On this 2013 Christmas, Toronto gave to me…

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Merry Christmas Everyone! I seem to be loving song lyrics lately, but I hope you all are having a lovely holiday so far! It’s been great so far for me!

 My family and I decided months ago that we would join my sister in Toronto for Christmas this year instead of her having to make the treck home, and I’m so glad we did! The parents chose to drive to Toronto as it is cheaper, we know the route well and they wanted to surprise my sister Amy by bringing a few things for her apartment.

 

 

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http://kingbluecondos.com/2012/cn-tower-entertains-king-west/istock_000011144730small/

 

Amy went to school in Ontario when she was 18 and has now lived in Toronto working as an interior designing for 8 years. She has come home every Christmas and has been well versed in holiday travel. From snow storms to cancellations and delays, she’s done it all.  When I asked her if she was happy about not having to do it this year, she said it felt weird and that she kind of missed it because it’s what she is used to! Such an easy going gal! : )

 So with all my luggage for Sweden, my parents stuff, our Christmas gifts, and Amy’s mirror in the trunk, we had to pack the rest of our stuff in the back seat with my sister Allison and me! Al has to put her suitcase at her feet, my backpack and parents stuff were at my feet and then Amy’s bedside table that used to be at my grandmother’s house, was in the middle on the floor of the car. Did I mention we also had our dachshund Winnie in tow? It was very squishy! But we made the most of it!

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Winnie sitting on the hump between Mom and Dad! She has to see where we are going!

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Squished in the car with Ally!

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SO much stuff!

December 20th-21st

 On Friday the 20th, we drove as far as Fredericton New Brunswick, which is about a 4 and a half hour drive from Halifax. We stayed with my mother’s sister for the night and it was very cozy!

 The next day we got up at 6:30 am and were on our way by 7. We drove as far as Edmunston which is about a three hour drive from Fredericton. Winnie was so excited! She always has to be in the front seat so she can see out the window! When we stopped for coffee at Tim Hortons, she wanted to go out and sniff!

 It was so stormy it was hard to see the lines that indicated the space of the lane. So sometimes Dad would hit the side of the road indicator, and it would make a loud noise and vibrate the whole car. After a few times of this I yelled out to dad “Dad stop it tickles my bum!” Well it does! My family laughed at that remark.

 After our pit stop we continued to Quebec. It was very snowy and slushy the whole drive, but we managed fine! We stopped outside Quebec City for some gas.

 We then continued for a few hours until we hit Cornwall ,Ontario. By the time we made it to Cornwall we had driven for ten hours! Mom had booked a hotel in Cornwall a few weeks ago, so it was all ready to go!  So as soon as we got to our room we quickly dropped off our stuff (and Winnie) and went out for supper.

 We went to an Italian restaurant called Casa Paolo and it was delicious! My parents and sister all had a different kind of pasta and I had Gnocchi! We were so thirsty we drank about two pitchers of water! I even got to save some gelato, yum!

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http://www.finestchef.com/Gnocchi%20Peperoncino.htm

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http://gracessweetlife.com/2012/06/chocolate-chip-ricotta-gelato-cannoli-cones-chocolate-sablee-gelato-sandwiches/

When we left the restaurant to go back to the hotel it was starting to get very stormy (we had made it just in time!). When we went back to the hotel, mom and al went for a swim in the indoor pool and dad and I relaxed. Winnie was so excited!!

 December 22nd

 The next day we left at around 10 am and continued for 4 hours to Toronto!

We only made one stop at an ONROUTE station.

 When we got to the city, there was so much destruction from the storm! Power was out to thousands of people and there were trees and other debris everywhere. We were able to drive to Amy no problem though.

 This Christmas we lucked out with accommodations!  Amy’s boyfriend Tate was spending Christmas this year with us, and when Tate’s family decided to go away for Christmas, his aunt offered her house to us! The house is connected to an underground parking lot and also has a pool and sauna that is shared with an apartment complex, so it is very nice!

 So when we got to the house, we unpacked and ordered Sushi for supper (Thanks Tate!).

 We knew we were in for an interesting Christmas when Amy told us she and Tate were looking after Tate’s family dog and his cousin’s cat! So in addition to Winnie we had quite the zoo! Winnie had never encountered a cat before so she was very curious and would not leave the cat alone! They all learned to cohabitate though.

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Amy, Ruffles and Winnie!

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My Baby!

 

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Bandit the food bandit!

 

 

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The Zoo! If you look closely you can see the cat’s paw sticking out!

