A version of this appeared on Rappler: I was refused US, Europe visas in Manila, and it was a beautiful experience
I am smiling as I am about to type this. I literally just arrived my parents’ humble abode in Manila from my US visa interview.
I am smiling as I tell my mom, “I did not get the visa. It’s okay because I don’t feel like it’s a dead end. I still have everything figured out.”
I am smiling as an American blogger friend told me, “you keep changing plans. Where are you going after the Philippines? It seems like you’re all over the place than I am.”
I am smiling as I respond to him, “You don’t need a visa to every country in the world. For sure, my plans are all over the place than yours.”
And I am still smiling now as I am writing this raw — confused if I should start the story with my Spain visa refusal or the USA.
Okay, let’s start with Spain. Rewind to 1.5 months ago…
It’s been 6 months since I came back from my 3-year South America backpacking trip and I had the feeling that I have to move again. Spain was an option because I was dating someone from Denmark for over a year now. There. I said it. We were actually looking into building a life together in Europe. You might ask why did I apply a visa in Spain when he is from Denmark?
(1) I felt like it was easier because I am fluent in Spanish;
(2) I don’t want to depend on him to obtain a visa in Europe. He could easily marry me but I wanted to do things right. I wanted to go to Europe because of me. Not because of us.
So I did things my way. I gathered all the needed documents to apply for a Spanish Student Visa in Spain. I figured a student visa is a strong shot because of my Spanish language fluency. Once my interview appointment was set, I went to the Spanish Embassy in Manila. Lining up outside with no proper waiting area, I patiently waited for my name to be called together with other Filipinos hoping to reach Spanish soil. Most of them are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) and they were scared as fck. We’ve been waiting for hours so the usual activity occurred. I talked to a married couple who are going to try their luck in Spain. They told me they got a job in a restaurant and their plan is to save money in order to obtain Spanish nationality and eventually bring their children to Spain. I sat down quietly and listened as they complained how difficult life in the Philippines is; how their children will have no future here. I did not say this aloud but I thought to myself: So they think their children will have a better life in Spain? The economy is too low in that country. Even if Barcelona is my most favourite city in the world, I will never live there if my intention is to save money. But of course, like what I wrote in all my proses about Barcelona, if you want happiness, it is the right place to live in.
“How about you? What are you going to do there?” The woman asked.
“I am going to study.” I responded. The next few minutes were them talking about how privileged I am to do such thing and how filthy rich my parents are to be able to send me to study in Spain. It kept going and going until we were called for the interview. When it was my turn, I was confident. The interviewer was Filipina and she seemed to have positive vibes. She knew I was going to study writing novels in Spain so she automatically spoke to me in Spanish. The moment I opened my mouth, she was shocked by my accent and by how I was able to communicate using colloquial language.
“Hablas Castellano muy bien. Como aprendiste?” (“You speak Spanish very well. How did you learn?”) I told her I had no formal education and just learned it through my 3-year trip in South America: staying with local families and continuous practice even if I sounded ridiculous during the early stages of my learning. She then told me to come back after 7 working days to know the results.
I felt good. I felt that being able to speak ‘their’ language gave me a greater possibility to get approved.
Fast forward to 7 working days. I went back to the Embassy only to find out that the visa application has been denied. There was no explanation whatsoever but it only said I have no proof that I will be going back to the Philippines. I felt bad because my plans had to change. I felt worse when I had to break up with my boyfriend because there is no way this relationship will work if we are not together physically. I am usually not good with Skype calls or opposite timezones. I have high regard with Filipinas who have foreign boyfriends and are able to keep up with this lifestyle that even takes years. My boyfriend and I broke up and it was a mutual decision. Yes, he is the one that got away (if you read that post a few months ago).
It’s sad that our world is divided by geographic, class, gender and racial lines. It’s sad that a fruitful, thriving, romantic relationship had to end just because of a paper. And yes, if you are wondering, I’ve already been to Europe so it’s weird to be rejected if I have previously obtained a Schengen visa.
You know what they say: when a door closes, another one opens. They Young Philanthropist, an American organisation that arranges road trips all over the US and Europe invited me to join their journey this year — all expenses paid. The moment I received the invitation was the confirmation that Spain was not for me. “Maybe this is for me.” I said. The road trip will start in Los Angeles, CA and end in Savannah, GA. We will be on the road for 3 months (June – August). I gathered all the necessary documents right away because the trip sounded fcking amazing.
Fast forward to today, at the US Embassy in Manila…
I did not have any feeling about being approved or rejected but I opened myself to both the possibilities. “I have nothing to lose. There are many other places to see.” To be honest, I am not that all raved in going to the US. I have other places in mind. However, I accepted this blessing that volunteered itself before me. I have never been to the USA because I just did not feel the need/thirst/excitement to go there yet. Maybe this is the right time. Having a US visa is pretty convenient too.
(1) I can go to Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras freely. I need not apply separate visas for these countries because Central America accepts US visa.
