My almost-trip-to-Ireland started off as a mess. Stupid me, I thought that going to Ireland meant I would have some luck thrown my way, but noooope. Just because you’ve bought a ticket to Ireland, that doesn’t mean you’ve bought luck, too.
Monday morning (the 26th), I left on a flight from Portland, OR to Chicago, IL. From Chicago, I was to go to Dublin, a 7.5 hour flight, arriving 9:30 am their time.
The night before my flight, my mom and I checked into a hotel in Portland. We didn’t want to deal with an early morning commute the day of my flight, which was also Memorial Day, meaning there would’ve been crazy traffic. We spent that day packing up my stuff at her house and then taking to my storage unit what I wasn’t taking to Ireland. We loaded my two huge suitcases into the trunk of her car and headed up to Portland, stopping along the way at two different Verizon stores to pick up the iPhone 5c, which I was due for an upgrade for. Unfortunately, the first store didn’t have it. They told us a store in Portland had it, but they wouldn’t take holds, so we’d better hurry. OK, we jumped back in the car. In Portland at their Verizon store, the guy said, “Oh yeah, we only have one left and it’s on hold.” Um, what? Basically at that point I decided to switch services. So no more Verizon for me. I’m switching to my mom’s cell company which has a way cheaper plan and no contract. I’m done with contracts and fees, etc. Phew!
So yeah, my trip started off stressful and ended stressful. I was a mess that evening at the hotel, crying to my mom about how I didn’t really wanna go but felt like I didn’t have any other option either, so I was pretty much stuck. She did her motherly thing, trying to say the right things, but feeling like she wasn’t helping.
The next morning, me still a mess, we got my suitcases loaded into the airport shuttle, got to the airport, munched on “breakfast,” and then I was off. I was fine until I got to Dublin. After a 7.5 hour flight, I just wanted to meet Emer (the woman I would be au pairing for), who was waiting for me in the airport, and get to her house where I could get grounded again. I couldn’t see her while waiting in line to have my passport stamped, but she had told me she would be there to meet me. As the line moved up and I neared the checkpoint, I began to worry: what was my story for being in Ireland? Do I lie and say I’m merely visiting family? Should I be honest and say I’m au pairing? How long should I say I’m staying for?
I nosily listened to everyone else’s story as they talked to the border officers. Most said they were on vacation, a few were there for a work thing, and the rest were there as students. Shit, should I say I’m a student? I thought. No, probably not, because then I think I have to have a student visa.
I decided it was best to just be honest, because if they found out I’d lied, I might be deported, or worse.
I said a friendly hello to the officer, he looked over my passport, and then asked why I was there. I said, “I’m gonna be an au pair.” He perked up at that. I immediately panicked. The suspicious look on his face alerted me I’d said the wrong thing. “How long for?” I said six months. He said, “Ohhhh, okay. Do you have a work permit?” I said no. Then he got all huffy, clicked a few keys on his keyboard, and said, “Okay, well, we have a problem. You can’t be an au pair without a work permit.”
I told him I’d looked it up online and was informed I didn’t need one. He shook his head and asked me who I would be au pairing for. He asked where they lived, their names, how we’d met, how long we’d known each other, and was I being paid? I edited my story a bit, hoping he would let me slide by if he thought I was related to them (which might not necessarily be a lie since my mom’s maiden name is O’Neill and Emer’s last name is O’Neill). I didn’t tell him we met through an au pair website or that I was being paid cash. I just said it was a work exchange, room, board and the opportunity for travel in a foreign country in exchange for childcare. Unfortunately, he assumed I was being paid cash and wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. He asked how much money I had and when I said about a grand, he got even more huffy. He got up out of his chair and told me to wait where I was. Meanwhile, everyone that had been in line behind me had already passed through, clear and free to go. I was embarrassed, shocked, confused, and panicked. What the hell was I gonna do now? Go back home? Surely they wouldn’t really send me back. Wouldn’t they at least let me stay for a bit? I didn’t have the money exactly for a return ticket because all my money was in savings, not checking, and I didn’t have WiFi to transfer the money. I didn’t even have phone service to call my mom and let her know what was going on. I wasn’t crying, but there were a few tears. I was too shocked to sob in front of him, but I’m not gonna lie – I was hoping the tears might get to him like they had in front of teachers I’d had in high school. Not so. Newsflash (and I should’ve learned this back in the Republic of Georgia, where the border officers were just as stone-cold; by the way, why are the officers always men?!): border officers don’t have feelings.
When he finally came back, he led me over to a wall with a black and white background with measuring tape on it – you know, the kind you see in a jail. I had to stand there while he took my mugshot pretty much. Talk about humiliating. I felt like a criminal.
I had to wait, yet again, on a bench while another flight’s passengers filed through to have their passports checked. I’m sure they must’ve wondered what I was in trouble for. While waiting, I tried to use my phone to get online and contact someone. Just for kicks, I text messaged my mom, not believing it would go through, but it did.
We must’ve talked for about 30 minutes, while at the same time I was emailing Emer, letting her know what was going on at the other end of the airport. She, luckily, had her phone handy and was responding, saying she was doing her best to fix things.
Obviously it was no use, however, because eventually a different officer came back, plane ticket to Chicago in hand. “Let’s see if we can get you back on this next flight to Chicago,” he said, motioning for me to follow him. He was practically running through the airport, me (tired and sweaty as hell) staggering behind him, still trying to comprehend I was going back to the states. Another 7.5 hour flight ahead of me. I was dreading it. 15 hours total (not including time zone changes) is, no doubt, the longest length of straight time I will ever spend on a plane.
