September 11, 2004

My new University - Bureaucracy

Let me start this tema or topic by covering the definition:
bu·reauc·ra·cy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (by-rkr-s)n. pl. bu·reauc·ra·cies

Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures: The new department head did not know much about bureaucracy.
The administrative structure of a large or complex organization: a midlevel manager in a corporate bureaucracy.

An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action: innovative ideas that get bogged down in red tape and bureaucracy.

Now, I think I wrote last week about how I knew we had bureaucracy in the US so I didn't mind it here in Spain. Well maybe that was becuase I had only seen the tip of the iceburg.

I went to my university my first week of arrival in Barcelona and learned that I had to matriculate/enroll before I could get my international student card. Then I had to take the 30 min train back home and prepared to return back later the next week.

This Monday, I returned for my second trip. I got in line at my new Department's offices (Sociology and Political Science Dept.) that is only open from 10am-1pm through this process. Once I got to the front of the line, I learned how much I had to pay for my first semester's tuition. I promptly took out my credit card, (Even though my scholarship money had not come in yet, I wanted to speed up the process so I decided to pay on my own because I would receive the money soon anyway.) and then was told I could not pay with credit card at this location BUT had to go to the bank on campus to pay and then return to the office to prove that I had paid.

Ah! Ok, this can't be bad but it was already 12:55pm and my department was about to close. I ran to the bank on campus about a 5 minute walk and I got in line. There just happened to be about three Japanese students holding up the line having communication problems and the rest of the Spainards were waiting in line to pay their tuition as well. I could see the frustration from the bank teller trying to speak Spanish to the foreign student and then reverting to English before back to Spanish. In the end I don't think the student understood what was going on. I only overheard parts of the conversation and was dead set on getting back to my department before they went to lunch.

So I waited in line. I was right after the Japanese student for the bank teller that was struggling to communicate to the student. I could tell when I spoke my first word of Spanish she could hear my foreign accent and was probably dreading another similiar frustrating conversation. Well as it turns out, I was at the right place but I had to pay with a bank card or with cash. I didn't know if I had enough money in my checking account on my bank card and surely didn't have 1000 euros of cash on me. So, I left the bank and figured I would have to wait until another day.

I went to the international office to ask a couple of questions. I learned that I had to pay my tuition to finalize my enrollment to get my international student card to be able to go to a local police station in Barcelona and extend my student visa beyond 3 months as well as obtain my NIE, or the foreign identity number. So, I was waiting on the scholarship money to continue this entire process to be able to stay in the country.

I went home and later checked out the classes I had signed up for back in April when I first contacted the school. I realized there were much better courses out there and there were conflicts with the previous courses. I poured over the schedules and made a new course list for my return to the unversity.

I received my scholarship money on Wednesday, September 8th, so I knew I could go back to the university. I chose to return on Friday and prepared to arrive earlier so that I could finish in time.

Basically this went on forever. I waited in line and then they asked me why I wanted to change my classes. Well, first of all it is my scholarship money paying for the courses I am interested in and also why can't I change? Anyway they said I could change but they wouldn't let me take the courses in the morning like the schedule I had planned and instead only in the afternoon. So, I had to go back to the drawing boarda and check which courses would work well together and not conflict.

By the time I figured this out, the line was about 10 people long and there was only one person handling the students at a time. I ended up waiting for an hour in that line in total. Finally they helped me. There is something else to complicate this mess - I am not a Erasmus, i.e. European, student but a visiting student (from America). There are different prices and rules for Erasmus and visiting students. They aren't used to my type. There are not many if any at all Americans at my university.

So, they reconfigure my tuition, rewrite the forms, stamp several sheets, make copies, and then I am sent off to the bank again. This there were was a short line and I paid without a problem. I ran back to the Department's office and just happen to see the lady, Sara, who has been soooooo helpful to me this entire several month process, about to walk into the restroom. It was already their lunch time but she saw me and took my proof that I paid and told me that the form I had from the bank was proof enough that I paid and could now register through the international office.

Yes! Well I had to run to the photo machine to get passport sized photos for my id card and this took a couple of minutes. Then I ran to the international office that was even farther than the bank. I run in with 5 minutes to spare before they close.

After a couple of people cut in front, what language am I supposed to say - excuse me in anyway?, I get helped. Well, as a unique, non-Erasmus student, the guy at the desk had to stare at my paperwork for a couple of minutes before asking someone else what to do with me.

He then told me he needed a copy of the form that proved I paid. I said ok just go ahead and make one. No problem. Then he told me as he pointed to a copy store on campus that I needed to go to the copy place and make one copy for him to prove that I paid for my tuition. (Now you see, the Erasmus students don't have this problem of having to pay the department before enrolling but just visiting students like me.) And then, with 2 minutes to spare before they closed and the fact that I had origionally arrived at the international office 9 days ago to start this entire process and this was the 3rd time for me to be there without anything happening, I blurted out, 'Oh, God!' I know this was wrong but I think it was a moment of weakness where the pressure of finishing this entire paperwork process had gotten to me - not to mention the 30 plus degrees (C) with intense humidity unlike any other day.

The man aiding the man that was helping me heard me and told the man assisting me to just make a copy in the office. You see, there was a copy machine in the office just 10 feet away from me in fact. He made the copy and returned to me. He gave me my form back and then lots of goodies for the new students. He then said, " Come back Monday to pick up your ID card." Oh darn, I thought. It takes me 35 min one way just to get here and I am going to have to come back Monday just for this card? Of course this is the card that I need to go and get my NIE.

I tried to plead with him - I live so far away can't I just wait for it today? No, appeared to be the final answer. I asked for the free backpack all the students received but he told me that I couldn't receive that until I got my student ID card on Monday. Funny, how they give you books, folders, maps, etc. but they can't give you the backpack to carry the goods unless it accompanies the student ID.

So, when I share this story with other Spaniards or others who have lived in Spain for a while, they just laugh, smile, and knod and share with me their sympathy. This is typical of Spain and is worse in other cities and regions. "Just wait until you go through the process to get your NIE," a vetran foreigner in Barcelona told me, "you haven't seen bureaucracy yet."

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