 The cat was a little difficult to contain when there was food around. We had to put all food in the kitchen and close the doors or it would eat it! It ate through a Dorito’s bag and even Winnie’s dog food bag! Mom called him garbage guts! He is very cute though.

 

After our lovely sushi dinner we had some champagne, played a card game called concentration and relaxed for the rest of the night!

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Concentration!

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Relaxing

 

 

December 23

 On the 23rd, we got up and had breakfast and then went to Amy and Tate’s apartment so Amy could get a few things done. We didn’t have internet or cable tv at the house because of the storm, but amy’s place did, so we made the drive to downtown and got to see her place!

We then went out for lunch and had pho! Delicious. Amy says it’s the best for fighting colds. It’s basically noodles with meat and the flavour is so good. I shared a beef pho with Amy!

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Afterwards we went and got groceries. My family realized that this was the first time we all got groceries together ever! Milestone!

 The grocery store was the most amazing store I had ever seen. It had so much stuff!

We bought a lot of yummy things for the week!

 

 When we got back to the house, we made rauppie pie! It’s a traditional Acadian dish we make on special occasions. It is mostly dehydrated potatoes with chicken and seasoned with chicken broth and salt and pepper.  For some it’s an acquired taste. But we love it!

 Tate’s friends came by for a visit and they even tried some rauppie pie and liked it! Success!

 After  supper we played a game of “Things”. The premise of this game is to write down for example “things you wouldn’t say to your inlaws” and people have to guess who said what. It can be hilarious at times!

 Afterwards we chatted and soon went to bed.

 

December 24

 On Christmas eve we got up and went for a swim in the pool and went in the sauna! Amazing. Afterwards we went shopping on Yonge, which was nice!

 We got back to the house and relaxed for the rest of the day until Tate’s Nonna (Italian for grandmother) came to make us a terrific Italian supper! She made three types of fish, two pastas, brussel sprouts and scallop potatoes.

She said it wasn’t even her best! But it definitely was! For dessert she brought Tiramisu and we made a oreo log cake. The log cake is just Mr. Christie wafers with whip cream. When Nonna talked on the phone to her family who is away for Christmas, she was telling them what we had for supper and dessert. She said “we had tiramisu and log!” We laughed so hard.

 Later on we went to midnight mass at a beautiful church and it was a very nice service. When we got home we went right to bed!

 

December 25

 

Christmas! Yay! We had a great Christmas day this year. We got up and lazed around for the morning. We watched AFV  (America’s Funniest Home Videos) Christmas special and then opened our gifts afterward.

 We weren’t doing big gifts this year but we all had little things for each other. This year, I bought a piano trio for me and my sisters to learn, got a protein hair treatment for mom, framed a poem I wrote for dad, and I also wrote a story about Winnie that I had bound. A little silly, but I wrote a book in Winnie’s point of view about her trip to Toronto. My family loved it!  I had spent three weeks writing and drawing all the pictures for the book, and it was a total of 27 pages!\

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Winnie Goes To Toronto!

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 For Christmas I got a lot of great things! Earmuffs, books, gloves, candy, socks, lotion, earrings and a travel kit! Very practical for Sweden!

 

For Christmas dinner we went to Tate’s other aunt’s house. We had an amazing turkey dinner with so much food! We all chatted and played games together and it was a nice time!

 

When we got home we relaxed some more and watched the mask movie. I went on facebook to see people’s updates. We had a bet this Christmas to see how many people would get engaged because it seems to be the time of year that many people do get engaged! We had 7 in total! Congrats to everyone!!!

 

December 26

 

On boxing day we went to Amy’s friends house for a nice lunch! She has family that live in Sweden and funny enough close to Jonkoping! So I chatted on skype with them, and they said they would love to meet me sometime!

 

After we ate, we had some music therapy. The husband is a violinist and he played his violin while we played piano. Their daughter even played her guitar. It sounded wonderful!

 

We left at around supper time so we could make it in time for our play! Dad had bought us tickets to Aladdin the musical for Christmas and it was an amazing play! Probably the best musical I have ever seen! They sang the Disney songs from the movie and even had a few original songs as well. The dancing and singing was so good. What a talented bunch!

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Theatre

 After the play we walked to Amy’s and Tate’s to get the car, and the walk was so nice! We saw the CN tower lit up, walked by the beautiful skating rink, and even went through the Eaton Center! I have never been to Toronto at christmas time so it was so nice to see the decorations and all the lights.

