Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Guess I'm Not Going to India After All

Hello everyone,

A few months ago I shared the news that I would be traveling to Chennai, India for two months to work on a research project. It seems like that is not going to happen now. I was originally scheduled to leave at the end of January and come home next week. As I am still in Nebraska, this schedule has been thrown out the door. My professors continue to hope that we will be able to make a trip before the end of the semester in May.

The issue, I still don't have a visa. The original applications were done in December and new applications done at the beginning of February. As of February 27, I've been waiting for approval of the government of India. I got an email today from the outsourcing company where I had to send my application. They will be mailing my passport back to me because my visa application is still being processed and "it is likely to take more time to obtain clearance". They want to make sure I have it in case of other travel.

If my application is ever ok-ed, I will need to send my passport back and wait for them to return it, adding another week of processing time. As there are approximately six weeks left in the semester, travel to India seems doubtful. It's unfortunate I got five vaccines and have malaria medication sitting on my living room floor. What a waste. Well, what can you do?

Friday, March 22, 2013

My Open Letter to a...Wonderful Airport Employee

I started my week by traveling to Texas for a job interview. As I live in Nebraska, it takes two flights to actually get anywhere you would like to visit, meaning I took a total of four flights over two days. Aside from the fact that three of my four flights were over an hour late, I had one other little issue with my experience. All my flights were on planes small enough my roll-y bag had to be gate checked. I think the best way to explain what happened is through an open letter to some wonderful airport employees.

Dear Mr. Bag Thrower Man,

While I am aware your title is Bag Thrower, did you really need to throw it quite that hard? I am unsure if you were trying to impress your fellow employees with your strength or simply attempting to get your daily workout, but I am unsatisfied with the results.

I believe you were attempting to show off your strength because it appears you were going for distance. My bag obviously was not placed directly on the baggage cart because it was sopping wet when I retrieved it after the flight. (And by sopping wet, I mean wet enough my suit was still wet when I arrived at the hotel after my next flight six hours later.) I hope you were able to set a new record in the bag throw. Perhaps it will be added to the next Olympics. If so, I'm rooting for you.

I would like to compliment you on your dexterity. You placed my bag on the plane so delicately that my plastic makeup remover bottle split down the side and got the rest of my liquid bottles oily. You did succeed in teaching me the real reason my miniature liquids have to be in a plastic baggie....to make sure I don't accidentally makeup remove the suede on my heels. Thank you, I'll remember that one. My heel didn't break off, maybe you can shoot for that on my next flight.

Scary Carrie, a less than satisfied traveler

I do recognize it could have been worse. A fellow student who traveled to Poland last summer had the worst baggage experience I have ever heard of. Her checked bag arrived in Europe and was covered in duct tape. Somehow, the baggage people stabbed a 10 inch hole in the back of her bag that also left a dent in the metal bar. It was raining in one of her stops and her bag arrived so incredibly wet that all her tampons had grown to three times their size, just like the Grinch's heart. I always feel a little bad complaining after seeing that. I do wish I had been able to take off my eye makeup though. Raccoon eyes aren't a flattering look for an interview.

Until next time, God bless America.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Airport Security Would Be A Lot Easier If...#3

Apparently, a metal detector is no longer enough to prove you aren't up to anything nefarious at an airport. We now have these big, fancy body scanners.

I've used them a few times by now because I'd rather be scanned than patted down. If you don't know about these scanners, they shoot x-rays at you.

Sound awesome right? It's just like you're being scanned at checkout! People really are commodities! Maybe I need to start wearing clothes that look like this to the airport to make it go faster.

A quick BEEP and woohoo, nothing treacherous over there.

Or maybe, there will be a high enough dosage you'll get superpowers! If you're lucky, you might not even need that flight anymore.

