Tomorrow I will be leaving for Russia, embarking on an exciting nine-month-long cultural and linguistic immersion. While this summer was a time for me to unwind with my family, take my GRE, and start on graduate school application forms, it also included preparations for my upcoming trip. There were numerous forms to be filled out, items to purchase, and logistics to work out.
The Fulbright program requires that each grantee complete many forms, providing information about their health, emergency contacts, travel itinerary, host country contacts, and bank account. In addition, final college transcripts must be sent to the IIE to confirm one’s graduation. [Note from FPA: IIE is the Institute of International Education, the private company that manages the US Student Fulbright Program for the US Department of State.] Luckily, I had few problems completing these requests. Nonetheless, I needed to expedite my graduation from UCSD to send my final transcript on time. [FPA explains: If you complete your bachelor’s degree the June before your departure, you have to submit a request to get your degree confirmation earlier than the other graduates. This can be a bit complicated.]
Furthermore, I got to correspond with my contacts in Omsk to figure out where I will be staying and what I may need to bring. I found out that will be living in a dorm for foreign students, providing me with most of the necessary amenities like bedding and cable Internet. Understanding that Western Siberia sometimes has extreme winter weather, I knew I had to pack multiple pairs of long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, parkas, and boots. I had some of these things already, but many of them I had to hunt for in New Mexico department stores filled mostly with summer clothing. Other logistical issues included purchasing flight tickets that comply with the Fly America Act, choosing a bank and credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, buying an international SIM card, and exchanging some rubles before my departure.
I also had to apply for my Russian visa. Anyone who has ever done it knows that it is not an easy process. I waited for about two months for my invitation letter from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon receiving it, I filled out an application form, took an HIV test, sent these documents to a visa outsourcing company called Travisa, and crossed my fingers. Everything seemed fine, but there were a few surprises in store for me. The Russian consulate in San Francisco requested initially that the rector of my host institution send an additional letter confirming my stay and later that I send my final university transcript. Ultimately, it took another month for my Russian visa to be ready. After several days of packing my entire luggage – including a camcorder and tripod, a few New Mexican souvenirs, and an Apples to Apples board game box – I am finally all set to go!