I had to go through security, again, fill out a claims form (no, I was not harboring more than $10,000 and no, I had not come into contact with any sick livestock recently), and then sit with some other Americans in the US Embassy’s mini-office waiting area while this guy talked with them about why I was being sent back. In this room there were maybe 10 other people, all there for various reasons no doubt. I wish I’d had a chance to see what they were stuck there for…
He kept my passport until we got to the plane when he handed it to the captain, telling me I could pick it up in Chicago (again, am I a criminal or something?). If I hadn’t gotten that last seat on the plane, I would’ve been stuck in Dublin for who knows how long. But once I got in my seat, realizing it was gonna be another 7.5 hours in the air, I was livid. WHO in the world wants to spend 14 hours straight in a seat smaller than the size of a microwave? Ugh. I just sat there in shock, trying to comprehend what the hell was gonna happen in Chicago. My bags hadn’t even made it to Dublin, the border officer had told me, so I would get them back in Chicago. Lovely.
That was a lonnggg flight back. In Chicago, I had to wait to see if my bags arrived (they didn’t), file a delayed baggage claim (oh, we’ll FedEx you them when they arrive), and then get another ticket to Portland. That was fun explaining my story to the woman at United. Oh yeah, I got to Dublin but got sent back because I don’t have a work permit. Oh and I don’t have my bags either. Oh and is this covered under my travel insurance? You should’ve seen the look on her face, struggling to comprehend what I’d just been through. I kept waiting for her to burst out laughing at my Big Mistake.
Luckily, she gave me a free ticket back to Chicago. So, once again, I went through security (being yelled at by TSA because my shoulder bag wasn’t perfectly zipped up and flat down in the tub). I swear, no matter how nice you are to TSA, it doesn’t make a damn difference. I wonder if they buy stock in aspirin because if I had a job where it was my duty to be yelling at people with a permanent scowl on my face, I would have a constant headache. I never want a job like that. The world doesn’t need more mean people.
Anyway. After security, I had 45 minutes to make it to the gate before it would start boarding. So I threw my nasty hair up, grabbed a cheeseburger, and charged my phone, filling in my mom and stepdad about the latest plan.
And just because I hadn’t been through enough, while in the gate waiting area, the woman at the podium said over the loudspeaker, “Could passenger Serena Piper please make her way to the podium?” Great, now what? I lugged my stuff over to her and she said she couldn’t find my ticket in the system, despite it just being issued maybe an hour ago. Seriously?! I thought. I about had a heart attack. Please don’t tell me I’m gonna miss this flight and have to get new damn ticket, making my wait in the already-roasting Chicago airport even longer. Stupid me, I didn’t think to show her my copy of the ticket until she asked me if there were some special words written on it. Once I showed it to her, she breathed a sigh of relief and said I had nothing to worry about. Sheesh! Trying to catch up to my beating heart, I lugged my bag (which at this point felt like it weighed 100 bowling balls) back to my seat. Good Lord. What else could possibly happen?
I’m happy to say nothing. I got to Portland just fine, my mom and stepdad waiting to pick me up. The drive back was quiet, all of us stunned to silence. I must’ve apologized 100 times to my mom for being back. She and my stepdad thought they were rid of me, but nope. I’m baaack!
Now it’s Friday evening. I’ve spent the last few days researching what I need to get back to Ireland and I’m sad to say it doesn’t look like I’ll be going back. You know how much the work and travel visa, which I need to work as an au pair there, is? $360. Yup.
That’s not including however much it would be to upgrade my flight so that it’s a roundtrip ticket again. Damn. Emer and I have called it a loss. She says if I’m ever back there, I’m more than welcome to stay there or she can let me know if she knows anyone needing an au pair. She also told me she would have no problem paying for the visa, except she needs someone right now since her husband has already left for the states (he’ll be in CA for three months, the main reason Emer wanted an au pair).
It sucks. I didn’t want to really go to Ireland in the first place and now that I’m not, I’m bummed again. I’m bummed if I do, bummed if I don’t. Who knew. Go figure. SOL.
Now I get to figure out my next move. If it wasn’t so damn hard to travel and be an au pair, there would be more of them out there. But, just checking the au pair website I was registered on, you need a visa for pretty much every country, and it all costs a lovely hefty fee of at least one hundred dollars. What the hell? I would love a detailed list of where these fees go to. Is it really necessary? And why can’t I just travel and stay somewhere for three months withOUT a visa? What is the big deal?
I’ve got a couple options in mind for what to do now:
1) Teach abroad (surely there’s somewhere that doesn’t require certification)
2) Au pair in the US, maybe in NY so I can intern at a magazine in my free time? or in a different state…
3) Just get a job in journalism full time (haha, oh piece of cake!)
4) Move back to my college town and get a job doing anything
5) Try the au pair thing… again. Maybe Canada?
6) Kill myself.
I’ve never been so depressed or discouraged. It’s a slap in the face that I did my research and it was wrong. I research for a job as a writer and this is the first time it’s really blown up in my face. Hopefully I haven’t really lost the arrival ticket money. I’ll be calling the website I bought the ticket from.
::Sigh:: Oh God. It’s so overwhelming 😦