Leaving Switzerland

Dear reader you might have asked yourself why I have been quiet for such a long time. Well, one of the reasons is that I have been preparing my move from Switzerland to the United States; and more precisely to Austin TX. The following post talks about some of my adventures while moving from Switzerland to Austin.

October 1st – the flight

We are getting up at 4am. My flight is scheduled for 7am. As it it is an intercontinental flight one has to be at the check-in at least two hours in advance. Although I have made a strict triage and only took the most important stuff with me I had 2 suitcases, one rucksack and a bag with my laptop. Prior to check-in I was sweating since I knew that I had overweight. Usually having to much luggage costs a fortune but this time I was lucky and they didn’t say anything at the check-in.

The first leg of my journey lead me to London. The plane started in time and the flight was “business as usual”. In London I had four hours wait time until my next flight started. The departure of the flight was in gate 4 which at the time is under reconstruction. Thus it’s a very boring place since only very few restaurants and shops are open. Most of them are still under re-construction. While I and the other passengers were waiting at the gate until boarding is started we noticed that some technicians were standing around the plane and discussing. Then suddenly they started to dismount the nose of the plane. The passengers started a lively discussion reasoning about what was going on. At the time boarding would normally have been starting the personnel informed us that the flight will be delayed due to technical problems. Apparently the plane has had an encounter with a swarm of birds while landing. Unfortunately one of the birds hit the nose of the plane and as a consequence damaged the radar system of the plane. Continental Airlines which was the operator of the plane had no replacement available and thus they asked British Airways for aid. Luckily BA had such a nose and was willing to give it to Continental. But unfortunately the nose was not stored on this airport and they had to first move it in. And then the material had to pass customs. Finally the technicians had to mount the nose which took also some time. All in all we started our flight to Houston 6 hours late.

It was crystal clear that all passengers having connection flights at Houston would miss them. The personnel assured us that Houston has been informed and that they would do whatever possible to provide us some alternate connection flights.

We arrived at Houston 6 hours late at about 10pm. There I had exactly 1 hour time to exit the plane, pass customs, check out the luggage and re-check-in the luggage and finally to change the terminal and catch the very last flight to Austin. Thanks God I do some jogging in my spare time thus I was able to get into the plane just before they shut the door. The flight was short and we landed in Austin at 11:45pm. I knew that the car rental office where I had reserved my car was closing at midnight. Thus I did another sprint out of the plane to the rental office. To my disappointment the office was already shut down… Luckily other companies offices were still open and thus I rent a car for one day at one of those. The lady of the car rental agency was very friendly and helpful. When I told her that now I only have to find a hotel she was looking at me and said. “Oh man, that will probably be very difficult!”. “Why?” I asked. She then explained me that this weekend about 100’000 people are in town to attend the music festival. I was really not in the mood to pass the night in the car and thus I asked her how far north I would have to go to find a hotel room. In turned out that I was able to find a room near to the place where my new employer is located. Finally at 1:30am I could go to sleep.

Unfortunately my luggage was not following me and stranded in Houston.

October 2nd – the apartment and the SNN

The next day at noon I went to the rental office of the place where I had reserved my apartment. They welcomed me very warmly and we did all the paperwork. Then they asked me to pay my first rental and also a deposit. When I asked whether I can pay by cash or by credit card I was told that this is not possible. I have to pay by e.g. a money order. Well remember I am Swiss and in Switzerland things run quite differently. So I asked them how I could get such a money order. No problem they said you just go to the next gas station and ask for one. Arriving at the next gas station I asked for a money order but they told me that they do not provide this service. “What can I do?” I asked. The guy then sent me to Wal-Mart. Finally I got my money order and went back to give to the apartment rental agency. 5 minutes later I had my keys and I could enter into my new home. Now I just have to buy the furniture…

One thing I had to learn is that without having a Social Security Number (SSN) one cannot do many things in the United States. One cannot open an account at a bank or receive a credit card nor make a contract with e.g. a car insurance company to just give some samples. On the internet I quickly found the necessary information about how to get such an SSN. I had to fill in a form that I could download from the web. To be sure that I had everything needed I wanted to call the agency and ask. But the phone was permanently occupied and I decided to go to the agency in person. Arriving at the place I entered into the building and was shocked. A huge hall full of people waiting for an appointment. After an hour or so it was finally my turn. The lady to whom I was directed looked at my passport and my visa. Then she shacked her head and looked at me saying: “you have passed customs yesterday only?”. “Yes” I replied “I arrived yesterday”. “Then you have to wait for 10 days until you can apply for an SSN” she answered. “But ma’am” I replied, “you know that without a SSN I cannot accomplish so many things”. She confirmed me that I am right but was sorry that she could not help me since the law is as it is. I left the agency without any result.

Well dear reader things that seem very natural to citizen of a certain country can cause many head-eggs to foreigners like me. Often there are only small differences in how things work but still it’s a complete new world full of surprises.

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    About Gabriel Schenker

    Gabriel N. Schenker started his career as a physicist. Following his passion and interest in stars and the universe he chose to write his Ph.D. thesis in astrophysics. Soon after this he dedicated all his time to his second passion, writing and architecting software. Gabriel has since been working for over 12 years as an independent consultant, trainer, and mentor mainly on the .NET platform. He is currently working as chief software architect in a mid-size US company based in Austin TX providing software and services to the pharmaceutical industry as well as to many well-known hospitals and universities throughout the US and in many other countries around the world. Gabriel is passionate about software development and tries to make the life of developers easier by providing guidelines and frameworks to reduce friction in the software development process. Gabriel is married and father of four children and during his spare time likes hiking in the mountains, cooking and reading.
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    • http://www.lostechies.com/members/scottcreynolds/default.aspx Scott C Reynolds

      Welcome to the states permanently Gabriel, we’re lucky to have you! Here’s hoping you get over the transitional hump in one piece ;)

      Hopefully we get a chance to hang out when I’m down for Monospace!

    • Daniel Joerimann

      Hi Gabriel,

      Searching for NHibernate content, I stumbled across your blog and thought, “Hey, I know this guy”. :-)

      Wish you a good start and good luck in the US.
      Daniel

    • Spencer

      Welcome to the US! By the way, no gas station I know of provides money orders. That was uninformed advice probably given to you by someone who never needed a money order. You will find that many Americans are reluctant to say “I’m sorry, but I don’t know but I will find the right answer for you.” For some reason it’s in our culture to just make something up and let you realize later that we didn’t know what the heck we were talking about.

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy your stay here and that you finally got your luggage.