My madcap adventures in Germany during my year as a Fulbright Scholar.

26 September 2006

Welcome to Kafka-Land

My letter from the university said to report to the university between 10:00 and 13:00 on September 25 for "matriculation," so I was there promptly at ten.

I followed the arrow on the sign marked "Immatrikulation." I walked through a door and wound up...outside, in the courtyard. Although there were no more signs, it wasn't too hard to find the room. Once there, I began the arduous process of wading through German bureaucracy. First, I had to wait twenty minutes for someone to arrive and unlock the insurance forms. After getting that form I went and checked in, at which point I was handed a map directing me to the cashier. It was technically located in the same building, but the only way to get there was by going back outside, through the courtyard, and into a different door. I paid my student fees and then retraced my steps. (Btw. €186 will buy you a semester at a German university, including a six-month transit pass. Isn't that amazing? There's actually been some discontent and protest among students, because until recently universities were completely free.)

Once back at the "Immatrikulation" desk I got a number and waited. And waited. And waited.

I watched students who arrived after me get called, be processed and leave while I continued to wait.

I suffered in silence, hesitant to ask someone why I had to wait so long, for fear of appearing impatient and being bumped to the back of the queue. I did, however, wonder if it wasn't like that Kafka story about the man waiting to be admitted to the Halls of Justice. Maybe all I had to in order to be let into the magical room where students were matriculated was ask. Maybe my exclusion from that room was due to my own hesitancy and shyness.

Or not.

After about an hour and a half a woman came to me, ripped up my number, and gave me a new one, on a different color of paper and six hundred numbers further back.

Finally, three hours after my arrival and two hours after I was given a number, I was shown into that magical room to be matriculated. Since they weren't calling based on numerical order, I thought it must be by major, and I suspected I had to wait so long because lots of students come to Germany to study German language/literature. Helen (history) and Freddy (political science) were called long before me because their majors weren't as popular among international students.

At first this seemed true, since each table in the room was labeled with a different major. But the table I was shown to was labeled "anthropology and ethnography" and Freddy was at the table marked "law." Then I realized that the woman who is helping me (I was number 263 until the woman took it away and gave me #886) is the same woman who helped Helen, who had number 264.

At that point I gave up trying to understand the system.

I filled out the form, showed the woman a handful of documents and was given a temporary student ID and some flyers. She then introduced me to the wonderful thing called "Visa Service." I filled out my visa application, submitted about a dozen documents (by that point in the day, though, they were completely disorganized) and left them to take care of the rest. It's like magic. It generally takes six to eight weeks to even get an appointment at the visa office, so this was well worth it, even if it meant leaving my passport with them for three weeks. That's one more thing I can check off the list.

I then trekked across the courtyard once more and went back to the cashier, where I handed them another form and was given €110 cash. Just when I was feeling like I'd never escape from a bureaucratic nightmare à la Kafka, someone handed me a wad of cash and said, "Welcome to Germany." It's not a bad system really; it made the half a dozen forms I filled out (I'm not exaggerating, either), the four trips across the courtyard, and the eternal waiting completely worth it.

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2 Comments:

Blogger pat said...

WOw...how interesting. I'm glad to seethis post--it had been a few days and I check your blog evry day. I hope all is well....

4:45 PM

 
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