Immigration


I haven’t heard about my status for KP NL yet – it’s still the weekend over there, after all. We’ll all know by around this week.

In the workshop I talked about how, if I don’t get in this time, I probably won’t try again for a while. This isn’t necessarily because I’m giving up on the idea of being a KaosPilot. Rather, it’s because I feel that if this attempt doesn’t work, it’s time to let go and have a break.

The process is extremely draining. The application form is highly personal – though often questions are recycled so it can get a bit tedious to be explaining yourself over and over and over. The creative project can also be a challenge – while I’ve found it fun, it can also bve really difficult if the project is something resource-intensive (for instance, the video set by KP Aarhus).

If you get admitted into the workshop, you need to rush to get your transport sorted. This is extremely tricky for someone like me who lives far away and has a troublesome passport that requires visas for everywhere. (While in Dordrecht I heard from a friend in Burundi who had been shortlisted but could not afford to come.) Admission workshops are expensive for a non-European! Even those in North America don’t have it quite as hard, because it’s relatively closer.

Once you sort out the logistics and actually get there, you face two days of emotional turmoil. The workshop process is extremely challenging and testing, and I reckon that trying to go through it more than twice in a year (there are quite a number of people who apply multiple times) would be way too much on your soul. Even with the foreknowledge of what’s coming (the content doesn’t change a lot), you still face challenges to your mind and psyche. There’s a lot of reflection on yourself and the team, including exercises that bring to the fore all sorts of hidden thoughts and concerns. Even now I still start crying remembering parts of it – it’s very very tough.

A lot of the KaosPilot process is luck of the draw – who else is there with you? In the workshop they said that they’re choosing for the best team; just because you didn’t get in this time doesn’t mean you’ll never function as a KaosPilot. It just means you weren’t as effective with this particular mob. While we were all pretty chummy by the first night (before the workshop), after we had been separated into our groups we pretty much spent all our time with our groups. There wasn’t much of a chance to interact with the other applicants who were in other groups. In my last entry, I wrote about how I initially felt out of place in my group; I may have been more accepted in another group, but there’s no real way of knowing for sure.

If I don’t get in to the KaosPilots this time round (third time lucky?), I’ll likely give it a rest for a while. I may revisit it in a few years – the newer schools would have more footing, and there may be more schools in other places (a KaosPilots in Brisbane would be AWESOME). I would also have more financial capacity, and hopefully even a better citizenship/passport. I would also possibly be a lot more grounded and be able to recover from the emotional ruckus better – at this stage, I only have had a few months in between to process everything.

As odd as it may seem, it’s actually logisitically easier for me to be a KaosPilot than my other options. Being a student is relatively straightforward – the school manages the paperwork and there is a set visa. If I wanted to stay in Brisbane after my degree, I would have to try to fit myself under highly restrictive visa rules. As it is, I don’t qualify for General Skilled Migration (I don’t fit any of the needed skillsets) nor the 18-month bridging visa (the minimum salary is about $41,000/year, which is management level and way more than I’ll ever get at this stage unless I work as a porn star). Getting a job-sponsored visa would be tricky as the companies/organizations I’d work best in may not be able to afford sponsoring me. There is the option of continuing study; however, I am already burnt out with academia and it’s hard enough finding more project-based schools like the KaosPilots.

My dream job is to work with Up with People; I may pursue that option if nothing else works out. There isn’t an opening in Road Staff that suits me yet, though other office-based jobs sound interesting. Again, given that this is a US-based organization, visa issues would be tricky. But at this point I’m already used to tricky visa issues.

The Scholar Ship has shut down, so that option’s gone. I might apply for Sauve Scholars but it’s just as competitive and possibly more academic than I’d like.

I could always go back to Malaysia and work there, I suppose. I’d like to be Spidey’s assistant (the woman keeps thinking it would be an insult to ask me to be her PA. Despite me telling her a gazillion times that I’d be more than honoured to work with her. She probably finds it awkward to ask me to work for her.) Jobs in Malaysia for my capacity are limited though – there aren’t that many organized options for youth work and creative community development. I also have my projects that I want to start, but I do need to live off something, and I’d rather not have to depend on my parents.

So what shall I do, if KP NL doesn’t work out? Should I just try again anyway?

My visa’s been approved, and right now my passport is with one of Dad’s employees who was in KL. I’ll get the passport back tomorrow before my flight.

