Overcoming Pre-Departure Hurdles

Well, I have made it ! I arrived in France 6:55 a.m., August 26.

The flight itself was fairly lengthy — about 14 hours total — however, this moment itself has been a long time in the making. I have dreamed about this for almost a lifetime and made it my goal about three years ago; to not just study abroad but to extend my stay for as long as possible, which to date is about 10 months.

I battled through classes, homework, financial stresses and personal loss. I have overcome many challenges in my life and have surmounted the odds … truly. I am very, very fortunate and privileged to be where I am now, not only in France about to embark on the experience of a lifetime, but probably one of my most important experiences in life.

It has taken much perseverance, motivation, determination and resilience, which I now have all thanks to my amazing support network of friends, family, professors, mentors, San Diego State University and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. So to all of my supporters, I am sending you a genuine, heartfelt “thank you!”

But I digress.

Let’s start from the beginning of this experience, which I will call “Getting to France”. This post will involve mostly logistics!

Step 1
In preparation for this endeavor, this year began with obtaining my passport.
The SDSU Passport Office made this first stage of bureaucracy a breeze: thanks! This was
the easy part!

Step 2
After that I then had to obtain a “long stay” visa, since I am going to be in France for more than 90 days. Although I am staying for two semesters, I believe this process is the same for everyone, since one semester is four months (Sept. 3 through Dec. 20). This involved submitting my long stay visa application online here (for France only). They give you step-by-step instructions on which visa you will need to apply for. You are also able to obtain help from the International Student Center on campus.

Note: there is a spot where you will have to indicate your residence while abroad. If you do not know this — as I did not at the time of the application — just put the address of your school. I then had to make an appointment in LA to submit my paperwork for approval, which also meant forfeiting my passport for them to add the visa to a page.

As you can imagine this is stressful!

Don’t worry: They do a great job staying in contact for any missing documentation as well as getting your passport back to you in a timely manner — but do not wait until the last minute. The Visa office also now forwards their paperwork/visa appointments to a 3rd party for processing called VFSGlobal, through whom you will be making your visa appointment and whose office you will be visiting in LA to finalize your

Step 3
I then had to obtain documentation for my dog to come to France with me.

There was a number of requirements, with strict deadlines to which I was to adhere in order for him to not only leave the country and enter France, but also so that he could fly in the cabin with me as my Emotional Support Animal (ESA).

  • First, I had to obtain paperwork from a mental health professional. If your animal
    is not an ESA then skip this step, although I am not sure what other
    documentation will be needed.
  • Second, Tavish had to have implanted a 15-digit ISO microchip, which is the EU and world standard. He also had to be vaccinated for rabies, both of which had to occur in a certain order, the microchip occurring before the rabies vaccination; they both had to be done by a USDA-accredited veterinarian (here’s my recommendation — not only is Dr. Lindsay an amazing vet but he and his staff now know this process all too well); and the health certification has to be downloaded and signed by the vet about 29 days before your departure date, I surmise, to ensure that the rabies vaccination has taken effect.This date hangs in the balance because the certificate also expires within 30 days of signature/receipt, but it cannot be expired before the date of entry into France. So the date of the appointment, microchip and vaccination must be within 30 days prior to departure. Here’s more info.
  • Third, in order to get this paperwork certified by the APHIS office it must be certified within 10 days of travel. It’s a very narrow window, so either set the appointment to visit the nearest office in El Segundo or have it ready and send it on exactly the 10th day prior to departure overnight, with an overnight return label, to the office in Sacramento. The El Segundo office is for in-person appointments and the Sacramento office is by mail.There were issues during this part of the process as well, i.e. not having all of the required paperwork because on the APHIS website links to the required documentation are not all in one place. Luckily my APHIS representative, Vicky, as well as my vet’s office, specifically the receptionist Katie, were wonderful. They busted their asses to ensure that I would receive my certificate of health in time for travel, which actually arrived two days before my actual departure.

Perhaps needless to say, the whole process of obtaining documentation either for myself or for Tavish, was extremely stressful. The timeline and deadlines, the exceptionally small window to submit documentation as well as the tight turn around actually caused me to lose sleep.

My advice, if you are planning to study abroad with your ESA/pet, etc., is to work on what you are able to work on. Get things submitted as soon as possible, as the deadlines allow. Cross your fingers and, as I have been told to do, repeat this mantra: Ce n’est grave.

“It’s not serious!”

As it turns out, it wasn’t so serious because everything worked out! No one even asked
for any sort of paperwork on Tavish and we made it safe and sound to France. However, the
struggle with bureaucracy was definitely a sign of things to come …

From France
With Love

Vanessa Reynolds is a non-traditional senior and transfer student studying international business at the ESSEC Business School in Cergy-Pontoise, France for the 2018-2019 academic year.

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