Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Attending a conference in USA

I arrived on Sunday in the US. The flight was a long 9 hour journey from Germany to New York. On arrival, they asked for a special interview because of my last name matching with someone else (Shahrukh Khan? :)  But they were very nice in the interview and afterwards they skipped my customs line. Then the next flight was to Minnesota, where I had an American from California sitting with me. He was a very cheerful guy making jokes with passerbys, who also always smiled and replied jokingly. This was the 2nd difference I noted from Europe. The first was, that here they offer/use much less juices than soda, and use too much ice. The weather is excellent, but the distances which look small on maps are not that small to walk.The hotel is very nice for such a price, with big rooms and a pool+sauna. Another thing I noticed was that all the cups used in the conference, whether for water or for tea/coffee are compostable. Almost everything is recyclable; i don't know whether in the whole of US? The conference organizers were obsessed with shrimps, which they offered in every event.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Applying for US visa in Germany

I got a paper accepted in one of the two biggest robotics conferences. This conference is supposed to be held in the US. So I had to apply for the visa. I asked the conference chair to send me an invitation letter to present my paper there. Then I checked the US embassy website in Germany. The nearest embassies are in Munich and Frankfurt. Frankfurt has a one week waiting list for appointments, whereas Munich has two weeks time. So I chose Frankfurt. Their website lists the requirements. There is a $10 application fee for filling the online application. Then there is €112 visa fee to be submitted to another agency. This agency sends an email confirmation of fee payment within 3 days. Then I got the sponsor letter from my prof. I reserved a time slot on a Monday at 9 am. I went to Frankfurt on Sunday and stayed at a friend's. 

On Monday morning I got up early and went out. I had seen the route plan on the Internet and so we went about to search for the tram station to take the tram. This tram station had two platforms on two different streets for two different line runs. We got to one platform, but found out that the relevant tram doesn't run from here. So we searched for the other platform, and asked a lady about it. She told us the location of this platform but said there is a transport strike today. Great!!! Like the transport strikes in my city weren't annoying enough, that they follow me here as well. Good thing a few buses were running. So we got on a bus. I called the embassy to tell them that I would be late because of the strike, and the guy there said ok in a careless manner, which surprised me. Anyways, the bus took us to a station about one km from embassy and we walked towards the embassy. 

The embassy is a big structure with a lot of space. There was a small queue outside the embassy for the initial counter. There were some sheds with benches along the queues with heaters in them. The heater did feel good as it was a little cold. When I reached the counter, the lady told me that there is a form missing in my documents. She gave me a map of the local area with addresses of local copy shops. The nearest one is an imbiss with a south asian owner. She told me that it is the nearest but most expensive. He had a laptop and color printer. It took me a long while to find the form, fill it and print it. Many people were coming there to do this, so it was a common thing. I also helped a couple of ppl there in finding the info they needed. One family hadn't submitted their fee, so they needed much more to do. Anyways, I got back to the embassy where they checked my documents and let me in, while giving my friend a map of the local cafes to roam around and come back after about 1.5 hours.

Inside, the process was pretty simple. The visa officer was a young guy who asked some simple questions, and then asked whether I can leave my passport with them. I got my passport back within 3 weeks with the visa.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Transport strike in Germany

This Monday was a strike by the transport union drivers in my area. They are being paid on a different tariff than the standard tariff, but want to be shifted on the standard tariff. The strike was announced last week in some newspapers, but still many people didn't knew about it, especially the people not reading German newspapers. I also got to the bus stop next to my home and discovered that the electronic displays showing the next arriving buses was blank and only displaying the text that there is a strike from the drivers and buses are running according to an emergency schedule. I checked the website of the bus company and it said that they are trying to run some buses and that many bus-stops downtown have been occupied by the drivers, so it was not possible to service those bus-stops. We waited for the next bus for some time, but then they told on their website that they cannot serve the route towards my campus, so I decided to walk to office. Good thing that it is just a 10 minute walk downhill. Some of the colleagues decided to work from home. Many people were angry with the strike. Later I saw some pictures on the Internet of the people doing the strike. This was a very peaceful strike. I don't know if their demands were met. Earlier there have been frequent announced strikes from the transport drivers in Stuttgart, which had been going on for months (although the strike was always one day long every time). I just hope that these strike don't occur so frequently here.