Here are the details:

KL to Amsterdam – MH016
Departing: 17/06/08 23:55
Arriving: 18/06/08 06:35

Amsterdam to KL – MH017
Departing: 21/06/08  12:00
Arriving 22/06/08 06:05

I’ll be bringing my laptop, camera, and webcam; hopefully I can get some video blogs up here.

Still need to work out how to get to the StayOkay hostel from Amsterdam, but I should be good.

Yay!

Having a Bangladeshi passport (despite being born & raised in Malaysia – long story short: Malaysia is not a jus soli country and I am a Permanent Resident in Malaysia) means that I need to get a visa for about 90% of the world.

Bangladesh Passport Cover by Russell John
Bangladesh Passport Cover by Russell John

The Netherlands is one of those countries. As The Netherlands is part of the Schengen agreement, this makes my Dutch visa applicable to many other European countries, which is great – I took advantage of the Schengen benefit to visit both Sweden and Denmark on my last Euro trip. (The annoying thing about Schengen is that, despite the UK being in the European Union, it’s not a Schengen country – I’ll need a separate visa, and I can’t visit my sister in Bristol this time round. boo.)

The thing with Bangladesh passports is that many countries make it a high-risk passport, which means it normally takes longer than usual for me to get a visa. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent my whole life in Malaysia, that I’ve been travelling since I was a baby, that I have been in Australia for two years. Because my passport is green and comes from a Third-World country, I’m somehow a travel risk.

When I asked KP NL to fax over an invite letter to the Netherlands Embassy in Malaysia, the staff member asked (paraphrased): “can’t you just apply for a tourist visa? I’m sure our country isn’t that xenophobic!”. I am applying for a tourist (short-stay) visa – that’s why I need the invite letter! I don’t know if xenophobia has a part in it, but it’s more bureaucracy than anything else.

The naivety of people who’ve never had to deal with visas can be really cute sometimes. Though it does mean that KP NL will have to be prepared for dealing with student visas.

So anyway. I found out about my invite when I was in Brisbane, but I was flying to Malaysia on the 8th. I contacted both the Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur consulates asking what to do. I found out that all visa applications had to go through the Netherlands anyway, so I figured – couldn’t I just send the application in Brisbane and get the visa in Kuala Lumpur?

No go, says KL. They need to know that I’m legit.

Brisbane isn’t a go anyway; they’ll have to send it to Sydney, and by the time my passport gets there, I have to go to Malaysia.

I arrived in KL on Sunday night and on Monday morning my dad and I went to the Netherlands embassy to hand in my application. The form, two photos, Dad’s bank statements (since he bought my plane tickets), the letters from KP NL, a letter from my university stating I was a student in Brisbane, and copies of IDs and insurance and such. They’re sending it to The Netherlands (it should be there now), and hopefully I’ll get it back in time.

Dad had just come back from Amsterdam, though it did take a little while for the clerk at the embassy to recognize him. Hopefully this would be a plus in our favour.

Getting the Swedish visa last year for the KP workshop in Stockholm was an adventure all to itself. I had less than a week, and I knew that trying to get my parents’ approval would delay the process.

I went to the Swedish Embassy in Brisbane first thing in the morning, and explained my predicament. The lady took a look at the papers and told me that chances were low because even Australians needed a month for visas. She called up the Sydney office for me – then looked at me in surprise as she explained my luck.

If I could get all the papers in order within two hours, the visa is mine.

This meant that I had to buy my plane tickets on my own. I definitely wasn’t going to inform the parents yet, and looking for funds won’t work. I had money in my account set aside for uni fees, which was enough to cover my airfare.

I went to the Flight Centre office in Brisbane and went through the cheapest airfares. The main complication was that return seats were filled up, and in one case a return via Bangkok was not viable because the layover would have been 14 hours and I needed a visa for anything above 12 hours. Eventually we worked out a flight plan that went Brisbane – Singapore – Amsterdam – Stockholm – Amsterdam – Tokyo – Sydney – Brisbane. Over $2000 gone in an instant.

With my tickets, insurance, letters, and passport, I handed over my application. The chances were good but still super risky. I decided not to tell my family about it until I had the visa in my hands.

In the meantime I arranged my own accommodation. Couchsurfing and the Hospitality Club wasn’t working out for me, so I had to find a hostel. I found The Red Boat, a youth hostel that was actually a pair of moored boats on the Stockholm river. I placed a long distance call and had my room.

