I’ve been sitting on that last post for a while and it was kind of a heavy one, but since this is sort of a travel blog, I want to tell the story of my trip to the Consulate General in New York.
I went on Tuesday because I couldn’t get more than a day off of work. My first flight left at 6:20am and then after a layover and another flight, I arrived at LaGuardia around 11:30. There were a couple of delays which meant we had to wait for the crew to spray the frost off of the wings, and the second flight was delayed 45 minutes for them to “get a new engine.” Not sketchy at all, right? All the flights were on those dinky little commuter planes that can only hold 50 people. And I am under NO circumstances a morning person, so you can guess how happy I was about this whole situation. On top of all that I’ve been stressed about work, stressed about this move, and stressed about my immigration documents.
I did overestimate the time it would take to get from the airport to the Consulate, so I had about three hours to spare. I got some lunch at a little corner shop called The Choux Factory that was right across the street from the Consulate, taking note of the beautiful rows of eclairs, profiteroles, and macarons and deciding they would make a great reward for myself if everything went well.
I walked around for about an hour, just people-watching and window-shopping. With two hours still to spare, I found a dog park and got out my Kindle. About 45 minutes before my appointment, I decided to head to the Consulate. I went in the wrong door at first, in a building that I think was a fancy-schmancy hotel. The carpet was red and everything else was black marble, and a doorman in a black uniform with gold braid asked if he could help me. I must have looked very out of place in my faded Northface fleece, skinny jeans and slouchy brown boots. I asked him if this was the Consulate General of Finland and it felt like a million years till I got the words out.
He directed me to the other side of the building. Inside the UN building, there is a lobby with a set of four flags in the window and a handful of other flags on the wall, and a large reception desk right in the middle. The Finnish flag, a simple blue cross over a field of white, was one of the four in the window, although I didn’t recognize the others. I was half an hour early at this point and asked the two men at the front desk where the Consulate was. They seemed surprised that I was so early and assured me I could wait in the lobby until my appointment time. I was antsy though, so I decided to go find a bathroom. Killing more time. Finally it was 15 minutes until my appointment and I could feel all of my cells quivering. The thought occurred to me that this feeling was actually familiar–it was the same way I felt before a recital when at last after weeks of keeping myself in denial of my nervousness, the moment of truth had come. Would I bomb it? Would it start out well and crash and burn? Would it be mediocre? What if I hadn’t thought of everything? What if something unexpected comes up? I tried to calm my breathing, if only to look a little less twitchy while I was a guest at the UN.
Stepping into the Consulate General of Finland (or Suomen pääkonsulaatti) is like stepping into an IKEA living room. Natural pine flooring and large columns provide a backdrop for a couple of minimalist Scandi design chairs scattered around what I’m pretty sure is the Hemnes coffee table. The walls are simple and bright, decorated with soothing prints of nature photograhs–waterfalls, meadows, sunsets on lakes, foggy boreal forests. A large reception desk takes up the middle of the room, behind eight panes of glass (I counted). Soon enough I was called to step into a small room to the side, and interact with an immigration agent through another eight-paned glass window. I had a small table to organize my things on, and there were two chairs.
Suddenly I felt a strong sense of being a foreigner, and what that means to people who don’t have the luxury of being American. In the UN building, in the Consulate, I was out of my homeland and completely at the mercy of another government. I was asking them to evaluate my worth as a person, as a contributor to their society, and to let me join them and be one of them. Suddenly I was afraid that I wasn’t enough, and it was a new kind of falling short, because it was on a global scale. It’s a very different feeling to compare yourself to your American colleagues and understand how you are being measured up by them. But it’s an entirely different feeling to realize that there are other priorities, other standards that you might not be familiar with and may not be expecting.
Luckily, my agent was typically Finnish and very polite. She apologized for having a cold and for taking a long time copying my passport, she asked if I had any other questions and waited patiently while I shuffled my papers around, my hands shaking as I realized I should have organized my documents by sets of completed applications, rather than the copies of each kind of document. She even gave me a tracking number for my application status. While I waited I eavesdropped on the receptionist’s phone calls. She was also typically Finnish, about my age or a few years older, with ashy blonde shagged hair, high cheekbones and dark eyes, and a dryly sassy demeanor. No call lasted more than two minutes, and they all ended with an abrupt “Moi.”
I walked out of the UN building smiling and headed for The Choux Factory. I had time to buy a packet of three each espresso and matcha macarons and then my taxi came to take me back to the airport. Two more flights and one layover later, and I was back by 10:30pm.
It’s four days later and that experience seems a little surreal, as does my completely different and far scarier experience obtaining a student visa to the UK. But that’s another story for another, far rainier (or snowier) day.