Visa Conundrum: 7 Tips on Getting a Schengen Visa

I wish visas didn’t exist. I wish so because of the limitations it creates for someone to travel all around the world at anytime. In Bangladesh, getting a tourist visa for anywhere is moderately tough. People in Bangladesh who get the tourist visa for Europe usually have a nice, bulky bank statement, or are famous and in their middle age having a white collar job. If you do not have any of those and/or you are a teen and you don’t have a bank account/job yet, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t get a visa to Europe. Either you have to apply through your parents and your parents have to have the aforementioned criteria or you could pull some strings at the Embassy if your parents are politically involved/has relations somehow. I used the latter option in Bangladesh to get visas for the countries I visited so far, until I applied for a Schengen visa to Poland on my own.

I applied for the Schengen visa through the Swedish embassy in Bangladesh and was rejected under the reason, which I’m paraphrasing, that they can’t establish whether I’m going to Poland for tourism purpose or for immigration purpose. Why in hell would I immigrate to Europe when I had a US visa already issued in my passport for a bachelors program at RIT for 5 years? When I was handing in my application, I read somewhere in the embassy that Bangladesh is considered as an “Orange” nation in that embassy and has a history of people migrating illegally. I know it’s the fault of some of the people in Bangladesh but, what kind of classification is that? If you are pointing at our skin color, please get it right. You could say “50 shades of brown” nation. Anyhow, somewhere in the Swedish embassy, it even said that you won’t be given a visa if your purpose is to see your boy/girl friend. Is Hitler in command for that embassy or what? So I went to USA without travelling to Poland that time and went to Poland later with some help (an invitation letter) from a special friend of mine.

Things are quite easy when it comes to applying for a visa in USA. All you need to maintain is correct information in the application and sufficient means of travel. That is, you need to have the money to travel and feed yourself while travelling. If you could show this to the embassy, you should get a visa unless there is some other reason I don’t know of. So I am going to Germany and to other unplanned, European destinations  this summer and here is the step by step procedure I followed to get a Schengen visa:

Step 1: Visit the website. If you are applying for a visa to any country in Europe, you’ll find the visa information usually in the embassy website (duh…but many people keep asking me about the visa procedure and requirements). In USA, there are states allocated to each embassy. For instance, the New York embassy of Germany won’t serve someone from California. So do that.

Step 2: From the website, find out the required documents needed to apply for the Schengen visa. Some embassies have tougher requirements than others. Some have thorough details of how much you need to show in your bank statement. So it’s a good idea to check multiple embassies and be flexible in your travel. Remember, Schengen visa allows you to travel to 25 countries. So you could apply for a visa to any of those 25 countries and later travel to your desired destination through cheap train/airline tickets.

Step 3: Know how to fill up the Schengen visa application. For the visa to Poland, I used tips from a fellow blogger: (http://bubbleofblah.com/schengen-visa-application/) and for the visa to Germany, I used this document from the Abu Dhabi embassy: (http://de.vfsglobal.ae/pdf/VIDEX_General_User_Guidelines_190613.pdf). Do a google search on ‘how to fill up the Schengen visa’ and you’ll get a lot of sample applications.

Step 4: Have your airline booking, hotel booking, bank statement, passport info, other residency info in a foreign country that you’re staying at, lined up. For the bank statement, a general rule of thumb is to have $100 per day allocated for your travel. So for instance: if you are going for 20 days, you should show $2000 in your bank statements (which can include a credit card if you have one). You won’t usually require $2000 for food and hotel in Europe, but most of the embassies see $100 as a good amount to survive the day anywhere in Europe.  I’m a college student, so I’m always looking for ways to save money.