Since I doubt anyone could really get away with being a barcode or end up as Super Carrie instead of Scary Carrie, it's time I get to the real story. Airport security would be a lot easier if people knew what they were supposed to do in these body scanners. The first time I went through one it took me twice as long as it should have because I had no idea how I was supposed to stand.

Here's how it went. Cue TSA man.
"Put your hands up."

"On your head."

"Put your hands in a triangle."

"No, on top of your head."

I thought they were on my head, loser.

So you can avoid this redundant conversation, I've prepared a 7-step instruction list.

How to Correctly Get Body Scanned at the Airport
1. Place feet in oval circles on ground.
2. Put arms above head like after a touchdown.
3. Fold elbows so hands touch.
4. Maneuver hands so they are in a vaguely triangular shape.
5. Place triangle on top center of head.
6. Stare directly forward.
7. Don't move until the perky TSA worker tells you to.

If everyone knew this beforehand, security would go a lot more quickly. There isn't any signage to explain this prior to the scary blue booth because they find it more important to share with you what they see. I guess it basically show naked pictures of people so these machines are on their way out. Supposedly the backscatter ones will be gone by June.

Some of the machines are being replace with similar ones so this is still a good skill to have. The new ones will no longer show an almost-naked photo, instead it'll be a generic cartoon shape. Maybe they are using my stick figures for inspiration!

Now that I think about it, that's probably better. After all, if they're taking naked pictures, they should at least pay you something instead of you chipping out a few hundred bucks for their services. Too cheap to even give you a copy. It could have been the new type of souvenir photo.

Until next time, God bless America.

P.S. Why not check out what I've been helping with at work lately? There are some great examples of students and professionals in STEM! http://fastforward.unl.edu/

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Shhhh, Don't Tell Anyone But....

I have a secret. Shhhhh, you can't tell anyone. I'll tell you as long as you promise.



I'll tell you.

I rode dozens of European buses without tickets or with reused tickets. Scandalous!

I rode buses in several central European countries and they all used the basic same system. You don't show your ticket to the bus driver. You simply walk on under the assumption everyone has a ticket.

Every time you ride, you're supposed to have a ticket. And, you can't just have a ticket. You need to have a stamped ticket. On the buses and in the subways there are things that look like this:

No, it is not a weird cartoon lego man. It stamps tickets with the current times. You put your ticket in the little mouth-looking-thing and then, STAMP. You can buy tickets for a certain time period and that's how you mark what time you started riding. (Pssst, I stopped using these machines after awhile).

I was told by some Polish college students that there are people who randomly check tickets from time to time and fine those who don't have tickets. I saw a sign saying these fines were on the range of about $50. But, considering how many times I rode without a ticket, I'm pretty sure I saved that much anyway. Most importantly, over eight weeks, I never saw anyone check tickets.

In each city I bought a ticket and kept it in my pocket just in case. I figured if someone checked you pull the I'm-a-tourist-and-I-didn't-know-I'm-so-sorry-WAIL!!!!!!!! card.

I felt a little bad about this. Well, for a bit. Not so much after I accidentally bought the wrong type of ticket in Budapest and it costs five times as much as it should have. In many places there are automated machines, and I don't speak Hungarian! A single ride bus ticket should not cost $10. And really, I used the correct, stamped tickets for the first 75% of my trip.

Considering how terrible I am at standing up on a moving bus, it is more important for me to grab tightly to a bar than take the time to stamp a ticket. It's terrible when you smack into someone and don't even know how to say sorry.

Until next time, God bless America.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Planes, Trains, Automobiles Part 3: The Wide Open Road

I realized I never finished the Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. So here it is:

It's time for Part 3 and the end of our trilogy. The last option for intra-continental travel is the one Americans are most familiar with...driving. This is one that I don't recommend for within Europe unless you have guts. The rules don't seem to be quite the same as we are accustomed to.

My Dad drove myself and my mother around central Europe for two weeks. In some ways, it was awesome. We got to see nine countries in record time and didn't waste any sitting in airports or train depots. And, it made it possible to visit things in the middle of nowhere (like the inspiration of Cinderella's castle). But, it always seemed like death was imminent.

