Tony in Switzerland: Studying Abroad…in D.C.?

Hey everybody! My name is Tony, and I am a junior at the University of Richmond, majoring in Biology and French with a minor in Studio Art. ­I know…I’m all over the place. Fortunately, I was able to find a program in Switzerland that caters to all of my interests. This spring, I will be studying at the Université de Lausanne (UNIL) where I will take biology, literature, and art history classes. Plot twist: they’re all going to be taught in French.

Richmond’s French department continues to encourage me, though, which is comforting when I think of how hard biology will be when it’s taught in French. One way or another, I’m excited for the challenge, especially after being home on Cape Cod for all of winter break. Most of my friends have already gone back to their universities, and my parents have left for a month’s trip to Brazil to visit family. In other words, I spent the majority of winter break at home alone or working.

That all changed on January 25—six days before my flight to Lausanne. Throughout all of break, I never received word about my visa from the embassy in D.C., which wasn’t for a lack of effort on my part. I emailed the embassy on the 5th and the 19th with no new information. My advisor and I became so worried that we started contacting my coordinator at UNIL for help. He pulled some strings and reached the cantonal authorities in Geneva. As it turned out, my visa had been authorized January 7, but I didn’t receive any notification about it. I started planning everything I could do to get that visa in time for my flight on the 31st. Would it be difficult? Probably. Would it be impossible? I hoped not.

Day One of the Visa Adventures: I was optimistic and immediately called the Swiss embassy to ask if I could expedite the visa authorization process, but as you might remember, the weekend of January 22, 2016 was a busy weekend for snowplows. Winter Storm Jonas challenged emergency preparedness everywhere, especially D.C. The embassy was closed that Monday because Jonas completely buried the city.

I wouldn’t give up yet. I decided to drive down to D.C. the next day and gamble on the embassy’s opening. Unfortunately, I grossly overestimated how well the city would be cleaned.

Day Two: I drove all the way down from Cape Cod to the wreck that was D.C and found that the embassy was still closed. I ended up driving down to Richmond to pay my friends a visit before going back to the embassy the following day. Free housing for the night didn’t hurt either.

Day Three: my friends and I started the day with a classic DHall breakfast. I called the embassy from my preferred third room booth and discovered that it was open. However, the receptionist let me know that no visa questions are answered over the telephone or in person. After talking it over with the OIE, I drove back up to D.C. I parted ways with my friends and reached the embassy before closing time. When I arrived, I was immediately turned away because according to the embassy’s policies, visa questions are only answered in the morning. I shockingly didn’t catch that when the rule is masked by three links on their website. Back to Richmond I went to spend the night in my friend’s apartment once more.

Day Four: I woke up aggressively early this time around and headed up to D.C. This time, I actually got to speak to the visa officer who told me that she could not issue the visa within the same day. At best, she could expedite the process so that I would receive it the next morning. Considering how soon my flight was, I agreed.

Here’s where the story gets pathetic, as if it wasn’t already. My car is expecting an oil change once it reaches 41,000 miles, and at that point, I was getting really close.

Somehow, my friend Amalia anticipated that I’d be stuck in another conflict with the embassy. The night before, she offered to let me sleepover her house in Maryland should anything happen at the embassy. She had been planning to go home for the weekend and knew her father wouldn’t mind the company. I ended up taking her up on the offer to pick up my passport the next morning. Amalia and her father would not be home until the late evening, though, which meant that I had roughly 6 hours to spend before driving to her house. Here are some of the pictures of what ensued from the #tonytakesDC campaign.


No elephants were harmed in the making of this photo.

No elephants were harmed in the making of this photo.


Living my brother's dream of seeing the Air and Space Museum.

Living my brother’s dream of seeing the Air and Space Museum.


I only made him mildly jealous.

I only made him mildly jealous.


At the end of the day, I toured more of D.C. than I have of Cape Cod and then drove to Amalia’s house. I was able to spend some quality time with her two cats and also Amalia and her father.


Fortunately, Amalia's cats were very photogenic. Meet Anna Maria.

Fortunately, Amalia’s cats were very photogenic. Meet Anna Maria.


And of course, the killer cat, Felix.

And of course, the killer cat, Felix.

Day Five: I got my visa. Nothing else is important anymore. I finally got my visa. Five days, 1,568 miles, and eight trips to the gas station later, I finally got my visa.


Lausanne, here I come! One day to go!

Lausanne, here I come! One day to go!

My flight to Switzerland leaves tomorrow, and now that I have my visa, I can calmly start packing. Although, what better way to procrastinate than by starting this blog? Check it out next week when I’m finally in Switzerland!

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