Three days later, my visa arrived. I was shaking; this is the first time I’d applied for a visa on my own, and I did it. My dad kept telling me that I’ll never be successful at visas with my Bangladesh passport unless I had him and his job to support me, but I did it. I didn’t need my parents’ status. I just had me.

My parents didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when they heard the news.

I eventually made it to Stockholm (and a side trip to Copenhagen and Aarhus) on my own. It was very challenging, especially since I was jetlagged, a bit culture-shocked, and was recovering from massive uni assignments. I was extremely exhausted and battered on the way home – especially when I had to go through 10-hour layours in both Tokyo and Sydney, find out that I was rejected from KP Stockholm while in Tokyo with no one to console me, and had to fight for a new flight when my Sydney-Brisbane flight was cancelled and no one was helping me get onto a new one (except for the lovely Flight Centre lady – thank you!!).

Despite all that though, the trip was absolutely worth it. I proved that I could apply for a visa on my own merit. I did a solo international trip and didn’t get into trouble. I could take care of myself. I could survive massive challenges. I did feel that I didn’t want to look at planes for a while (not possible, since I flew home a week later!) but I survived.

At least this time round it’ll be easier flight-wise. Accommodation’s been taken care of, and it’s just JB-KL-Amsterdam; no crazy stopovers. Rotterdam is just 50 minutes away by train. All I have to worry about is whether someone will try to feed me hash brownies (eww pot).

Now all I have to wait for is my visa.

(I have a feeling I may have already written about this, but no matter.)

I’ve just been browsing through the Denmark community on Livejournal and there have been a few posts alluding to Denmark’s prejudice against Muslims and Middle-Easterns. Apparently the current government wanted to block them from coming into the country through their open-door policy, but because they’ve signed treaties that say “don’t discriminate”, they’ve had to apply the policy to everyone. So now all the first-worlders (i.e. US, Canada, Australia) are crying foul because they’re finding it hard to migrate.

As much as I empathise with their struggle, because immigration  is a right pain in the arse, I can’t help but be amused at how naive they are. “I’ve stayed in Denmark for a year! That should count, right?” “I have British permanent residency! Why wouldn’t they consider that?”

Dude, immigration anywhere is hard. You don’t necessarily get special privileges based on your past experience. Just because you went there on exchange, you think you should get a free pass at migrating? Ha! I was born in Malaysia, raised in Malaysia, educated from kindergarden to pre-tertiary in Malaysia, represented Malaysia everywhere…and I am still not a citizen. So what hope would a really short-term stay be? As for permanent residency – being a permanent resident myself, it’s pretty much like being in a perpetual in-between state. No one really knows what to do with you. There’s clear rules for foreigners, clear rules for citizens…but PR? You might as well be dealing with space aliens.

Immigration isn’t really the crux of my concerns, though – I’m not looking to migrate permanently to Denmark, and they’ve changed the system so that it’s the school that makes the first move anyway, so it’s a little less hassle visa-wise. What I am concerned about, though, is the Danes’ perception of “brown people” – anyone that looks vaguely Muslim.

It seems the main issue Denmark has with Middle-Easterns is that they don’t want to integrate with the local culture. They won’t learn the language, they won’t take a job, and they’d rather stay in their own communities. That is not the Danish Way, and so we must limit immigration.

Well, from my experience, it’s pretty hard to integrate when your culture is looked down upon and everyone thinks you’re up to no good. I remember being bullied by both teachers and students alike (more the teachers, really) in primary school just for being Bangladeshi. Hardly anyone wanted to be friends with me genuinely because I was this “other”; particularly an “other” that was getting press for “robbing our houses and stealing our women”. I could speak Malay better than many Malay people, but that just made me even more a target for ostracization – “how dare you be better than me in my mother tongue?”. (and yet, when you speak in your own tongue or some other language, they get upset because you’re “not embracing the national language”. Go figure.)