  • Use http://www.bewelcome.org to couch surf and meet new people and make new friends. It’s a good way to socialize and roam Europe within a budget.
  • And use http://www.seat61.com to find out about cheap train tickets all around Europe. If you want to fly, use http://www.ryanair.com for cheap airline tickets within Europe.
  • And use http://www.booking.com to book hotels/hostels for free and use those documents for the visa application. If you later on change your mind about staying in a hotel and couch surfing instead, you can always cancel the booking without any fees.
  • For the airline ticket, periodically check several websites. I use kayak.com, onetravel.com, airfare.com, studentuniverse.com, and norwegian.com to find my cheapest, international ticket to Europe. You should search for recent articles in the internet which talk about when to get the cheapest ticket. Usually for travel during December, the cheaper tickets are available during October and for travel during summer, you should buy the ticket during April/May. Also keep in mind that there are cheaper airports to travel to. So for instance, flying into Frankfurt is cheaper than flying into Paris.
  • The embassies ask you to book the ticket and not to buy it, but you can’t really book a ticket with the online booking websites I mentioned - they charge immediately after you book it. You need to buy a ticket from a travel agent as they can book the ticket for the visa and charge you after the visa is issued –  if you can’t take the risk of not getting a visa. I took the risk and that’s what I do :).

Step 5: Buy an insurance that covers 30,000 euros during your travel anywhere in the world for treatment and also ships you back to your country/state of residence, if you had an accident (basically, if you die). You can buy an insurance for 10-15$ from insubuy.com. They also give you the letter which is required for the application.

Step 6: Include all those documents which you think are relevant in establishing that you live where you live and would come back to that place after you travel. I mean, come on, no authority likes illegal immigrants. So if you want to travel, be a traveler. Don’t have any intentions other than travelling. There is a separate procedure for immigration and you should go through that. If you illegally immigrate, you would be ruining the visa procedure for the others and I don’t want that. The easiest way for you to immigrate might be to fall in love with someone from that country and marrying him/her! Wouldn’t that be interesting, huh?

I included my I-20 form from college, my college ID card, ISIC card, driver’s license, enrollment verification, rent, utility bill, class schedule etc.

Step 7: This is important (only if the embassy you are applying at has vague application requirements and asks you to provide additional, relevant documents). Write a cover letter (tips for writing the cover letter: http://bubbleofblah.com/schengen-visa-application/). In the cover letter list the documents you submitted precisely and explain in few words what they are intended for. Don’t be a waffle bot and write a lengthy essay. Also, it is in your favor if you explain the documents which support that you are going to return to the place where you came from. My college info were enough to explicate that point. I don’t know why the Swedish Embassy in Bangladesh weren’t convinced of that.

The German Embassy in New York had very friendly, smart and intelligent staff. They returned all of the extraneous documents I included in my application (including the cover letter) and gave me the visa in two business days. Kudos to the Germans!

I know the visa procedure is a hassle but you’ll forget about it once you reach Europe and start roaming around all the scenic places and meeting new people! I wish John Lennon’s words were true…imagine  there’s no countries…imagine all the people living life in peace..and the world will be as one…

Disclaimer: Everything I said above is in no way affiliated to any government/consul/embassy and I am not in any way responsible for you or any of your actions, if you have followed the steps I mentioned (I am just saying this so that I don’t get involved in any legal consequence(s) and not saying that I just wrote 1500 words of useless advice). So be responsible and honest and have a nice trip! :)

I Started Cooking

Those days are gone, when I could shout at my mom from my room to give me food. In college, either you eat from college dining services or you eat outside in restaurants or you cook your own food. Since I’ll be living in an off campus house from the next academic year, I have decided to give cooking a try. It’s a new thing, I’ve never done it, so today I felt adventurous and went grocery shopping for the first time. I was planning to use the kitchen at my work place on campus. So I bought all the essentials from this shop called PriceRite which is known to have a low price for food and went directly to the kitchen.

The tough part was finding out an easy enough recipe. I cooked rice first, cause that was the easiest (I’m from South Asia and that should explain my affinity towards rice), but now I wanted to cook something with the chicken breasts that I bought. When I searched the internet for recipes that include chicken breasts, I ended up with all these fancy names and a lot of ingredients were missing from the groceries I bought. So I said screw it. Somebody, somewhere in this planet must have said once that “Cooking is an art” and taking it literally I decided to trim the chicken breast and chopped it into pieces:

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Next I marinated the chicken with pepper and salt and left it at one corner for sometime while I chopped some vegetables (carrots, cucumber, peppers, greens etc.)

