My boyfriend Mark wanted to say that my last entry was a long post, but he wrote “lol post” instead.

We’re both big fans of I Can Has Cheezburger, so I made this in his honour:

funny pictures

I wonder if LOLs work with consulates.

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.

So as some of you may know, I tried my luck with applying for Team 2 of the Kaospilots Netherlands in Rotterdam.

I just found out today that I’ve been shortlisted!

I’ve been invited to the Admissions Workshop in Rotterdam on the 19th and 20th of June. They’re also providing accommodation and food (so the workshop fee is a bit higher, but at least I have a place to stay).

The main hurdles so far are flights and visas. Visas should be OK because I’ve got official paperwork, but I do need a ticket to get a visa (and to get to the Netherlands!).

Since I’ll be back in Malaysia at the time, I’ve asked my parents to help me arrange a plane ticket so I can apply for a visa as soon as I get home. They’re being Dolly Downers about the whole thing, though, so I’m not entirely sure I want to trust them with it. KP NL couldn’t fund me flightwise, so I think I’ll try asking KLM for help.

Any of you have any experiences with KLM or other Dutch-bound airlines? Any recs on those that are great with sponsorship?

But anyway! Great news! The principal, Peter Linde, wrote me a very thoughtful and personal email. I am totally touched and honoured.

I would also like to give a shoutout to Bob Sloat and Michael Doneman – you two got mentioned in the email and it was your feedback that got me through!

yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay 😀

I wish KP NL would hurry up and tell me the status of my application already.

Of course, the last time I wished that, I got rejected 5 days early.

argh. The anticipation plus all the end-of-sem assignments (including a rather messy rhetorical essay) is just stressing me out.

Seems that my last post hit quite a nerve – Jens made his blog protected and I’ve suddenly got more KPs coming out of the woodwork. My hits have jumped heavily in the last few days too.

Hey, nothing is free from criticism. When I travelled with Up with People (or even before I started) we all faced a hell of a lot of criticism just because of UWP’s reputation and history. And there were things that could have been done better. But it was still the best time of my life. Just because something’s attracted some negativity doesn’t make it totally bad. No one’s gonna like everything.

I just wished that the feedback was more constructive. If you disagree, that’s great. (I had a friend take down a post because I disagreed with his logic and points. Nothing against him, just his rhetoric. He somehow took it as a “personal attack” and then took it down because he thought I was offended. Wha? Disagreement doesn’t mean censorship! But anyway.)

The point of my last point was that the core substance of the KaosPilots seems to be lost in between all the party pictures and the “woo, foreign country!”. If you know where the substance is, show it! Give me links, references, contacts. Tell me about the stuff you’re doing. I want to know, many others want to know too. Share that energy! We want to share in it too! But we can’t do that if we don’t see it.

In semi-related news: can anyone translate this Danish blog entry? My boyfriend, and a web translator, had a go at it and all we can work out is that this guy went to his company’s teambuilding workshop for 3 weeks, which involved a KaosPilot, and it was totally fluffy and useless. But we don’t know if that is actually what he wrote. So a Danish to English translation would be good.

La de da! The closing date for Rotterdam (not Amsterdam, Thomas) was yesterday! Let’s see how that goes. I can’t wait two weeks, visas get in the way.

I’ve been following the blogs of some KaosPilots, particularly those that are on OutPosts overseas (that tends to be the main reason for their blogging). Quite honestly, I haven’t seen much in the way of cultural awareness – or even an attempt to understand and appreciate their host societies.

Most of the OutPost blogs tend to feature parties and gatherings – photos after photos of blonde blue-eyed Scandinavians drinking the night away while they party in an exotic country. There’s very little in the way of actually examining the culture, exploring their location, or even the work they’re doing. The work in their OutPosts are usually relegated to one or two posts – “this is our project, tada!”. Otherwise? Party party party.

The team in Mumbai right now are tasked with answering questions about India, sent in by the KP board members. One student is taking in questions from the Web – and, quite frankly, his response to the latest two questions shows a deep level of ignorance:

Implying that the West has made mistakes is apparently biased!
Cellphones and Internet in India is rare, people marry young, and Indians must be liberal with porn because men like to share porn on phones!

Complete headdesk-worthy. (Read my comments on the above posts for my responses.)

Two KaosPilots blogs that I find to be very thoughtful and reflective about the educational processes are Henrique‘s and Zulma‘s (Zulma’s website also rocks hardcore). Henrique is in China and his blog has plenty of thoughtful and interesting entries on China and Chinese culture, including the conflicts with Tibet. He really shows his effort at understanding his host country. Zulma’s is more personal, but she talks a lot about her projects, and the processes she goes through in completing them. She also talks about her budding life in Denmark – including a new baby! (aww).

It’s really interesting that the two blogs I featured above are both from international students – Henrique is from Brazil and I believe Zulma is from Colombia. They have had to face the challenges of being outsiders, of being foreigners, from Day One – while most of their classmates would have been right at home in similar cultures. Now these students are overseas too, sent by their outposts – and they haven’t quite picked up the skills of cultural awareness, of just being curious about where they are. They’ve instead become insular, clinging on to old patterns while dismissing their host culture’s patterns as just oddities.

I’m rather glad that the KaosPilots Netherlands have announced that they’re received expressions of interest from all over – Russia, India, Nepal, a few other places (including multi-country me). This would lead to a much richer pool of applicants, and hopefully this batch would be much more culturally aware than the others. I’ve checked out the Facebook group for the latest Aarhus school, Team 15, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication of non-Europeans in their team (and apparently Macs are MANDATORY! What?!).

It does make me wonder, though – why are the students of the “best school for the world” seemingly unaware of the world they’re in?

I have a pile of books to sell, in varying conditions (generally good). Selling for best offer + shipping (some of the books are pretty big); will ship international from Brisbane, Australia. I accept Australian bank transfer and PayPal. RRP = Recommended Retail Price.

Click More for the list of books for sale:

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