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Eaton Center

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Family pic at Eaton Center

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Dad, Mom, Ally, Amy, & Tate

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Amy and Tate. Cute Couple 🙂

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Being silly

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Skating Rink at New City Hall

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Blurry CN Tower

When we got home it was about 10:30 pm, so we hung out and I said goodbye to mom, dad and Winnie as they were leaving to drive back home the next day. Allison is flying to meet up with her boyfriend’s family for new years in Massachussets and I am flying from Toronto to Sweden so they were having a more spacious car for this trip!

I wasn’t too sad to say goodbye to my parents and dog, as I know it won’t be for too long. Thank goodness for skype!

 

December 27

 So now today we have just gotten up a couple hours ago and are now hanging out for the day! I can’t believe I leave on Wednesday for Sweden. The year has gone by so fast! This time last year I was just deciding if I was going to apply to go abroad. It’s amazing how far I’ve come. I can’t wait to start my adventure to Sweden. I bet you can’t wait either! You will finally have interesting things to read ; )

 Stay tuned….

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♪♫ “Pay my bills? Pay my telephone bills? If you did then maybe we could chill…” ♪♫

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiF6-0UTqtc

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I’ve got much to do, but I am almost through….♪♫

Destiny’s Child seems to know what it’s like to have bills, and they even wrote a song about it. But since I have so much left to do before I leave, I don’t have time to sing about it, I must get things done!

This past week I was trying to decide how I would be handling my banking while away, and I have narrowed down my options. I will definitely be getting a bank account in Sweden since I will need to pay for rent and daily necessities. That way I can set up a direct deposit with the university and they can collect my rent money easily. Also, having my own account and debit card in Sweden will cut banking fees down. To do this, my bank in Canada said they can transfer my funds to my new account, so that is easy!

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For other means of payment, I have received a debit visa card that allows me to use my card anywhere that visa is accepted. This way I have access to funds at home, without the annoyance of having to use a credit card for everything (however I will use my credit card if needed).

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There are many options you can do while studying abroad it seems, so just talk to your bank and see what types of things they offer. Also it helps if you have someone back home who can send money to you easily in case of an emergency. Always have more than one option!

Phew, I was glad when my banking arrangements were made, but after figuring that out I knew I had to decide what I was going to do with my phone.

I really wanted to take my phone with me since it is a smart phone and  let’s face it, once you have a smart phone you can’t do with anything less (oh the troubles of young Canadians…)

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So I went to my phone provider and they gave me a few options. I knew that once I got to Sweden the university gives SIM cards to students so they can get a phone, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring my phone (if it was possible). The rep I spoke with said I could do this by unlocking my phone and suspending my plan. All I had to do was call the 1-800 number and speak with someone. I also said I wanted to have an international plan for when I am traveling; just in case I needed to call my travel agent and so I could communicate with my family. They said I could do all of this by calling the number as well.

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So now all I need to do is call the number, suspend my phone for six months, unlock my phone (which costs $50), add my international plan ($50) and go on my way! The good thing about this is I can speak with the rep over the phone and tell them to suspend my plan sometime in January (so it doesn’t have to be suspended the day I call, they can schedule it at a later time). I also have to take my SIM card out once I get there and also remember to turn off my data so I don’t get charged. Then once I get to settled I can seek out a phone company and get a pay as I go plan for my six month stay (I’m hoping).

 I hope these past few posts have helped anyone who is planning to study abroad in the future. Just remember to ask lots of questions when you’re trying to figure out options for yourself!

So that’s great! I’ve tied up some loose ends and I am almost ready to go. Just need to pack….eep. That’ll be interesting… which you will all be informed about :p. Just 15 days left!!!! Yay!

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Megs on a Plane (And Train)

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Watch out Europe! Megan Pothier will soon be traveling on a plane or train near you!! I only warn because I am a nervous wreck on these modes of transportation (which then means not much fun for the person sitting next to me). However I have had a year to talk myself into this, so I am well prepared!!  All I  had to do was re-read my post on fear, do research on plane mechanics and train layouts, locate my security blankets and of course finally book my plane and train tickets, which I will now discuss.

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You might think booking these things is easy. Maybe if you’re going to a big city yes, but for a small town, not so much. To start, there are no direct flights from Canada to Sweden (so it seems). So this potentially means a lot of connections and long layovers, but if you research well, you can find a good flight for a good price.

 I considered many options for flying. Since I am nervous, this was of extreme importance for me. I wanted a large plane that was not too expensive, allowed multiple checked bags and carry ons, a power outlet for my computer, and a flight plan that was not too long or confusing. A big wish list yes, but I knew I would have to compromise with some things. When I did my research, many flights were 16-18 hours long with connections all over the place – New York, London, Germany ughhh. I really did not want to be going from place to place with the risk of having my luggage lost. So I decided to look into flying with Icelandair.

