It’s Wednesday, February 5 at 11:55 p.m. and I’m leaving for South America in exactly 15 and a half days.

In 372 hours from now I will be on a plane to a different country to live abroad for two semesters! It’s a little much to get my head around right now, if I’m being completely honest.

It’s not that I’m not prepared; I’ve gone through the necessary steps in order to be ready to go. The entire process up to this point has not been overly stressful, but many things needed to be checked off the proverbial ‘to do’ list in order to reach this juncture.

First came the application to the school. In my case, this was providing a copy of my transcript and completing the submission process for Universidad de Adolfo Ibanez in Vina del Mar, Chile. I would imagine each university has different application requirements, so I won’t go into too much detail here. What I will say is that this was a very big step, as once the acceptance letter arrived, I was able to start applying for a student Visa at the Chilean Embassy.

This application required the completion a few smaller steps before the actual application could be made. First was the police records check, a process I had gone through earlier in the year in order to be a Sprosh Week volunteer. Because I was already familiar with applying, I decided it would most likely be best to check this objective off the ‘to do’ list first. My mom (being the sometimes overly helpful, but extremely well intentioned person that she is) found a service in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario that would be able to circumvent the police altogether. Now, if you’re thinking that this is somehow illegal, it’s not! Commissionaires is a private company that provides an electronic police records check faster and cheaper than the Police. The same day I walked in, I was seen, checked and submitted within 20 minutes. This process was certainly made easier by the fact that I recently had a background check done. I received a phone call several days after letting me know that my records had come back clean. Score one for mom!

Next up was my “fit to travel” inspection by my family doctor. I was able to find time to schedule this in during Christmas break, and was happy to been certified “fit to travel” with ample time to still apply for my Student Visa. In Ontario, this step is a lot easier than the western provinces in Canada. I have learned from a friend who is from B.C., many provinces west of Manitoba have only a few select doctors who are able to provide the testing in order to be certified “fit to travel”. In this case, getting this step done and out of the way as early as possible would most likely be the best approach.

With my acceptance letter, police records check, and fit to travel certification from my family doctor, I was ready to apply for my visa. Before heading back to Ottawa in the New Year, my family and I made a trip out to the Chilean Embassy in Toronto. We got there around 11:30 a.m., a very inopportune time as it turned out to be the busiest time of day for applications. The Embassy is open only until 3:00 p.m. every day. After 3:oo p.m., the doors are locked and the employees only serve those inside or who have applications currently in process.

The best approach would have been to arrive right as the Embassy opened. This way I probably would have been in and out in under an hour. Unfortunately, the high volume caused the wait time to exceed four and a half hours. Finally, I was seen and I filled out the necessary paperwork and provided them with the necessary units of identification and certification. Then came the time to pay, and oddly enough they could not process the transaction themselves. We had to go to the CIBC downstairs and process it there. I would recommend to anyone who does not bank with CIBC to bring cash on hand when applying to the Chilean Embassy in Toronto. In addition to the $190 cost of a VISA, I was also charged a bank service fee. I guess it’s true, travellin’ ain’t for the faint of heart or the tight of purse!

I left the embassy that day with my Student Travel Visa and a paper advising proper registration/notification procedure to follow when arriving in Chile.

Next came booking a flight. I discovered that Toronto is one of the only airports to offer direct round-trip flights to Santiago from my area. Since I was flying down on AIR MILES, I booked a direct Air Canada flight in early January out of Pearson International. I’m not sure what the cost would have been if paid for in cash, but it certainly wouldn’t have been cheap. The flight from Toronto to Santiago will take approximately 10 hours and 20 minutes, saving a lot of time and headache transferring from one plane to the next mid journey.

Then there was the application for extended health insurance, which was applied for through OHIP. Under my moms health insurance plan I am covered outside of country for the first 90 days, but after that I am on my own. In order to be covered for the duration of my stay on exchange I had to apply for this extended health coverage. The email address I used to contact OHIP was ohipabsences@ontario.ca. Unlike a ‘fit to travel’ certification, I’m not sure how this process varies from province to province. OHIP absences will not reply for a minimum of 14 days, or two business weeks. Like the doctors appointment, I would recommend booking this as early as possible in order to make sure this done well in advance before leaving.

Next up: The fun stuff!

Well not ‘fun’ in the conventional sense of the word, but I am starting on the tasks that are getting me excited to depart. Purchasing hiking gear from MEC, finding a good DSLR for landscape photography on Kijiji, etc. Seeing family and friends for the final few times before exchange will certainly be bittersweet and a little overwhelming. It will always be tough to leave behind almost everything, everyone, and every comfort you have ever known for the great unknowns of travel. The power and importance of this distinction is not lost on me, but I’m ready as I’ll ever be for what’s next.

Its Wednesday February 10th, 1:35 p.m. and I leave for Chile in exactly 370.5 hours.

Baby steps completed, let the countdown commence!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 in , ,
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