6 weeks to go: images of Scotland, random fees, and well-disguised panic

I leave for Kuwait on the 20th of August, 2012.

I’m pretty excited. It’s the first time I’m going overseas knowing where I’m going to work. Back in 2005, when I went to live in Scotland for a year, I sold my car, worked two jobs to get some cash flow, and landed in Edinburgh unemployed and unworried. I  got a job pretty quickly, working for a young insurance company who was fairly new on the British insurance scene. They hired backpackers and inexperienced twenty-somethings to do the grunt work on the top floor of the office building, far away from the well-dressed middle management and corporate responsibility. We had a ball; the floor was completely ours, and was a veritable cultural soup. I was the sole Canadian, but in addition to the Scottish team, we had a Texan as the American representative, a handful of English and Irish workers, and a South African. Together, we had more fun than was probably reasonably allowed. No one checked on us much because it was loud and noisy and looked like the dictionary definition of “Organized chaos”. It was sort of like how people avoid going to the kindergarten section of a school. It’s just a little too crazy to actually want to go in that direction. We took ridiculous amounts of tea breaks, purposely avoided actually calling the insurance advisors whose clients we were reviewing (emailing and faxing was easier and allowed us more tea breaks), listening to the Top 40 (whenever I hear “Don’t Phunk with my heart” by the Black Eyed Peas, “Dirty Harry” by Gorillaz, “Galvanize” by Chemical Brothers, and anything James Blunt, I think fondly of Scotland) and pretty much slacking off. It was amazing. I made just enough money to travel to Greece, France and Italy to do some serious backpacking, as well as discover the Shetland Islands, somewhere I’d always wanted to go.I came back well-traveled and completely broke. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Now, however, it’s seven years later. I’m seven years older, seven years more educated, and luckily, more employable. I’m a certified teacher, with two degrees under my belt, and when the travel bug bit me, I decided it made sense to use my education to go overseas and teach. Fewer tea breaks, I’m certain, and no chance I can get away wearing jeans and a custom-made hoodie that reads I’ve been to Rock and Roll Heaven and you know they’ve got one hell of a band to work (thanks, Lacey. Best hoodie EVER) this time. Nope. This time, I’m the guy who gets to walk into the building looking like I’m somebody. Because I’m the teacher. That feels pretty awesome. Kuwait won’t be better than my Scotland days, but I’m sure it’ll be different. Good in its own way.

Seven years after Scotland, I am definitely more educated and far more employable, but I am also seven years deeper into the clutches of the government. That means far more red tape before I leave. Anyone who has gone overseas to live somewhere knows exactly what I’m talking about. Or maybe they don’t. Whatever. All I know, is that when I went to Edinburgh in 2005, I sold my car to my stepbrother, got my passport and visa dealt with through the amazing program that I was using to go overseas, and tada! Everything was done. I got luggage for Christmas, packed my amazing hoodie, some Kraft dinner (totally serious) and was off. By, Canada! Later skaters!

But now. Oh god, now.