The feeling of imminent death was primarily due to the interesting new roadway situations I'd never before experienced. These ranged from street car tracks in the middle of traffic to a signalized roundabout (otherwise known as the Traffic Circle of Death!)

We don't have street cars in Nebraska, and the buses are rare. So, I was amazed to see that some places have special lanes for street cars and other times you drive right behind them. It meant I had absolutely no idea when you're supposed to drive over them and when not. As far as I know, we didn't do anything illegal.

I was also confused by the signs. One looked like, "The lollipop queen will be marching this way." I think it was a school crossing???? Or, there were signs warning you to not hit pedestrians by showing a picture of a person being hit by a car. Thankfully I was able to figure out what was the one way sign. That could have been bad.

But lastly, and most importantly, the Traffic Circle of Death! I can't even start to draw a picture of it because I still don't get it. Random lanes were forced to exit at different spots. It took us 40 minutes to make it through a single intersection. There were multiple u-turns on the highway to get back to the frickin' circle because we couldn't figure out how to get to the exit we needed. I guess they didn't want us to leave Krakow. I was a bit embarrassed by how many tries it took to leave.

A GPS saved us over and over again. So, if you can handle the stress and want to see the back woods, it can work. There is a chance you will end up crying and smashing your head on the steering wheel. Good luck if you wish that upon yourselves.

Until next time, God bless America.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Airport Security Would Be A Lot Easier If...#2

Time for the second tip for making airport security easier, or at least tolerable. Not like it will ever be enjoyable. Unless they replace TSA workers with stuffed bunnies who carry Easter baskets full of chocolates. I doubt that'll ever happen. I'm sure someone would complain about their food allergies. Way to ruin it for everyone else.

The first tip was about shoes. So, now that you've taken your shoes off, the second step for making airport security easier is to...

Put your laptop in its own frickin' bin!

I understand why some people forget this. It is not as well advertised as the shoes thing. You are not forced to walk past four signs informing you that a laptop needs to have its own bin. And really, you're trying to do the right thing and place your carry on bag and all its contents in a bin in a timely manner. You really need that book of sudokus, that stylish neck pillow, and a tablet for your child to play with so they will not harass the other passengers on your 45 minute flight. Then oops, you forgot to place your laptop in its own bin.

Cue the angry person standing behind you who just wants to hurry things up and go through the metal detector already. Now they have to calmly wait while your bin must be passed back through the scanner. If it's been a long day, it might not be so calmly. Hopefully a brawl will not ensue, I don't even want to know what happens to you then.

I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but I always felt if you really needed a laptop for your trip, you should know this rule by now. General family vacations don't require laptops. I'm a college student and I don't even need to be plugged in that much. So maybe the better tip is, unless doing business, just leave the laptop at home.

And, let's all hope this is what we one day see at the airport.

I know it'd improve my trip. 'Why yes Mr. Bunny, I will happily place my laptop in a separate bin. Have a great day.'

Until next time, God bless America.

P.S. Why don't you check out the stuff I've been helping with at work. We're trying to increase student interest in the transportation industry.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Airport Security Would Be A Lot Easier If...

Airport security would be a lot easier if....

I know how I'd end that statement:
-TSA wasn't so incredibly power hungry
-More than one bag screening machine was ever open
-People weren't dumb.

I think that last one pretty much sums it up. But, as there isn't anything I can do to make the security agents more efficient and simply less crazy, I think it's best to combat this from the passenger end. There's a reason security in Omaha takes as long as it does in D.C. even though only one-third as many people are in the security line in Omaha. Many people in Omaha don't fly that often and seem completely lost as to the security procedures. The same thing occurs in the Orlando airport. There, people are returning home from vacationing and have already forgotten what they learned only a week before. I guess that can happen when pushing a double wide stroller of exhausted children. Just please don't run me over with it.

