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Both of our submissions got accepted and the UK visa journey then started.
First round of visa application
Mehrasa and I applied for the visa on May 25th, 2017, and we both got rejected. We announced the rejection publicly on Facebook.
It is worth mentioning that we submitted a confirmation of invitation letter from the conference chair, Kate Borthwick, confirming that we have been invited to present our Research and Development papers at the EUROCALL 2017 conference. Our supervisor, Prof. Haruo Takemura, also wrote a letter and guaranteed that all the travel expenses to attend the conference are covered by Osaka University.
Second round of visa application
We applied again on July 11th, 2017, and provided stronger documents. We added the names of some of our British friends in the application form, and one of them wrote a recommendation letter for us. We wrote exactly the same reason for our travel (we did not paraphrase it):
“This conference presentation is part of the requirements for the completion of my PhD course at Osaka University. I will publish two papers in the conference proceedings, one with my name as the first author, then I will be able to defend my PhD.”
Our documents were the same to a large extent except for my marriage certificate and our bank transactions. I had worked part time at a university as an English instructor and I had received about 180,000 yen (1200 GBP) monthly from April 2017. Our scholarship (148,000 yen, 1000 GBP) is fixed, and I wrote in the application form that I had worked part-time and provided a copy of my contract in English.
Mehrasa luckily got the visa, and I got rejected again because:
“While I acknowledge that you have been invited to present a paper at the EUROCALL 2017 conference the evidence you have provided does not explain why it is needed for you to complete your PhD at Osaka University.”
I announced the second rejection on Facebook.
Third round of visa application
I applied for the third time on August 2nd, 2017. I submitted an extra letter I received from one of the coordinators of the EUROCALL Special Interest Groups (SIG), Mirjam Hauck, in support of my application for a visa to enter the UK so that I can be elected into my new role, secretary of the EUROCALL Graduate Student SIG, during the meeting on August 24th in Southampton.
I got rejected for the third time, and wrote on my Facebook page that I will be at the EUROCALL 2017 conference in spirit.
Here you can find my “Refusal of Entry Clearance” letters.
After my first visa rejection, I read a visa story about an Iranian artist, Ehsan Abdollahi (#visaforAbdollahi), who was denied entry to the UK to attend Edinburgh book festival for illogical reasons, very similar to the ones I received regarding my bank statements, but decision has finally been overturned by the UK embassy in Tehran and fortunately he could attend and hold his workshops at the festival. Here, I would like to share his illustration in reaction to his visa refusal with which I strongly identify. It shows an animated Abdollahi in a bottle in reference to his book, A Bottle of Happiness, along with the words painted in colors: “I rubbed out the words ‘No Entry’ and wrote with all my colours: Happiness, Flying, Kindness, Hope, Love.”Feeling disappointed but hopeful, I decided to attend the conference online!
I started checking the conference hashtag, #EUROCALL2017, every second, and I could connect to the conference by tweeting, retweeing, and communicating with the twitterers. Periscopes also really helped me keep connecting.
Here is the link to my EUROCALL 2017 Storify, and you can see all the moments of connection, hope, and love: https://storify.com/ParisaMehran/eurocall2017
I also created a list of tech tools based on the EUROCALL abstract book and asked the twitterers to help me complete the list.
Following the tweets, I noticed that I could connect virtually through Virtually Connecting (VC). I singed up for the two virtual conversations: the first one at 2 a.m. and the second one at 7 p.m. in Japan. VC connected me to the two of the keynote speakers, Steven Thorne and Shannon Sauro, and I got to know other CALL scholars. One of the virtual buddies I met online was Simon Ensor. You can read his blog post, This Stream Is Not Online at Present, where he asks:
“How many people do not have access to learning, to conferences as a result of visa restrictions, financial barriers, family constraints, statutory constraints etc, etc? This was exemplified by Parisa Mehran who was accepted to present this year, but was unable to attend due to visa rejections.”
Here are the screenshots I took during the virtual sessions, and I am happy to announce that I was just invited to join the VC team to set up virtual sessions as a virtual buddy:
I was able to attend my sessions via Skype with the help of the EUROCALL organizers and my friends who set up everything before my presentations. Here I share some of the schreenshots. You can see excitement in my face!
Here are some screenshots of the sessions Mehrasa helped me attend after our presentations:
The Mobile Guide for EUROCALL 2017
I installed the app of the conference, virtually “checked in”, and stayed in touch with the attendees there as well.
Shannon Sauro’s Keynote Speech
I know Shannon from EUROCALL 2015, and since then I stayed in touch with her through Facebook and Twitter. She contacted me on Twitter and said that she wanted to mention my story in her keynote and the challenges I had faced in trying to come to the conference. I asked Mehrasa to get online on Skype to be able to listen to Shannon. Then, I saw Shannon’s tweet sharing the livestream link for her keynote “Looking to Fandom in a Time of Change”.
Shannon started with talking about the Trump travel ban and recounting the story of a researcher, Shahlah Adi, who could not attend the CALICO 2017 conference because of the ban, and then my story. I was in tears and touched by her powerful talk. I filmed my screen and you can watch the video here.
Here are the screenshots of the tweets after Shannon shared my story:
Louise Ohashi (Associate Professor, Meiji University, Japan) is a close friend and I know her through JALT (Japan Association for Language Teaching). After Shannon’s keynote, she made an appeal (click here to watch the video Mehrasa took while Louise was talking) to the EUROCALL community to support me, and she collected about 350 (GBP) to cover my visa application fees.
In total, I paid around 150,000 yen (1000 GBP). Each round cost 21,000 yen (150 GBP) and for the third round I paid 30,000 yen (215 GBP) extra to use priority service. The cost of translating my documents was also about 40,000 yen (280 GBP).
After Shannon’s talk and when Mehrasa shared some photos, I received these massages on Facebook from CALL scholars:
Steve McCarty (Professor, Kansai University, Osaka Jogakuin, and the Japanese government (JICA), Japan):
“Parisa, that’s the global community of scholars in action, sharing common academic standards and ethics. Maybe at a suitable time I could contribute a paragraph to your blog or wherever on the ironies of demonizing Iran.”
Kalyan Chattopadhyay (Associate Professor, Bankim Sardar College, Calcutta University, India):
“Your story has become epiphanic of pain and anguish of thousands of academics who were treated whimsically. So you have a fandom and I’m proud to be your fan.”
Ali Bostanci (Lecturer, Nevsehir Haci Bektas Veli University, Turkey):
“Dear Parisa, I have attended the EuroCALL conference in Southampton (only for a short time on Friday afternoon) and participated in Shannon Sauro’s Plenary Speech in which she talked about the details of how your visa application has been rejected 3 times. Until recently you were in my friend list at least this is how I remember it. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that many people were disappointed to learn about what happened to you in this process. I really hope that you this frustration will somehow turn into an opportunity for you. I really do! One thing for sure is that you are very popular now among CALL researchers 🙂 I wish you best of luck in everything.” (Ali sent me this message privately and I asked for permission to publish it here).
Despite being denied, this was the story of my presence at EUROCALL 2017. Words fail me to thank all those who cared about my story, supported me along the way, and helped me cross the borders and be there.
During this journey, I learned and practiced how to take action by sharing stories as stories have the power to change the world. I am now impatiently waiting to receive my conference pack and a lovely T-shirt, and I am planning to wear it at EUROCALL 2018 online or hopefully on site 🙂