Opening Up About Visa Trauma


The day keeps getting closer. I can’t believe it is August. I should be starting my Senior year next week, but instead I will be packing (the few clothes not packed in my other suitcase) for a nice family vacation before I begin my UWC journey. Some of my American co-years have already arrived at their respective UWC’s and others are leaving in the coming days. Honestly I don’t believe I could be ready to leave by next week. I am just getting over the stress of the visa application process (it sounded much cooler than it turned out to be). So as everyone else prepares to head back to school my summer is just beginning. For those of you looking to apply to UWC, allow me to give you a few tips on the summer before.

Getting a Visa: When dealing with consulates around the country, do not think that one is similar to another. This is one of the biggest mistakes that can be made. They are nothing alike. For instance, you cannot call the Chicago consulate, but you can call the LA consulate. Some simple Do’s and Don’ts when applying:

DO make about 5 copies of everything

DON’T insinuate that some information may not be on their website. Their website is their all. Suggesting that it might by insufficient is equal to a personal insult to every consulate employee.

DO smile at everything they say no matter how worrying

DON’T make them mad.

Allow me to explain how I learned these things. Upon my arrival at the consulate, I believed I had followed all directions to a T and had dotted almost all of my I’s. I had a copy of everything and the originals. First thing: The consulate had apparently not received documentation that I would be applying for a Visa. It was apparently supposed to come from the school (cue heart attack). Second: Despite the fact the website clearly stated that applicants under 18 years of age did not need to provide bank records, only a signed affidavit of support, a bank statement was required. I feel personally victimized by the website. Third: The forms written in Italian to request my study and provide proof of insurance during my stay A) had been addressed to me as opposed to the consulate (which was somehow a problem?) B) I had a copy and the original (no good, only two copies, no original).

While it was stressful, looking back on it I probably provided some lunchtime amusement to citizens of Chicago. A skinny white kid in Sperry’s sprinting down Michigan Avenue. There was a crowd exclamation when I almost got hit by a cab. Fortunately for me the nearest Staples was located a convenient 5.5 blocks down Michigan Ave. and 1 block over to Wabash. My copies were surprisingly cheap at only $1.34.

After all that stress it was nice to sit down to a relaxing lunch at an overpriced restaurant with crappy service on the Riverwalk. The scenery made up for all my objections.Chicago

A few other notes:

  • Cheaper flights will always be found after you have booked your flight
  • Trying on every shirt in your closet to determine what fits best will rub your arms raw
  • Trying on pants too quickly and getting overconfident with the zipper can lead to painful accidents
  • Constantly remind oneself of baggage weight limits
  • Give up on attempting to review math for the placement test. It’s not happening
  • Spend as much time with one’s dogs as possible
  • Update music (aka find friends that will furnish you with access to their iTunes accounts)
  • Sleep at every opportunity (make up for what will be lost during the school year, right?)
  • Enjoy your friends and family
  • Don’t be afraid to show your enthusiasm for the opportunity of a lifetime



UWC Adriatic: 23 days 5 hours 3 min 30 seconds


The Beginning

The first United World College was founded in 1962 based on the ideals of Kurt Hahn, a German educationalist. The idea was to create a multicultural school to promote mutual understanding as well as to provide young students the opportunity to overcome prejudice and antagonism by living and working together. Since its founding, UWC has grown to 14 schools around the world: United Kingdom, Singapore, Canada, Swaziland, USA, Italy, Hong Kong, Norway, India, Costa Rica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Netherlands, Germany, and Armenia. The ambitious plan is to have 25 UWC’s operating worldwide by the year 2025.

For each country the selection process is slightly different, yet all students are chosen by a national committee in their country of citizenship. Thanks to the amazing generosity of Shelby Davis, the US national committee was able to offer 52 full merit scholarships to the United World College movement. The movement follows an “International Baccalaureate” High School curriculum. Typical students are 16-19 years of age upon entering one of the colleges. For many of us Americans that means our senior year and what might be termed a “gap year” to be spent at one of the Colleges. All courses are taught in English with the exception of language classes.

I have been given the opportunity to attend the United World College of the Adriatic in Duino, Italy. Located in a small town in the northeastern portion of Italy (approximately 20km from the city of Trieste) the school sits between the sea and the mountains. The school is one of the few UWCs that does not have a designated campus but rather is spread throughout the town.


            The UWC application for Americans is very similar to a typical college application. There are essays to be written, recommendation letters to be sent, and of course a mandatory report of some kind of standardized test. Shortly over a month after submitting my initial application I was informed that I had been selected as a semi-finalist and would have a Skype interview.

            My interview was conducted mid-February by a member of the US national committee and an Alumnus. I had never been so nervous for anything in my life, yet in the hour that I sat and stared at my computer before the scheduled time I felt oddly calm. My nerves drained away and for that hour I was able to sit and just enjoy where I was. During the interview I found myself in a rather serene state. Answer question. Ask question. Listen. Think. Speak. During, it seemed a relatively straightforward process, but after I began fretting again. When I received an email that I had become a finalist I had almost forgotten about the whole thing because at that point I was waiting for a rejection email.

            The finalist interview took place at the UWC-USA campus in Montezuma, New Mexico. Total time spent on the ground in New Mexico came up to be less than 48 hours. The time was spent hiking, playing games, and debating the issue of income inequality. The whole time members of the national committee, teachers, and alumni shadowed all 70 of us finalists. It was exactly as unnerving as it sounds. I tried my best to get over it (I never really did).

            At the end of my time in New Mexico I found myself with new friends and a more complete understanding as to what exactly UWC is and how it feels to be a part of it: a vibrant community of passionate and ambitious youth who embrace each other for who they are as people. There is no social precedent for how act in the face of such cultural variation, but maybe the UWC way can become the model.

Current Status:

            I am in the midst of collecting the items I will need next year. Scheduling appointments, signing papers, and frequent trips to my email to see if the Italian consulate has replied to questions have all become part of my daily routine. I am doing my best to take it in stride, but I am slowly coming to the sobering reality that I may never again see some of the people that I am accustomed to seeing on a daily basis. I am also realizing that I have effectively ended my childhood a year early. It had to happen sometime, but I find myself wondering if all those wistful thoughts about wanting to be out on my own were somewhat wasted. Am I ready? I guess that remains to be seen, but don’t think that I regret anything for a minute. Scared as I may be to fully throw myself into something so strange and so different, I feel a certain comfort in knowing that it was my choice. No one forced me to apply. It was my choice. I think that is a big part of the UWC movement: choices. Owning the choices we make is both what gives us the confidence to complete the things we have started, but also forces us to accept the price that has to be paid for every action.

UWC Adriatic: 66 days 20 hours 57 min 50 sec

Living my UWC dream 5,000 miles from home