The rules do keep changing, but it's all online, or on the signs you are forced to walk by to get to the secured area. I know everyone is too excited or annoyed to read those so I'll be sharing some tips over the next few posts.

Airport Security Would Be A Lot Easier If....

People Would Just Take Off Their Frickin' Shoes!

Regardless of whether you are wearing platforms or flats, combat boots or flip flops, they are still shoes. Yes flip flops, do in fact, count as shoes. You have to take them off regardless of how moronic that sounds. You are obviously hiding something in half an inch of squished foam.

I know the floor is a little grody and you don't want to deal with the incredibly difficult task of tying and untying your shoes. (I actually always wear flats for this purpose alone, I don't want to be holding up the line). So for everyone's sake, take off your shoes before reaching the metal detector. Didn't you ever wonder why everyone else was walking around in these?

It wasn't an epic fashion statement. Well....maybe just a little. Whey else would they have worn such colorful socks to the airport?

Until next time, God bless America.

P.S. Lately at work I've been tasked with working on outreach for the US Department of Transportation. If you or your children are interested in learning more about how transportation impacts our lives, why not stop by and see the newsletter/video series being put out by the University of Nebraska? You can find it here:
Or, stop by the facebook page and like it!
You might even learn something.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Oh India, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Hello all!

I know I have been neglecting this lately. My real life does tend to get in the way occasionally.  And, I just hadn't really felt like blogging. It's time to get back to business.

If you've been reading, you know I am supposed to travel to Chennai, India for eight weeks for a research project with my university. I was supposed to leave almost a month ago. I'm still here in Nebraska....waiting. Here's my update:

I previously applied for a student visa, per instructions from the Indian University's International Relations Specialist. After multiple extra documents were sent, and several hours were spent on hold with the outsourcing company, I was called by the consulate. It was such a joyous experience to speak with a REAL person, who knew what was going on! The news wasn't so great though.

I was informed I wasn't eligible for a student visa because I would not be enrolled as a student at the university in India. I needed to apply for a research visa. The consulate employee chose to spend 75% of the conversation complaining about how horribly overpaid I am as a grad student (I had to send in proof of financial viability during my stay so included my Graduate Research Assistant offer letter). I fail to see why my pay (which is the standard for GRAs in engineering) is any of their business. Before any additional questions could be asked, he hung up.

Then it was on to the research visa application. This application is more in depth than the student one. Seven copies of a "proforma" needed to be included. This gives all sorts of information about the research project and how it will be executed as well as information about my previous publications.....um none. The seven copies makes me nervous. If that many people need to look at it, there must be mountains of bureaucratic red tape tied to research visas.

This new application went on its way Friday. Hopefully I'll hear something soon. This waiting period is a little frustrating. I am supposed to be working on my thesis, or looking for a job, but it's hard to be motivated when I may be leaving sometime. I think I'll watch some NCIS instead.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Maybe the Third Time Is the Charm

Time for visa attempt number 3!

I have had my visa for India rejected twice now. (I was originally planning on traveling there last Wednesday.)

The reason I've been denied a visa is a "contradiction" in my application. This is supposed due to the fact they we will be studying and performing research. There is some confusion about the type of visa I am supposed to have. I think it's time to share the story of how difficult it has been to determine the nature of this contradiction. The visas are taken care of by an outsourcing company. When I called them, I sat on hold for 40 minutes. Then, someone answered who could not answer my question. I was then transferred to someone else. They put me on hold to check my file and hung up on me. Awesome. I called back and was on hold for another 40 minutes. I then realized it was after their closing time. Face palm. I am still unsure as to why they do not have a recording informing me of this.

I called the next day and the first three times it did not reach the hold music. It simply rang. On the fourth try, I was on hold for half and hour and reached someone, who transferred me. Joy. Then, amazement, this person actually knew what was going on! And later in the day, their manager called me! I was still a little confused because they were not at all straight forward. So, administrators at my university called them today and handled it.

