At the end of September, I travelled 700 miles to attend a university which three months previously had rejected my application.
Wow, it feels great to get that off my chest. I’m afraid that over the last six weeks, though I have been faithfully documenting my experiences abroad, I have omitted to mention the thing which has consumed more of my time and energy than anything else, perhaps ever. I am referring to the fact that the university where I intended to spend half of my year abroad rejected my application, and I didn’t notice.
It began on the day that I moved in. A friendly German student was showing me around my flat and mentioned that the university had recently sent an Immatrikulationsbescheinigung, matriculation certificate, to every enrolled student. “Every enrolled student!” I said vacantly, taking the usual satisfaction that I do as this delightfully silly word nestled in my ear. After a few seconds I replied that I didn’t think I’d received anything. He told me that I should check, but that it would probably be fine.
A brief search through my inbox led me to the email. Received 21st June 2022, the subject heading read ‘New message’. The main body was two lines long, informing me that I had a new message in the portal and offering me a link to log in and view it.
Now, in almost every sense, this is my fault. However, if I was rejecting somebody from a university on the grounds that one document was missing from their academic record, I would choose a considerably more panicked subject heading, something like ‘I’ve rejected you!’, or ‘Not you!’, or simply ‘No!’. As it happened, my ‘new message’ arrived three days after the end of Trinity term, and one way or another, I did not see it.
The letter of rejection which I found in the portal offered me a second deadline by which to submit the missing document and still be accepted. This generously gave me six weeks from my initial rejection; unfortunately, it had now been twice that long. My degree in Oxford did not hinge on my acceptance by a university, but my student visa did, not to mention the fact that my student accommodation would kick me out when I failed to produce a matriculation certificate on demand. And so, it appeared, on day one of my year abroad, I was completely and utterly screwed.
The three weeks that followed were like a long game of naked cricket: 95 percent uncomfortable boredom, 5 percent extreme fear. For 23 hours a day there was nothing I could do besides bite my nails and ponder whether I should be looking for a job, and the stress that this brought with it was a brain-squeezing sort of stress: a discomfort with the persistence of undersized pants and the overbearing doom of knowing that you’ve forgotten something, but not knowing what. I knew that I had a huge problem, but I could do little more than sit in my undersized brain-pants and wait for my world to implode.
However, the university’s International Office did have slender calling hours during which I was permitted to practise saying in German that I was ‘really very sorry’ that I had missed the deadline by twelve weeks, and after my third call on two consecutive days, I was allowed to summarise my situation in an email and send it to the office, who claimed equivocally that they would ‘forward it on’. This was the furthest I had got since arriving, but when I received no reply within an hour I decided, with little more to lose, that it was time that I shave, smarten up, and surprise my friends at the International Office in person.
As the proud wearer of a disappointing adolescent beard, I shave with an electric razor to shorten, but not completely remove, my beard hair. This technique tends to result in quite a lot of debris, and so I tend to stick my head out of the window when I shave. This, to me, makes perfect sense. Under my current living conditions, however, in an inward-facing fourth-floor room of a three-sides-of-a-square student accommodation block, my shaves have taken on an exhibitionist element which they have never had before. This bothers me less than it should and, towel around my waist, I assumed the position, gave a nod to my neighbour who was on his balcony smoking a cigarette, and began. By the time I realised that my beard hair was blowing into the open window of the bedroom below mine, it was far too late. In the shock of seeing the head appear from the window, I recoiled, hitting my elbow on the windowsill and predictably dropping my razor, still buzzing, from the fourth floor. The downstairs window closed before I could stammer out a German apology and I looked up to meet the eyes of the smoker next door, who had seen everything and almost choked on his laughter.
Unsettled and half-shaved, I arrived at the university main building and approached the ‘international affairs’ desk. When I spoke to someone there, I was treated with sympathy and kindness and quickly realised that I was in the wrong place. Unable to help me, they told me with trepidation, “you could always try asking… downstairs…”. The International Office.
Standing in the corridor outside, I read the laminated red sign which had been stuck twice on the door, in case I missed it the first time: “NO ENTRY WITHOUT APPOINTMENT”. I read it again and checked the time. It was ten minutes until the phone lines closed. Perfect.
“Hello, I’d like to make an appointment please.”
“You can’t do that over the phone. There’s a form on our website.”
“To be honest, I’m outside.”
She soon realised that I was the same person she had spoken to not one hour before. “We waited three months for you to respond and you can’t wait 45 minutes!”, she shouted, so that I could hear her through both the phone and the door. I decided that this was fair and left.
About two weeks later, I received my Immatrikulationsbescheinigung. Somewhere, somebody rescued me and I am still here, at least until I hear the result of my visa application. So ended one of the most stressful experiences of my life and, as is human nature, I almost immediately forgot what it felt like. I do hope I’ve learnt something from it though, if only that I should start filing my emails.
Image credit: Yii-Jen Deng
Image description: A cartoon of a traditional Bavarian hat with legs walking across the Munich skyline.