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http://www.icelandair.ca/

My family and I have flown with Icelandair in the past, and it was reasonably priced with a good flight schedule and a lovely staff and airport. The only stop (before your destination) is in Iceland, and it can be a long or short layover. Some people enjoy a long layover as they can go into Reykjavik and sight see.

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http://www.germanwings.com/en/Flight-Info/Reykjavik-Icelands-Smoky-Bay.aspx

 

 

Imagehttp://www.wheelchairtraveling.com/accessible-tour-in-iceland-for-wheelchairs/

 

When we went to Europe in 2011, we were only in Iceland for three hours so it didn’t allow a lot of time for exploring. It was a good experience overall, so I decided to fly with them again.

I found a great flight on January 1st to Stockholm, and it was a good price (around $1300 for return flight with insurance and taxes included). I decided to book the “Economy Comfort” class as it allows more baggage and has additional comforts such as spacious seating – (not that I need it, my legs are short), power outlets, and free food etc. The flight duration is around 9 hours which I am pleased with. I am only in Iceland for about an hour before I take off for Stockholm.

So that was great! I found a flight no problem, but my problems started when I tried to book a flight to Jonkoping. There are no flights the first week of January from Stockholm (I think it might have something to do with the holidays, and probably because it’s not a heavily visited location). Unfortunately the next available flight I saw happened to be on January 7th which would make me late for orientation, so I couldn’t book that.

So the best option I decided to take was to book a train from Stockholm to Jonkoping. I usually don’t mind taking trains, but taking trains in Canada is much different than in Europe. Way busier, stressful and everything seems rushed because there is so much traffic! Another stressful part of this adventure is that I have to connect to three separate trains.  I am a bit nervous of this because I will have a lot of bags with me and I don’t want to miss my connecting trains. However I am approaching this with an open mind because I haven’t taken trains in Scandinavia so they might be better than trains I have traveled on in in France and Italy.

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http://www.maritimetravel.ca/

I booked both my flight and train with my travel agent at Maritime Travel, and I am very grateful to have her help. Many people find it easier to book online themselves, but a travel agent can be very valuable. My agent was able to find me additional discounts on my flight and train tickets, and she is also available by email or phone in case something goes wrong during my trip. If my flight is cancelled, I can call her and she can book me a new flight without me having to wait in line and communicate in a foreign language. Also, when you book through a travel agent it is a better guarantee that your payments and booking went through. My family and I booked a flight on our own one time and we were notified that our payments and booking were received when actually it didn’t go through! Another great thing about my travel agent is that she can give me my train tickets ahead of time so I don’t have to wait in lines to print off my tickets. It makes for a smoother and less stressful trip when you have everything ready. So I highly recommend a travel agent! They can help in so many ways!!

I was so happy once my flight and trains were booked! It felt like my trip was finally a reality! Now all I have to do is get on that plane and train and not freak out! If I’m smart, and pack light and am organized I know I will be fine. I bet you are wondering what happens when I arrive!?

When I arrive in Jonkoping, someone from the university will pick me up! All I had to do to set this up was register where and what time I would be arriving through the university’s website. After I am picked up I have no idea what will happen! I assume I will be taken to my residence, but I don’t even know which residence I will be staying at! I will know in time…but until then I just have to be patient! I only have a few weeks left until my departure and so much to do! (which you all will hear about in the next few weeks). Until next time… thanks for reading!!!

BAZINGA!!

That is what I told myself when I thought studying abroad would be easy! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u85u2ymDl8M

But holy crap on a cracker! (As Penny would say from the Big Bang Theory) I have gotten a lot done in the past couple of months. 

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However, if you think applying to study abroad is easy than you’re in for a huge bazinga yourself! There are many things you have to do before you can study abroad, and it seems us students sometimes underestimate what is actually involved. That is why I thought I would write a post on all of the things I had to do in order to go, so I can help students who are planning to study abroad in the future!

This week I will be talking about Permits, Planes, Payments and Phones! I have already wrote about how I applied to the exchange program at SMU and what I had to do to get my courses approved, so for the next few posts I will focus on how I applied to my work permit, renewed my passport, booked my flight and train tickets, what I will be doing in terms of a cell phone and also how I will be making payments while abroad.

PART ONE: RESIDENCE PERMIT/PASSPORT RENEWAL

In order to apply for my work permit, I had to wait until I received all of the proper documentation and forms such as a copy of my passport, letter of acceptance, proof of medical insurance, and a bank statement and proof of scholarship (if you received a scholarship).

