This has been a quick summer, packed to the gills with all sorts of activities with friends and family before we pack up and head off to Ireland for a handful of years. We’ve gone to BBQs, had special dinners with friends, visited family, and just generally made merry.
Alas, such radical changes in one’s life isn’t all sunshine, roses, and rainbowed unicorns. There’s the culling of possessions, the fretting over timelines, the disposing of belongings, and the general stress that goes with such an important milestone. But I think the hardest thing for us has been the lack of transparency. Practically every day someone asks me when we’re leaving. The truth? We have absolutely no idea … and that’s hard for someone like me (I think Alan does a better job of it since he’s incredibly busy at work and has more to occupy his brain). Personally, I enjoy having plans and timelines to work toward. I like looking out over the horizon and knowing what’s coming. I’m not what you’d call spontaneous by any stretch of the imagination and so when it comes to something this momentous, I need a handle – however tenuous it may be – on what is coming.
Several weeks back we were informed that we needed to get all of our paperwork together and overnight it to Dublin. First of all, there is no such thing as overnighting anything to Ireland from the west coast of the U.S. You’re looking at two days at a minimum (in this day and age why, oh why, can’t electronic documents suffice?!). So we ran around like chickens with our heads cut off pulling everything together, scanning, photocopying, filling out forms, and then I ran down to FedEx first thing on Monday morning and sent it off. And then we waited. And waited some more. Finally, we inquired. After a handful of days, we were told that we’d know in approximately six weeks. Actually, I can’t remember if they said six weeks specifically during that first conversation. What I do remember is that they – the lawyers handling the immigration – were somewhat vague and loosy goosy in their feedback of what happened next. After several email exchanges where they only partially, or outright evaded, answering our questions, Alan made them commit to telling us what happens next and putting together an expected timeline. And then once they’d put together the timeline, he made them confirm it.
That timeline had our visa application being processed and approved by Tuesday, August 11. Yes, today. (You see where this is going, right?) After about two weeks it occurred to me, back from the days when I used to help my clients coordinate international media tours, that August is a pretty dead month in Europe and, well … people don’t really do a whole lot of working during that month. I brought this up to Alan and we groaned, knowing that the combination of European summer holidays and the general sense of laissez faire we’d already witnessed probably meant that we were not, in fact, going to hit the timeline as previously laid out. Knowing it and experiencing it, however, are two very different things. In the meantime, we continued to say our goodbyes, visited all of our favorite places, and started emptying our apartment – donating clothes and other items to Goodwill and offering the furniture that we aren’t taking to interested friends and family. We spent this past week going over all of our belongings with a fine tooth comb, taking down photos, packing up clothing we won’t wear again, and getting the apartment ready for a quick move once everything came together. Because we’d heard nothing from the lawyers, we moved forward with our lives as if the timeline was the timeline.
And then today hit and no word from anyone about anything. As we woke up on the west coast of the United States, Dublin was wrapping up their business day. The day by which they were supposed to have approved our visa. So … Alan wrote to the lawyers asking for an update. A couple of hours later someone in the office wrote back to tell us that they “have noticed that DJEI processing times have slowed considerably over the summer months, which is most likely due to a combination of (a) increased application numbers and (b) reduced DJEI processing staff during the holiday period.” What this means is that they “now expect news on the outcome of your application during the week beginning 24 August.”
So, basically, our application period has gone from six weeks to eight weeks with no update from them to have let us known. Look, I get it. Things change. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the U.S. or in Ireland. Delays happen. What I’m frustrated over is that by their own admission they’ve seen the processing times slow down and no one at any time thought to proactively inform us. This is their job and they are being paid by Alan’s company – quite well too, I imagine – but at no time did anyone think to themselves, “hey, those nice Caudills are going to be delayed. We should probably give them a heads up.”
It gives me no comfort that we predicted the August slow down but they, the professionals who handle this sort of thing year after year, didn’t think to build that into their timeline.
Can you imagine if we weren’t quite so cautious, didn’t have experience working with Europeans during the summer months, hadn’t predicted that there’d be delays? Can you imagine if we had organized our lives around the timeline they’d given us based on their knowledge of how this process works? What if we had given notice on our apartment? What if we had sold our car? What if we’d sold our furniture? We don’t have kids, but what if we’d organized with their school to pull them out based on the timeline we were given by the professionals? There is so much more that goes into moving across the globe than simply getting your paperwork and heading out on your jolly way. You don’t just get the information and book your tickets for the next day. There are lives to be wrapped up, really important matters that need to be taken care of. And people do these things based on the information provided to them by the people who are organizing it on their behalf. That they aren’t professional enough to tell the clients that there has been a change to that timeline is what bothers me most.
I worked in client services for over a decade – a baker’s dozen, to be exact – and one of the most important things I learned, and then passed on to my teams when I was in charge – was that if anything wasn’t going according to plan you always let the client know. Sometimes it was your fault and that sucked so, so bad, but you sucked it up and told them anyway. When it wasn’t your fault – something was off due to the forces of nature – you explained that to them so that they understood what had happened, why it had happened, and what your plans were around the changes. Nothing is set in stone. That’s why you communicate – often and well – and you keep people trusting you.
So … if you’re reading this and you’re about to embark on your own expat adventure, I hope if nothing else you’ve seen that it’s not all smooth sailing. There will be setbacks, I’m sure, and your timelines will probably go to shit. I just hope you have a company working with you that is as transparent as possible. And if you don’t, know that you’re not alone. It happens to the best of us.