(2) Fares to anywhere I want to go will be cheaper from the US.
(3) Free trip! Who wouldn’t want to go to the US if offered a FREE trip?!
The line was long I waited 1.5 hours to be called. I am not sure if it was an American woman who interviewed me because I don’t want to base anything on physicality. She sounded American though there was a white dude behind her whom I assume served as an advisor.
She asked a lot of questions but I will summarise my answer: “I am a writer and I was invited to join a 3-month US road trip. The trip will be paid by the organisation and I only need to write about it.” No questions about financial capability though she asked for the itinerary. I showed it to her, together with the letter of invitation and she said, “Please hold.” She shut the microphone off, closed the tiny window where you slide your documents and asked the dude behind her. I couldn’t hear anything but I was already seeing doubt on the white guy’s face. She returned to me and said, “I am sorry madam, I can’t give you a visa today. But this blue paper will give you more information.”
I said thank you, smiled at her and walked out of the Embassy. Now I am writing this and you might be thinking I am crazy for smiling a lot after all these visa refusals.
How can I smile if I already paid over 10,000Php ($214.00 USD, Spain and US visa fees combined) knowing I am not getting a refund?
How can I smile if I am not going to the USA or Spain?
How can I call this a beautiful experience?
There were so many realisations that came out from the 1.5 hours taxi ride from that flat white building in Roxas Boulevard…
Since I have traveled to a lot of countries, everyone thinks I have the immunity. I don’t. I also have challenges. A young, single, childless, ‘houseless’, jobless woman like me is always questionable for traveling because someone like me can be a terrorist (numerous passport stamps) or a tool for women trafficking. Which is ridiculous. But I understand. Even if I have a remarkable travel record let alone a public blog, it’s not safe to say I am a trusted person. But really, I am! I just can’t prove that to them because I don’t have enough means to.
I remember reading a random writer’s story. He was mugged in the lower east side of New York City and was pointed a gun to his head. To get out, he said, “I am a writer. Please don’t kill me.” What made him think being a writer gives him immunity? Writers are so true and creative we tend to think we can get out of anything just by being one.
I hoped for that, actually. During my interview, I consistently said, “writer” and not “blogger” because I really look at myself as a writer. I wish we have the immunity. I wish writers like me who offer the world some sense through words can have immunity. Maybe I should petition for a writer’s passport? That’s too much to ask, I guess. But maybe, just maybe in the future, “writing” will be socially accepted as a career — a career that doesn’t need an income tax return or an employment certificate as a proof to be labeled a law-abiding citizen.
I was able to travel my country. For the past few months, I traveled to the wonderful Guimaras, Cebu, Iloilo, Boracay and probably found home in Siargao. That makes me really happy. I have come to realise that no matter where I’ve been to, no matter where I go, the Philippines is the most beautiful country in the world. I will be true to this for eternity.
For the first time in my life, I feel like it’s not a dead end. If Spain and USA are not for me, then something must be out there for me. There are so many places I am really interested in! El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya — believe me, I have a long list. Most of these countries are also visa-free for Filipinos. I feel like I will have more room for adventure there though it won’t hurt to try to apply for a visa in the big league. And oh, I was given a 5-year multiple entry visa to Japan last week! So it’s a good start, no?
This is what I kept saying to my friends and readers who think it’s the end of the world if they don’t get a Schengen and US visa: it’s not the end. There are really too many places to see!
My passport is expiring soon. Maybe it’s time to renew it. Do you believe in the energies of the things you own? I do, in the same manner that I believe in my relationship with the Universe. I strongly feel that my passport has to go. I have already filled 31/43 pages and it has to retire. Country stamps where I was challenged, pushed down, survived and learned. I need to make new passport memories. So I decided not to wait until it expires. I will renew it this week. It needs new positive energies. It needs to start over.
We keep going. That’s what we do. I have so many things to be happy about rather than make a drama out of my continuous visa refusals. Speaking at TED Talk is one of them. It might be simple for you but for a writer like me, it’s a big deal. Today, I also got the confirmation letter that I will be traveling to Israel for an all expense paid trip!
The conclusion is to focus on what I have rather than what I don’t — to be able to divert my energies to greater opportunities rather than dwell on the things I don’t have control of.
I am happy and I hope you understand why. I am happy because I am still experiencing difficulties. Life has given me nothing but wonderful and beautiful opportunities. I am not comfortable with having no challenges in life; with being given all. I want to be challenged. I want to experience difficulties every once in a while. It will teach me to bounce back. It will hone my life skills further.
One day, you will find joy in adversity, I promise you that.
I leave you with what my Aunt Cherylle told me: “There are no sad endings. Endings are always happy. If it’s not happy, it’s not the end yet.”
I don’t have my next move yet but I will continue writing about the past few months I was traveling in my country. Maybe I can get something out of it. Maybe it will help me decide where to go next.
Are you from a developing country like me? What are your challenges in applying for a visa in big countries like Spain and the USA? I would like to hear your thoughts!