June 14, 2012

The Perils of Operation Study Abroad

Every time I think I've gotten things taken care of and under control, another wrench comes flying in.

Things that have gone wrong, and how I've managed to work them out:

I was told I couldn't/shouldn't bring my cats.

When I told my Study Abroad counselor that I planned to bring my cats with me, he just stared at me blankly before informing me that no other student he knows of has ever brought pets along. I smiled and assured him that I'd be the first then.

I learned the intensely complicated procedure for bringing my cats.
Microchipping, vaccinating, examining, getting paperwork signed by not only vets but government officials (the Food and Drug Administration of all things), not to mention finding an approved route and airline and dealing with the cargo situation and proper kenneling and the $200-400 fee. All of which has been going swimmingly: microchips and vaccinations done, arranged the rest with the vet and planned to shop for kennel, found an airline that was supposed to be pet friendly... more on that later.

I was told it would be difficult to find a place to live (see above re: cats).
This was actually a major concern, since I wasn't sure what I could afford for rent, how to find someone who wouldn't mind the cats, etc. Then one day my lovely friend who already lives in London came along and offered her guest room for reasonable rent. Solved! That's one I'm so very grateful I didn't have to work out on my own.

When I had my financial aid meeting, I found out I'd be getting about 1/3 of the money I thought I would.
This was one of the worst moments. I came really close to actually passing out from shock in the financial aid counselor's office. After I recovered and started pulling my brain back together, I knew I'd have to find someone to help me cosign a loan so I would have enough money. I started calling family members and eventually landed one who agreed. Sorted! Or so I thought...

Because I later found out that said family member could only sign for half the amount I need.
While anything is good, realistically the loan needs to be the full amount. Even with the visa which gives me the ability to work while I'm there, I'd probably be scrounging for food within two months. So I dialed up my courage and asked a friend if they would cosign for the full loan. Wonderfully, they said yes. Sorted again!

I got a call yesterday informing me that the airline I booked my ticket with (KLM, but really Delta) has abruptly changed their pet policy so that no pets can be transported in the cargo hold.
Because I have two cats and they both weigh around 17 pounds, they can't be in the cabin with me. Which means they won't be traveling with me on that airline. This is so intensely frustrating because I was quite happy with my non-stop flight (for the kitties' sanity as well as my own) and that's the only non-stop from here to London. The flight was also extraordinarily cheap because I got it through this student travel website, so the additional $200 to cargo them was tolerable. Now I'm faced with a few possibilities: Delta may be dicks and refuse to refund me for the flight, which means I'll have to potentially pay an extra $2000 to have them shipped by a company that specializes in pet transport. The other possibility is that Delta won't be dicks and will refund my money, meaning I'll have to get another flight altogether, this one including a stop somewhere that will make it more stressful for all of us. Not to mention the flight will probably cost double what I paid for the Delta flight because I'm not sure if I can trust the student travel website to get me a on a flight which allows pets. I'm seething about this because it was all sorted, but thanks go some arbitrary policy change on the part of the airline, it will most likely end up costing me a hell of a lot more than it was going to.

Alright, let's try to shake it off for now. Shake it off. I said shake it off, dammit.

Some of the things that have gone right:

I got into school, got really good grades, and got accepted to the program.

Study Abroad isn't why I decided to go to school. But it's a massive bonus. And my grades are all mine, something for me to be proud of.

The visa process has turned out to be infinitely less complicated than I first thought.
This is partly because I read too much into it and assumed the worst. The money part of the process, which I was sweating over for months, turned out to be not only far easier than I thought, but even somewhat unnecessary. All I need is a letter from my home school saying I'm being offered X amount of money and I only need it "just in case" since it doesn't actually have to be turned in with my application. As of now I have the two main things I need, which is a special number from my host school and the aforementioned letter from my home school. The application itself has to wait another week before it can be filled out due to this 90-day thing. But all in all, pretty easy (if not cheap, at around $450).

I've managed to jump over every hurdle thrown in front of me so far.
As horribly frustrating as all of those things in the first list are, there's always been a way to get past/around/through it by doing the work or swallowing my pride or putting my head down and plowing through. I think I have to thank the meds for some of that... I know damn well that I would have spun right into a fatalistic depressive episode during a few of those hurdles without it.

After all the things I've dealt with already, the visa application is what has me trembling in my boots... what if something goes wrong? I'll feel a lot better once I've got the thing in my hand. I'll feel even better once I've got this latest wrinkle with the cats smoothed out. But I won't be able to relax 100% until me and the boys arrive at our new home in south London. When that happens, I'm pretty sure I'll just hug my new bedroom floor for a few hours. Hopefully with my cats trampling anxiously over me every few minutes.

Ah, what a lovely thought to end this report. Over and out!


  1. My 2 cents re: pet shipping: From personal experience, hiring a professional pet shipper was the best decision Alsha and I could have made when shipping our cats. The main reason for this is that pet-shipping involves so many agencies outside of your control (the vet, the document-certifying authority [i.e. the FA in your case], the import authorities, the airline, etc. etc.). The pet shipper knows how to coordinate these, the layperson doesn't. My primary source of frustration was our vet, because (understandably) they are more concerned with their daily business of seeing patients than with making sure they sign your papers when they need to and stick to rigorous import schedules and such. When we finally caved and hired a pet shipper, they dealt with part of the vet stuff for us (i.e. harassed our vet until they got them what they needed when they needed it), which took a HUGE load of stress off our backs.

    It's an extra expense, of course, and I understand that money's always a concern. But if you can at all swing it, I highly recommend handing the cat-shipping off to the pros, especially if there are concerns about airline policies and such. When you're busy with packing and storing your stuff and organising visas and uni schedules and financial stuff, etc., you're not ideally equipped to be dealing with all the short-term issues that could pop up with the pet shipping.

    About the airline, I'd say don't worry too much about whether or not there is a stopover on whatever flight you end up going with. The fact is that an overseas flight with all the ruckus and noise associated with it is always going to be not fun for cats - honestly whether or not there's a stopover is not going to make that much difference one way or another. They won't be thinking "omg we'd feel so much calmer if we could've gone directly", because they won't know it could have gone differently. And airline personnel are trained and generally pretty good with not rattling them around or scaring them more. As long as you're there for them at the end and prepared to spoil them lots and love all over them, they'll forgive you and they are going to be okay :)

  2. NotoriouslyuniqueJune 15, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Boo Hiss stoopid airline >:S
    I'm with Aldi. I think with all the added expense of changing your flight and the possibility of them not refunding your ticket, it seems much easier to actually pay the extra money for pet shipping