London (the first time).  I hinted yesterday that it involves 10 hours of detention at Heathrow, so gird your loins, dear readers, for a bit of an adventure.

On 15 September 2008, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport bound for London, armed with two huge suitcases (for which, if I remember correctly, I paid an extortionate overweight baggage fee) plus the biggest carry-on I could find.  My mother and I both cried when saying goodbye in Washington, but I sauntered through security with a spring in my step and a smile on my face and only a vague awareness that I might need a visa to enter the UK.

See, I had applied for a Tier 4 visa over the summer but hadn't properly submitted all of the supporting documents and was duly denied my paperwork.  This was a setback, admittedly, but I was undeterred.  I had already booked both my flight to Heathrow and my return to Washington, and because my length of stay in the the UK for the first term of my MA program was less than three months I figured I could scoot through customs as a tourist.

This might have worked, had I actually told border control officials that I was a tourist.  Instead, I told the truth: I was a student.  Funnily enough, it seems that if you want to be a full-time post-graduate student in the UK you need a visa.  I was hauled off - nicely but emphatically - to a detention room, where I was questioned by a lovely immigration officer who clearly hated the fact that I was sobbing throughout my interview but who nonetheless stood his ground.  Once he had determined that I was a very silly girl and not, in fact, a terrorist, he deposited me in a room full of other very silly people and checked me in to a return flight to Dulles.

To note if this ever happens to you: when they send you back, they use your pre-booked return ticket, which means that you're not technically paying extra for the privilege of being turned around because you're using a ticket you had already purchased but you will, in fact, have to buy a new round-trip ticket if you want to eventually continue on your merry way.

Unfortunately, the first LHR-IAD flight with an open seat wasn't departing for another ten hours, so I spent an incredibly frustrating day in detention.  But, believe it or not, I made a friend, Whitney, who was in the exact same situation as me - we've actually kept in touch a bit since then - and she made the day slightly less unbearable.  Also, I realized that I was relatively lucky because, even though I was completely overwhelmed, I understood what was going on and why it was happening; there was a whole Brazilian family in detention with me (I don't know specifically why) who didn't speak any English and who were painfully in the dark about their situation.

As soon as I got back to Washington, I reapplied for my visa.  The gods of karma must have been watching over me, because the whole process (the second time around) took just under two weeks, and I flew out of Dulles on 29 September and successfully entered the United Kingdom on 30 September, one day before my classes started.

Because of this debacle, my ever-patient parents wasted a few hundred dollars on plane fares and I lost two crucial weeks in London that I would have used to find housing, meet my classmates, and get acclimatized to the city.  The overarching lesson of this story is simple:

By the way, I'd like the record to state that I was not deported; I was denied leave to enter the country.  Those are two very different things, it turns out.

Up on Tuesday: what you should do to avoid this situation.  Check back!

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely adore this post! Such courage to move "across the pond" {i hate that saying, sorry} You are such an inspiration!

    Also, how's the couch to 5K coming along?


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