Last Sunday, I flew from Philadelphia to Boulder to start my summer internship at NCAR. My good friend Joseph, who lives in Boulder, took me to my first hike. Hat, water, and shorts were everything that I brought for the hike, and everything I needed for the hike.
Or so I thought.
I submitted my Employment Authorization application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in early February, confident that I would receive the Authorization card before the semester ended to start the internship. I was optimistic, probably even more optimistic than Haverford Computer Science (CS) Department when they thought they could hire a faculty member to teach a course (of course, they failed).
For those who are not familiar with the process, international students need to have the Authorization card mailed by the USCIS in hand before engaging in any off-campus employment, or else they may be subject to 3 to 10 years bar of re-entry to the US.
70 days after I submitted my application, I heard nothing from the USCIS.
80 days, nothing.
90 days, still nothing. The end of semester was approaching...
The question "What are you doing this summer?" always caught me off guard. It amazes me how one genuine question can set off a series of fight or flight responses. I had a plan. That's what I told myself, thinking back to the time when Haverford CS Department had "the plan".
I didn't know what I would do if the authorization card never arrived. I didn't know where I would stay, and how long I would stay. I didn't know what to say to my parents. I didn't know what to say to the person, or to myself whenever I got asked the question.
I felt a burning feeling in my chest and face, my heart beating fast like it was fighting for the last few oxygen particles to keep me afloat. I was running out of breath.
And how could one bring enough breath for the hike anyway? The hiking trail is 1.9 km (or, for the edgy subset of the world population, 6184 feet) above sea level. At high altitude, it is much more difficult to breathe, especially for someone who just came from Philadelphia (where the elevation is practically 0). There were times when I thought to myself: "What if my body just fails, I trip over a rock and fall off the cliff right here right now".
Luckily, I had such a supportive hiking partner. He guided me along the trail, briefed me on that "Boulder lifestyle", and taught me how not to die if we see a mountain lion. We eventually managed to reach the top! (well, not really the toppest top of the mountains because of the thunderstorms but let's sugarcoat the story a little bit; pieces with happy ending are generally received better). I stopped in the middle of the trail, looked out afar, and pointed out to Joseph: "Ayy it's where I work".
It was day 110 when I received the card in the mail. It was everything I needed for the flight.