Thursday, 4 December 2014

PERSERVERENCE – My Journey to Google

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” 

Here I am, in mid-flight, with what I could only describe as challenging and stressful weeks leading up to the flight. In general, I’ve become a very casual traveller with simply throwing what I need in a suitcase the day of the trip jumping on a plane and figuring the rest out upon arrival. Passports, visas, supply plans, etc. can cause bumps along the way. In my case though, I'm pretty sure I hit every bump on this unpaved road on my way to the Google Teacher Academy India 2014.

When I first began working at my current school last year, I was coming from a school with minimal technology. I was put into a classroom with 1-to-1 laptops and began using the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) as part of my everyday practice. Technology became something I tried to weave into my classroom and I took the opportunity to challenge myself in new ways as I explored different strategies, tools and programmes. I became aware of the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) and thought it was something I wanted to strive for but pushed it to the back of my mind as I felt I was nowhere near ‘application ready’ and would maybe apply in a couple years.

This past summer, I decided that I wanted to apply this year even though I was still doubtful of being accepted and was encouraged by a few colleagues to do apply anyways. While I may not have the years of experience using GAFE and technology in the classroom, I decided I had to take it upon myself to help prepare myself for the application process. I began doing the Google Educator courses as well as the YouTube Digital Citizenship course to solidify my baseline learning and knowledge of GAFE.

Then the application schedule for Fall 2014 GTAs came out. First up was #GTASYD. While I managed to write my responses to the questions with ease, it was the video that was a struggle for me as I couldn’t imagine summarising all I wanted to include in a 1-minute video. I did a video, submitted it… and I didn’t get in.

I little bit disappointed I knew I had other opportunities and decided to apply to the next one, #GTASEA. This time I decided to take a different approach to the video but again...not accepted.

I decided to not give up and try 1 last time in the 2014 GTAs with #GTAIndia. Finally, I got the letter that I was accepted into the GTA and thrilled that it would also take me to a country I had not yet had the opportunity to travel to. Once getting over the initial excitement, I quickly realised I needed a new passport before going as I didn’t have enough pages to travel to India and then a friend’s wedding in Vietnam shortly after. It was surprisingly quite a simple process submitting my renewal passport application overseas at the High Commission of Canada. It was due to arrive back in Singapore a week about 12 days before I needed to go to India, plenty of time to get a visa. Unfortunately, it was delayed a day plus a weekend. There was doubt of whether we could get the visa in time as it required 7 days to process it. We had exactly 7 working days from the day I picked it up until the date of my flight (including the day of flight).

As soon as the passport came in, I was at the High Commission picking it up, only to hand it over to begin the application process for the Indian visa the same day. When my paperwork and passport went off to the agency, I found out they needed an additional signature. I spent most of my night there and the issue of needing additional paperwork first surfaced. Handing over every letter I had at the time, I had to write an additional letter stating I was presenting at the ‘conference’ to get the conference visa I was applying for. It seemed to be sufficient and I was told the 7 days included the weekend so I would be able to pick it up the following Monday -2 days before flying.

As Monday came, I tried calling to find out when my passport would be ready to be released to me. Later that night, I received a call asking for even more paperwork.  I immediately was calling the Director of EdTech at my school asking for a favour of drafting a letter that evening to submit and then also forwarding a letter noting I was presenting at the GTA. Thankfully, I work at a school where people go above and beyond to help others out and had all the paperwork sent back to the agency for the visa and was told I would find out in the morning.

Tuesday morning came and went...nothing. I decided to call to find out the status of my application. Currently – denied. Devastated, I was told I needed a more official letter from Google about the ‘conference’. So I did what anyone would do, I used my technology to WhatsApp one of the organisers and emailed as well. Everyone working for the Google Teacher Academy was so helpful, kind and reassuring that I would be able to get the visa. Google legal drafted a letter and we sent it off to the High Commission asking for the process to be expedited.

I also knew if I wanted to get the visa in time I had to go to the High Commission of India in Singapore and go for a visa interview. This meant taking off an entire morning to figure out how to get it. In the interview, I was told they wouldn’t approve my conference visa without a letter of authorization allowing the conference in India and a letter stating that the Google Teacher Academy was indeed a conference. This was after 11am on Wednesday and I was set to fly at 7:30pm that evening. If I could get the letters, the High Commission would approve the visa. I was concerned with the time constraints and asked the interviewing officer if there was any other way of getting a visa. At which point, he informed me I could do a new visa application for an entry visa and it would be approved. 

The time crunch was on. I had to do the application online pay for it 12 noon in order for it to be processed and ready for pickup at 4pm. I jumped on a computer filled it out and paid with 15 minutes to spare. A lucky chance I had a passport picture and the correct amount of money in my wallet. All I had to do was wait for 4pm.

Back at school, I found out my flight ticket had been cancelled because my initial visa had been denied but we were able to get it reissued with minimal issues. Because I had a new passport, I also had to have my employment pass transferred over to it and the paperwork wasn’t finished being processed we found out. The school was able to get me a letter stating it was in the works but I would need my old passport – which was sitting at home.

As class wrapped up for the day, I told my students I wasn’t sure what would happen that night and I may or may not be in tomorrow. We talked about how if you really want something you have to go after it, no matter how many obstacles stand in your way. One of my boys even said to me, "This is so frustrating. You've worked so hard for this. They can't make you wait any longer to go!" (too sweet). With fingers crossed from 16 of my favourite people, I whizzed out the door after school to pick up my new passport, head home to find my old passport and off to the airport.

Check in went smoothly and I was ready to board with 2 hours to wait in the airport, which in my mind meant a safety net for anything else thrown my way.

So many times I really thought it was over and I wasn’t going to be able to go but for every problem, a solution appeared.  It has been a roller coaster ride and I am so thankful to be en route. There were so many people that played a role in making this trip happen who I can’t thank enough. I am so excited for what awaits me tomorrow as I head to the Google Gurgaon building, for the talented educators I with encounter and for the learning experience to begin. 

As a colleague said to me at some point during the chaos, "If it doesn't work out this time, it would make a killer application video for next time showing how badly you wanted to go to the Google Teacher Academy."  Luckily, I won't have to.