I took out the sauce pan now, put some canola oil in it and heated it up. I put the chopped chicken in it and started putting all kinds of spices that I found in the closet of the kitchen:

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Next I put all the vegetables onto the sauce pan:

IMG_20140622_185432~2And I was dancing to some Indie music which was playing in my phone. I tossed the dish and played around with the heater until I got the desired color on my canvas! Next I made sure if the chicken was really cooked, by eating one piece of the chicken from the pan (Oh boy, what an excitement it was!). I put my hard work into a plate and served it with a little bit of ranch dressing.

The final product:

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It took me an hour I guess. Not bad for the first time I’d say. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 5 for the taste. Anyway, it filled my stomach for the rest of the night.

UPDATE: I cooked more! Bananas worshipping a strawberry on top of a blueberry embedded mountain of pancakes!

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Setting up RIT Email (Google app email) in Android

As the title says, this post is specifically for RIT people. However, you are welcome to read it to gain insights on this simple solution to a problem, even if you are not from RIT. So as I was setting up my RIT email in my Nexus, I encountered a problem because RIT uses Gmail Apps for student email and on top of that they have Single Sign-On (SSO) for the sign in process, which basically means google doesn’t store our password. When you sign in through gmail.com, you type username@g.rit.edu in the address and then leave the password blank and press enter. It then directs you to RIT’s server where you put your RIT issued computer username and password and then only you get to see your mail in Gmail. Now for the android (may be valid for iOS too), to set up an email, you have to take some extra steps.

Step 1: Go to start.rit.edu and click on the “Google Apps at RIT” on the sidebar

Step 2: Enter your username and password

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Step 3: In the next page, enter a new password in “Google Apps Password” Box. Note that you will be creating a new password. Your RIT computer password stays the same. (This was the “thing” that was keeping us from creating an account in Android apps or other mail clients!)

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Step 4: Now there are two ways you can set up the email in Android. One is to set it up using the “Email” app in Android and the second is to use the “Gmail” app. I’m attaching the screen shots from the “Gmail” app which is pretty much self explanatory (Add account>Google>Existing>Email & Password> Additional configurations which you can customize). Just remember to use the “new password” you created in Step 3 and email as username@g.rit.edu. That should set the email!

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Step 5: Now if you want to use the “Email” app, first you have to do a little tweak to your RIT email (that is, enabling IMAP for the RIT gmail). Log in to your RIT email using a computer and do the following (copied from google support).

Enable IMAP in your Gmail settings

  1. Click the  gear in the top right.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Click Forwarding and POP/IMAP.
  4. Select Enable IMAP.
  5. Click Save Changes.

Step 6: Now do the following (copied from google support):

  1. Enable IMAP in your Mail settings.
  2. Open the Email application.
  3. Tap  and the Settings
  4. In the top corner, tap  select Next to get started with setup.
  5. Enter your full Google Apps email address and password, then tap Next.
  6. For ‘Username,’ enter your full Google Apps email address
  7. Tap IMAP account.
  8. Update the Incoming Settings:
    1. For ‘IMAP server,’ enter ‘imap.gmail.com’
    2. For ‘Port,’ enter ’993′
    3. For ‘Security type,’ select ‘SSL/TLS”
  9. Tap Next and fill in the Outgoing Settings.
    1. For ‘SMTP server’ enter ‘smtp.gmail.com’
    2. For ‘Port,’ enter ’465′
    3. For ‘Security type,’ select ‘SSL/TLS”
  10. Tap Next and continue through the setup options.

Hopefully, this will solve the problem and you’ll be more active in checking your school email cause remember, RIT’s policy says that anything that is sent to your school email (for instance: a letter by professor, quiz dates, exam dates etc.) is assumed to be read by the student regardless they actually checked their email or not. That means, you can’t use the excuse to your professor that you didn’t check/get the email. So stay updated instead and do your work!