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Passport

Your passport must be valid within three months of your departure from the country that you are study abroad at, so for me that meant I had to renew my passport very early (as it expires October 2014 and I will be leaving Sweden at the end of June). You can only renew your passport as early as one year before the expiry, so that meant I had to wait until mid-October to request a new passport. It’s quite easy to renew your passport, as long as it’s not damaged or lost, you can request a new one with ease. All you have to do is fill out the renewal forms, get passport photos done (I got mine done at Walmart) and then go to the passport office and present identification and your old passport. Passport offices can be busy so it is good to allow a lot of time for yourself. The office (where I live at least) is only open Monday- Friday from 8-4 so this made me miss time from work however it had to be done! I paid for the express processing of my passport so I could receive it in a week (it does cost extra to do this). They gave me a slip that they said I had to present to receive my passport, however if I could not pick it up myself, I could give permission to someone else to pick it up by signing/authorizing the bottom of the slip. I authorized my parents to pick it up for me and they picked it up no problem. The cost of my renewed passport was around $250. 

 

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Documentation

The next thing on my list was to get proof of medical insurance as well as official bank statements. My particular school in Jonkoping provides 24 hour medical coverage while I am in Sweden and they sent proof of this along with my acceptance letter in the mail. However, I also had to receive medical coverage when I am traveling outside of Sweden, so to do this I had my advisor write my a letter stating I was studying abroad, and then I presented that letter and my acceptance letter to MSI in order to have extended out of country coverage. If you go to MSI’s website there is an email address where you can send this, or you can give them a call. After emailing MSI, they sent an official document in the mail to me stating my proof of coverage.

To receive official bank statements, I called my banks 1-800 number to have them send the statements through the mail. My bank charged $5 per statement, and they came within 7-10 business days.

In terms of a scholarship, I do not have a scholarship that is supporting my whole trip so I did not have to provide that documentation, however if you did need this just ask your advisor/school for the documentation.

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Applying online

After I received all of these documents, I was able to apply for my residence permit. You can apply for a residence permit by sending your application in the mail or online. It is suggested you send your application online as it is received and processed quicker.

When I went to the website, I choose the “apply online” button. If you are worried about applying online and having your information such as passport and bank statement out in the open, don’t worry. They ask you a few questions before giving you a username and password that is secure and does not allow anyone besides the migration board to have access to your information.

Some of the questions on the online application were confusing, but I just answered them the best way I could and I didn’t have any problems. My suggestion is to take a look at the application form they provide on the website (that you can print) before applying online so you can see the questions that are listed and ask your advisor beforehand in case you need clarification.

Once you get through the questions on the online application form, it will ask you to go over all of the questions you have answered before you provide the documentation. Make sure to follow all of the directions the website states and carefully examine your information before pressing the “next” button. If something is answered incorrectly on the form, the application will not let you proceed to the next section. So make sure you answer all the required sections.

When you get to the documentation section, upload your forms (acceptance letter, proof of medical insurance, bank statements, scholarship statements and copy of your passport) to the page. Once that is done you will proceed to the payment section (and once you pay you cannot return to your application to make changes, so go over everything carefully to make sure you answer the questions properly).

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I ran into one technical difficulty while completing the online application. When I tried to move onto the payment section there was an error message that stated “Something went wrong. This may be due to use of the Back or Forward buttons in browser. Please check data in your application”. This was nothing I had done, because it was a glitch in their online system. Luckily they have a technical support link that allows you to email them with your problem (it is on the Swedish migration board website). When I clicked the link it took me to a page where I could fill out a questionnaire they provide. I gave them my name, email address and pasted what the error message said. The tech support worker got back to me the next day, so they are very prompt. The person said there was a temporary problem with their payment provider, and that I should try again. So I logged back onto my application and the glitch was fixed. Luckily their system is set that you can have 48 hours to complete your application without losing any data that you provided, so I had no problem completing my application. Once I paid for the permit (cost about $60) I hit submit! The website said it could take up to three months to process which made me worry a bit, but I received approval of my permit in two weeks! They sent me a form stating it was approved and told me I should present the form when I go through customs in Sweden. Once I get to Jonkoping, I will go to the migration office and get biometrics done (fingerprints etc) and receive my residence permit card.

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So overall, it was a lengthy process, but it all went smoothly for the most part. Just have patience and ask a lot of questions beforehand so you have all the facts and the proper materials.

 Hopefully you found this information helpful if you are planning to study abroad. There is so much involved in studying abroad, so I hope you are ready!

If I had to, I would apply all over again….

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