Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass column

Two of the most common questions I get asked are, “How many years of school did it take you to become a lawyer?” and “Have you ever travelled to ?” As much as I love my job and all of the work that it entails, I also love packing our bags and taking some time to get away from it all as often as our schedules (and pocketbooks) will allow.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have visited many different countries and I have to say that every single trip has carried with it, a certain air of excitement.

But nothing really prepared me for arranging our upcoming adventure to South America…talk about “work”!

In my experience, the process for applying for visas, whether they be for tourism or employment, has been relatively simple: you fill out a form pertaining to the country you wish to enter and submit it to their consulate along with payment for the fee required and your passport. Give it a few business days for processing (or less for some countries, especially if you apply in person) and soon enough, you have your passport and visa in your hand and you’re ready to go!

Planning a trip to South America proved to be a bigger task.

The destination became a discussion item at our dinner table about 10 months ago, when my husband heard of a conference he wanted to attend in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We agreed that we would go and turn it into a family vacation. Without any hesitation, we booked our flights and never gave the trip much thought until just recently.

Early on, I had briefly read about the requirement to obtain a tourist visa in order to enter South America via Brazil. After some follow up, not only was this confirmed, but the process required was nothing that I had ever encountered before.

I found out that yes, an application form needed to be filled out, but this one had to be completed online and printed before you could move along any further in the process.

To add to my confusion, information from various third-party visa service agencies would pop up in my on-line searches and would outline different application requirements and different fees, only later I learned the fees were specific to the service agency.

Shredding all other printed material that I had accumulated up until that point, I took a deep breath and essentially started over.

I worked straight from the website of the Consulate General of Brazil, corresponding with them directly via e-mail to clarify some of my questions and concerns. With much cooperation from my husband, especially in the evenings with respect to keeping our child occupied and out of my hair, I got all of our required documents drafted, executed, collected and ready for submission.

We are talking about individual cover letters, letters from employers to confirm our employment, bank statements that displayed our earnings for the past three months, you name it because the list certainly goes on!

Once the requisite fees were attached, our application packages were sent and even though it was a relief to send them off to where they needed to go for processing, my mind was still consumed by them.

So much so, that for the next two nights, I dreamt that I was forgetting things like placing the proper documents into the packages or not certain of placing them in at all! Talk about a nightmare because it’s not like there is a number that you can call to get some on-the-spot-at-2:00 a.m. reassurance that your application is, in fact, complete!

After two business days, I had enough and decided I was going to take control of my situation, and my sanity, and check the status of our applications online, a process that has not always existed, and voila! How relieved was I to read the words “Authorized” with respect to each of our applications?!?

So now, it’s just a matter of time before we get our passports with our visas returned to us and we can really start putting the final details on our trip.

However, if I knew then what I know now, maybe I would’ve “passed” on the whole trip to South America and opted to go someplace else for our vacation.

It certainly makes me wonder about the millions of tourists who travelled to Brazil last year for the FIFA World Cup and those who will travel there for the World Indigenous Games in 2015 and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

For the time and expense that one has to put into the trip simply to secure the visa, I am certainly thinking now that it better be worth it. And I’m sure it will be.

You never know – what if this destination happens to be the one place that I will truly want to visit over and over again in the future? And that’s the beauty of travel; the earth is such a vast planet with bits of beauty tucked in and around every corner.

Despite the hurdles of actually getting to our destination, I am sure that once we arrive and take that moment to breathe it all in, it will totally be worth it!

Stephanie Whitecloud-Brass is a member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation.
You can reach Stephanie at Sunchild Law, her email address is: stephanie@sunchildlaw.com

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