A Cinematic Bus Ride

I never judged people critically on their phone usage. It’s a good device. Keeps us connected. But it’s true that it feels quite disturbing after sometimes, to witness people looking down on their phone all the time. I went further and peeked at what they do. I mean, I didn’t literally saw what they wrote to their girl/boy friend, mum, dad etc. I just looked at the gestures used on the phone and it was mostly “swipes” (duh. Newton’s laws are also…duh). Similar to scroll on the computer. What Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other major social networks did is that they involved a dynamic webpage with infinite scroll or “swipe”. So it is difficult to come to an end and you are hooked to the website in the process. I propose an easy solution. Get out and explore the world. The exploration is infinite till your existence. So again, you’ll get hooked. But hooked to the reality, not to the finite dimensions of the virtual. Here’s an itinerary for a great activity to do in Rochester, NY. It’s adapted from an article in therochesterinsomniac.com. I tried it myself and it was a lot of fun!

Step 1: Wherever you are, reach Main and Stone Bus stop, which is right next to the Chase building at Rochester. I reached there from RIT. So you need to take the bus number 24 from RIT, which drops you off exactly at that point – Main and Stone. Use Google Maps to get a sense of direction. It’s a great tool. If it’s not accessible, use common sense!

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Step 2: Look for bus No. 1. There are several of them. Make sure you get into the one labelled “Lake to Charlotte”. After all, it’s Charlotte Beach that we are going to.

Step 3: Hop into the bus. Chat with people. Read a book. Look at the city from the window. It’s ok to listen to music on your ipod. But listen to a couple of tracks and then do something else. That is, do different activities. I read pages from Richard Branson’s autobiography. Listened to a man and his frustrations of not having a male grandchild ’cause he wants to take him fishing. And then listened to an expectant mother, while she says she’s done if it’s a girl. Quite a contrast!

Step 4: Your last stop is the beach. Get down. Enjoy. Take pictures.

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Step 5: Walk down the pier. It’s beautiful. Don’t move away from the splashes of the waves. It’s their way of welcoming you.

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Step 6: Reach the end of the light house and look into the distant horizon. You might find something!

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Step 7: Try the local specialties before boarding the same bus back. I tried hots from Harbour hots and had delicious fudge from the Abbotts!

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Step 8: Create your own trip and let me know!

Lost in Pronunciation

Girl: Butter or oil?
Me: Butter
Girl: What would you like on your pasta?
Me: Can I have chicken, peppers and herbs please? 
Girl: Sorry, what?
Me: Chicken, peppers and herbs please. (with my voice a bit elevated)
Girl: Sorry, we don’t give hearts in here.
Me: I mean, HERBS. Am I saying it wrong?
Girl: Oh you mean ‘erbs! For one second, I thought you asked me to give you a heart. 
Me: Well that would be nice too! 
Girl: Sorry, I don’t do that.

I studied my subjects in UK English for the major part of my schooling. And it has been only a year that I am adapting myself to US English. The Americans were successful in changing the way I say ‘Maths’. Now I say, ‘Math’. And now, I found out that, in US English, they pronounce “herbs” with h muted. Upon further inquiry, I found out it’s a french word and the h is muted in french. Well Americans, if you would like to pronounce herbs the french way, why can’t you pronounce croissant as kʁwa.sɑ̃

I won’t complain as long as the pasta keeps my stomach happy! 

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

Previously I mentioned a quote from ‘The Orange Girl’ by Jostein Gaardner and I reiterate:

I sat there mulling over a problem: if you’re looking for a person in a large city and have no idea of their whereabouts, is it best to move around from place to place, or is the chance of meeting them greater if you sit down in a central location and wait until they turn up of their own accord?

Today I had a demonstration of this quote. Few weeks ago I found an earring on my way to class. I picked it up and put it on my necklace that has my yin and the mother Mary locket that I got from Mother Teresa’s place in Calcutta. RIT has a population of 17,000 people. That means, the chance of finding me with the locket is 1/17,000 or 0.006%. This was particularly interesting to me because, there would be someone looking out for the earring if it was of any interest to him/her.

So it happened. Today morning (rather afternoon, which is my morning), as I was paying for my food, the girl at the counter screams at me saying “You found my earring!”. She asked me would I give it back ’cause it was made by her mum. I was more than happy to take it off of my necklace but I was a bit hesitant inside too ’cause the earring looked good on my necklace! But anyhow, I took it off, although broke the hook while taking it off; but she said she can fix it. After an exchange of a hug and a request from me that she would send me the picture of the earring so that I can share this with you, I continued eating my delicious omelette with home fries and a banana!