Learning languages is a hard skill as it is, anyway. I’m on my 4th week of learning Danish and so far I can tell you what goes in a house, who some of your family members are, what sounds animals make, and what I think about things (either “smuk” or “grim”), and maybe count to a thousand. But I still have to refer to my homework (hjammelbaejder!), and my accent (which is either Indian, British, American, or Weird depending on who you ask) will still be obvious. Try having to pick up enough to survive a week the first day you arrive in the country! I didn’t even get to practice my Swedish when I went to Stockholm because everyone just responded in English anyway. What if they just never found anyone to practice with? What if no one wants to communicate with them in the first place? I admire anyone that is able to pick up a strange second language, particularly one so different from their own, especially if they had to learn a whole new writing system together with that. It’s damn difficult.

So now you’re in a weird land, you’re experiencing massive culture shock, you can’t talk to anyone and no one wants to talk to you anyway because they think you look funny. Who would you turn to? The ones who’ve done it before you – the other people who moved from your country to here. They understand you best. They can help you through it. They can help you get used to the local culture, while keeping your roots. They’ve been there, done that, started T-shirt factories. Instant community. Instant knowledge. Massive support. It’s not surprising, then, that you’d spend more time with the people that understand you best – and who just happen to come from your same neighbourhood back home.

As it is, Danes (and oddly enough, Brisbanites) have this reputation of being insular – they hardly become close to anyone they haven’t known for ages. And they think the migrants aren’t integrating enough?

I’m all for integration; I love diversity and feel that multicultural societies are a great thing. However, there is a difference between integration and assimilation. Integration allows people to be themselves; they are accepted for who they are and yet still allowed to participate fully in the community. Assimilation, on the other hand, demands that participants conform to a certain expectation and that they leave their own cultural values behind, because it is “irrelevant” or “inferior”. Many of the people who complain about immigrants’ non-intergratedness are really calling for assimilation – “our culture is so much better than theirs anyway, why won’t they change? Oh, they just aren’t compatible”.

If you want people to integrate into your society, accept them as they are. Don’t make them give up their core selves just so they can fit in.

Hmm, I’m learning Danish, I’m learning how to cycle, and my values are pretty similar to the Danes. However, I still have some Asian values I hold on to. Do I have to get rid of them to be “integrated”? Or will I never be integrated into Danish society anyway because my skin is brown and my last name is Arabic?

Edit: The applications have been sent! Get your copy here. They’re due at the end of May.

The KaosPilots in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) are also recruiting for this year! Their application workshop will be in June, which means that their classes would start in November or December. That would be an interesting alternative for me – if I don’t make Aarhus but make Rotterdam (or decide for Rotterdam) I could actually finish off my degree and get to the KaosPilots.

Of course, this means I have to rethink my entire fundraising strategy because then I have to take two countries into consideration. Also, the “first Asian student” sthick I’ve been peddling may not work here – they have someone from Korea interested. Maybe I can still be the first Malaysian 😉

To get a form, you need to email them and ask for a copy. I’ve asked them, and I’ll upload it here once I get one.

Interesting! Lots more KaosPilots chances!

After a few different emails to different departments of CIRIUS (Youth Program, Bilateral Agreements, the Year of Cultural Diversity, etc etc), I finally get what seems to be a “enough already” email:

Dear Tiara Shafiq

Thank you for mailing us again.

There are no possibilities for establishing a bilateral agreement between Denmark and Bangledesh or Malaysia and we do not have the possibility to give you a scholarship in return for working with CIRIUS.

Citizens from non-EU countries do already have a possibility to apply for a shcolarship to study in Denmark see http://www.studyindenmark.dk. However this scholarship is not for the KaosPilot education.

Kind regards
Marie Haulund Otto

OK OK I get the point. Odd thing is, even though I have been emailing different people about it, it’s Marie that usually ends up answering.

Oh well, at least I tried.

Apparently the EU has declared 2008 the Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

This should really work in my favour; I’m as intercultural as they come!! I’ve registered for a Partner account and I’m looking up interesting people right now.

Mark and I went through the Danish-only Ud i Verden site recommended by CIRIUS. It’s meant for Danes going overseas, so I don’t know why they recommended it to me since I’m an overseas person coming to Denmark. We did find some interesting links, such as cultural arrangements and this mystery scholarship program that won’t open till end of January, so who knows! Maybe I’ll get lucky!!

As far as my app goes: I’ve gotten the video part mixed up. Only the “burning question” needs to be non-verbal; my answers can be verbal. I’m thinking of answering the first question of the application (map of your life) in scrapbook form; they said “write a short storyline” but when I did that for Stockholm it took PAGES. Scrapbooking would be more interesting IMHO. let’s see if I can pull it off.

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