Second week in consular: like/dislike
I just wrapped up my second week in the consular section in Berlin and I feel good. I was a little worried about the work before I began but I’m starting to get a grip on things. And it’s been mostly interesting and fun so far.
My main concerns, before starting, were refreshing my knowledge (my consular training was three years ago) and actually having some affinity with the work. Here‘s what happened:
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one not knowing what’s going on with visas. Due to the rapidly changing situation we change our rules and procedures on an almost daily basis now. Figuring everything out brings us together as a team and makes for a very dynamic work environment that’s pretty conducive to learning.
Deep end of the pool
But there was a backlog when I arrived so I started interviewing much quicker than expected. After a day and a half of observing I was already adjudicating independently. I also came across my first case where I felt compelled to deny the visa, and several more where additional work was required due to security concerns. It was a little scary at first but luckily I’m the kind of person that always jumps into the water right away, no matter how cold or deep. It‘s the fastest way to get over fear and I’m not very patient.
The only boring aspect of my job, so far, is processing exceptions to COVID restrictions. It’s a new thing—almost every person who has a visa from us needs some work in the computer system to be able to travel. This is Incredibly. Repetitive. Work. The good news is that this situation won’t last forever. We hope/think.
I’ve already seen a lot of death cases. Covid victims, but also a suspected murder. Dealing with that is trying, partially because there are emotions involved on all sides, which should obviously not influence our decisions, and partially because I want to make distressed applicants feel like they’re in good hands and help them quickly, which is hard to do when I barely know the process myself.
I haven’t needed my language skills much because many applicants speak English and some of them don’t even speak German, like recent immigrants and people traveling from Denmark or Sweden where the consulates are running at low capacity.
So I’m not yet at the point where I can comfortably interview in German, even though I speak the language well enough. It’s just something I will focus on more overtime as the rules, processes, and computer systems become more familiar to me. And when there’s a need for it, of course. When an applicant doesn’t speak English it feels much more natural and pleasant to converse in German because it feels more like I’m doing them a favor.
Everyone is nervous
Applicants are super nervous, even when I think they don’t really have a reason to be nervous at all. Is it because they’re so eager to get a visa? Or are they intimidated by the security features they face when entering? I’m not sure yet. But I spend quite a bit of energy making them feel comfortable and leave the consulate with a good feeling. What I like most so far is being able to help people out, answer their questions, and put them at ease.
What I find most difficult so far is that it takes a really detail-oriented person to be a proper consular officer. The smallest mistake or missing piece of data can derail things, so you have to focus hard. For example, I forgot to change the date on my stamp for the first five visa applicants of the day, which I worry will give them one day less validity of their paperwork. That can actually make a difference for some people so I feel bad about that.
One of the coolest things, besides providing a service people really need, is all the wacky stuff I see and learn on the job. Like, now I know that the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in California is known as “Hogwarts for Christians” and that some German women are willing to pay high entrance fees to attend. And that there are still moms out there who don’t inform the dad about their pregnancy until twenty years later.