So, after a total of two hours on hold and speaking with seven individuals I think I've figured out the problem. Another form was sent to the outsourcing company today. So, fingers crossed, this may be it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Continuing Visa Concerns

I may have finally made some progress on getting a visa to India. A new letter from IIT Madras was sent to me today and then sent to the consulate. Apparently my previous letter was contradictory. To my application regarding my reason for visit. Now I get to wait. Maybe I'll finally get the ok to enter the country.

I wish I had an idea of how long it will take them to finish processing it and mail my passport back to me. The original plan was to leave next Wednesday. I find that doubtful. I would be amazed if any government agency has a turn around like that. On the plus side, at least I now have a prescription for malaria medication. Malaria would definitely ruin my year.

I'll keep you posted. Hopefully I'll have a departure date soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Little Warning

I flew to D.C. today for a conference. I won't go into details because the only people who would be interested by the topic are already here. This little trip made me think of something I really should warn you all about. Let me set the scene....

I was in the car, driving to the incredibly exciting town of Omaha. I was staring at the scenic countryside of some flat, brown land with the occasional cow and left over snow drift. Then, my mom asked my dad and I if it reminded us of the drive to Prague. (Yes, I am enough of a dork that I had my parents take me to the airport. Who wants to pay $10 a day to park?). My mom was reminded of the three of us driving to the Prague airport to go home after our European excursion last summer. That was the last time the three of us had taken a trip to the airport together.

My response was, "No, this doesn't remind me of that because it's Omaha." Omaha in January looks so much like Prague in July. Instead of beautiful, medieval architecture, look a barn that needs to be painted.

And then I thought of another reason this wouldn't be like that trip to Prague. I highly doubted anyone was going to question whether or not I was in this country illegally. Yeah, that totally happened in the Czech Republic. It's every girl's dream to be sent away from the passport booth to speak to a Czech cop. Awesome. Scene set.

By now, you may be wondering where I'm going with this. No, my warning is not, "Don't illegally enter a country", though I really don't want you to do that. My warning is, "Make sure the peon at the booth actually stamped your passport."

When I went to Poland, I actually flew through Berlin. And, since my flight was late I was in a hurry to try and catch my bus to Poland. I didn't think to stop and check that the booth worker actually stamped my passport when he brought it down behind his desk. I didn't notice until I stopped to see what the stamp looked like almost a week later. (Before that I was too busy trying to deal with my lost luggage).

So, without a stamp, I got asked how I made it to the Czech Republic. As there are no border stops, driving there is not an acceptable enough answer and I had no stamp for Europe at all. At least the cop was pretty nice about it.

Lesson: Make sure you got a stamp. I definitely learned it,

Um... I'm pretty sure someone is sawing in the next room. What an odd hotel.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Please Just Let Me Into Your Country

It is now less than three weeks until I am supposed to leave for India. The supposed to is very important in that statement. My visa has yet to arrive. I checked its status today and it was "Pending", having arrived at the Consulate on the 31st.

Then a great thing happened. Wait....did I say great? More like moronic. I got an email that my application was missing a document. I need to send in  a "letter from India for the exact purpose of visit. Papers submitted are contradicted."

Um....I already sent that, at least I thought I did. I included a letter from the Indian university and it invited me to visit. Hopefully this will get figured out soon. I kind of need that visa.

I was also told today that I will be staying in the dorms instead of the guest house like originally proposed. I've been in American dorms of varying comfort levels. And, I've seen Polish dorms. I have no idea what to expect of Indian dorms. The info online mostly includes things such as: each room contains a cot, desk, chair, and overhead fan; people can only visit dorms of the opposite gender between 6 am and 9 pm; and boys can only visit certain parts of girls' dorms such as the office. I wish there was a picture. A little bit of panic is starting to set in.