With the summer behind me, I now have my sights set entirely on the European continent. Funny enough, I’m writing this post from an African country, but my attention is indeed turning toward Europe. I spent the summer back at the Omega Institute for a third time, completing my second full six-month season, and officially completing the rare task, for myself, of having returned to a place for the first time in my eight years of traveling.
While I did the best I could to stay present to where I was this summer, I couldn’t help but pay mind to where I had come from and where I was going. I worked diligently over the months of June, July, and August to secure myself a visa that would allow me to legally remain in the European Union for a longer period of time than I was able to this past spring. This, plus the art show I was curating, had Greece and the refugee crisis never far from my mind.
The boring details of my visa and what it means to have access to the Schengen Area:
The Schengen Area is a group of European countries with open borders. This means that citizens of these countries can freely pass between nations without being checked at individual borders. Members of the European Union can live in one country and work in another. In the United States, we have essentially the same policy when it comes to states. You can live in Vermont and work in New York and no one bats an eye as you cross from one state to another. We can effectively drive from Washington state to Florida and no one would need to be updated on our whereabouts. This is how the Schengen Area works in Europe, only its an open border policy between different countries.
There are 26 countries that are part of the Schengen Area, most of them are part of the European Union; however, a few others, like Norway and Switzerland, are part of Schengen but not in the EU (there are also a few countries that are in the EU but not in the Schengen Area, but let’s not worry about that right now). For a tourist, the Schengen Area is a bit more inconvenient than it is for residents. Not that people often take extensive vacations that last more than three months, but for those of us who have found ourselves in positions where we’re traveling long-term, this cool agreement between European nations can prove to be annoying. For tourists, the Schengen Area agreement means that you’re only allowed to be in all 26 countries for a total of 90 days. This means, for example, you can’t spend 90 days in Spain and then cross the border into Portugal and spend an additional 90 days there. You get 3 months for the entire Schengen Area.
After spending 90 days in the Schengen Area, you are required to be out of the Schengen Area for a total of 90 days until you are legally allowed to re-enter for another 90 days. There are a few more details to this whole thing, one that I’ve read into extensively at this point since it has closely impacted my life for both the last year and for the year ahead, but I’ll spare you the nonessentials.
I’ve secured myself a Schengen visa for the next year. The process was stressful but rather simple. I took the train into New York City for an interview at the end of August and by the end of September I received a call from the embassy telling me to come pick up my passport. The voicemail that was left for me that told me my passport was ready for pick up gave no indication about whether I had been granted the visa I applied for or not. This made it especially exciting to arrive at the embassy in-person and see the shiny, new visa in my passport indicating that from 25 October 2018 to 25 October 2019, I’d legally be allowed to exist in the Schengen Area.
For a part of the time ahead of me, I’ll return to Greece where I will again work with refugees on the island of Leros. After beginning 2018 there, my heart has never been far from the cause and the need in that particular part of the world has not shrunk since I departed the island in March. Today, I am very much looking forward to getting back to doing some daily, meaningful work.
At this point, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to keep a steady heartbeat on this blog over the months ahead.