I don’t know how this happens, but it’s like the older you get, the more entwined you get in your country’s vortex of various organizations, businesses and banking outfits and so on. Most of this happens insidiously, until all of a sudden, you have online accounts and car payments and gym memberships and library cards and credits cards and a sponsored needy child and student loans and…and…and. Back in 2005 I gave my sister my simple little Telus mobile phone and told her to use it while I was gone. I think the contract was magically finished at the perfect time or something. Now I have an iPhone, and while it’s wonderful, it was tricky to get a plan that ended when I leave so I won’t be paying for a plan I’m not using. The salesgirl sort of shifted uncomfortably and furrowed her brow and was less than enthusiastic to suggest something that would accommodate my schedule when I told her I was going to Kuwait and would need to ‘modify’ my existing contract. Seven years ago I easily signed my Jeep Grand Cherokee over to my stepbrother, who bought it (he had to. He’d sort of wrecked the passenger door), and I was free and clear. Now I dread having to switch the insurance over to my sister on a as-yet-unpaid-for vehicle, because that just sounds like an insurance nightmare. I have to remember to call and cancel my stupid car insurance that now comes automatically out of my account. Like everything else, it comes out of my account automatically. In addition to those smal, yet seemingly insurmountable tasks, I have to cancel my health service plan for the year, and pay about 20 different people for various bureaucratic paperwork nonsense with names like “processing fee” and “authentication fee”. I also have to remember to have enough money in my account for other things to come out automatically, for while I am gone and enjoying the tropical breezes that do not actually exist where I am going, Canada Student Loans and car payment people wait for no one. NO ONE. That reminds me about finding out from my bank how transferring money between my Kuwait account and my Canadian account will work. Just the idea sounds incredibly taxing and complicated. That will be the time when the Universe grants me a trainee teller, because sometimes, friends, the Universe pops some corn and puts its feet up and watched the Comedy of You. I’m preparing myself for inevitable hair-pulling for these activities. To top off, I also have to make MORE copies of my degrees and get MORE copies of transcripts that I’ve already sent to the school I’ll be working at. Why? I don’t know. Apparently every paper and e-mailed copy needs to be followed up by some complicated system. So far, this is the system I have observed:

1. Send scanned photos, transcripts, and passport information to where you will be working overseas.
2. Pay random fees. And don’t ask why, either. The Processing and Authentication fairies cost money, dammit.
3. Check your email. For a week later,  you will be asked to resend everything you did the first time.
4. We still didn’t get the email. Could you send it again, please? Also, please pay for your criminal record check. If possible, pay it twice. The pay it again. For the processing fee.
5. Now make sure you are also getting 3 copies ready of everything you’ve emailed 400 times. That passport needs to be looked at in every possible medium. Oil paint that bastard if you have to.
6. Rinse, and repeat as necessary.

The most worrisome task is finding a new temporary home for my beloved gerbil. I won’t talk about that because the amount of stress, panic and sicky-feeling it instills in my body is akin to someone with irritable bowel syndrome with a head cold enjoying a bowl of spicy chili and a prune juice chaser.
In short, I am totally amazed at how incredibly connected we are to different service providers, banks, insurance corporations, companies, government associations, and universities. It’s like seven years went by and I am more tied down to these places than before, making it harder to leave the country. It’s like some terrible, awful reality TV show called Getting out of Canada! “To leave Canada, one must successfully run through the Telus quicksand, defeat the evil emperor Account Transfer, and swim through the ICBC employee-infested swamps of student loans. If one makes it through these trials, he or she can only be truly deemed a winner if he or she remembers, upon return to Canada, the chemical formula for “how to file an income tax form when you weren’t in the goddamn cockadoodie country for a year”. Game over. Or IS IT????!!!!!! To be continued…..

It’s not like these tasks are impossible, but think about a time you went to ICBC and something was dealt with effortlessly and efficiently. Or when you went to ask Telus or Bell about ‘changing something’ in your plan. They’re doable, but they’re synonymous with other doable tasks. Like cutting grass with nail scissors, or painting a kitchen while simultaneously babysitting a four year old.

I am going to attempt to have some or most of these things done by Monday. I think I might be able to do it. Remember, the Processing and Authentication fairies are waiting.

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Categories: Counting down... | 1 Comment

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One thought on “6 weeks to go: images of Scotland, random fees, and well-disguised panic

  1. Michelle Rubin

    You are absolutely right. I remember what a nightmare it is to update accounts with a new credit card or change an address, I can’t imagine adding in the stress of passports and pets/cars! I actually have a fluid document now with all the businesses/organizations/gov’t departments and their phone numbers and my various account information, and of course, don’t forget the passwords!!! Oh, you don’t remember? Sorry, you have to reset it. BAAAHHH!! Oh, and my favourite – OK, now that you’ve updated your information with us, you’ll have to call this number to get it changed with this. But aren’t you the same company working for the same government? Oh, right different department. Wow. Glad you made it through it and welcome to your adventure! I am sure it was all worth it!

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