The Uncommon App: Foreign Foibles

Graphic by Isabella Xie

By Samuel Agranovich

Newton South Class of 2017

Prompt: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

“So, why did you miss five days of school?” My teacher asked.

“You might not believe this,” I responded,“but I happened to have been detained in Russia on charges of illegal migration.”

My bureaucratic mess of a trip began in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on my way to a wedding in Belarus. When my parents and I handed our American passports to border control, we were told that Russian transit visas are required to take a connecting flight through Moscow. While Israeli passports do not need a transit visa, mine was expired, with the updated one being in Belarus. Luckily, the American airport security read the cancelled notice upside down, allowing me to board the plane.

In spite of that, the customs officials in Russia instantly realized that I had no legal right to be there and deported me to Latvia. Never before had such a hiccup arisen in my plans, all due to the slothful assumption that I needn’t check that everything was legally in order. From Latvia, I used my American passport to enter Belarus, receiving a stamp proving entry into the country.  After the wedding, I prepared to head back to the U.S armed with my new Israeli passport. However, while I may have been horrified with my first set of misfortunes, that was nothing compared with what was to come.

Due to the relationship that Belarus has with Russia, the trip back into Russia was considered domestic travel, causing neither of my passports to be stamped to show entry into the country. This lead to me being detained at the passport control in Moscow and accused of illegal migration. I couldn’t be sent back to Belarus, as we had a one-time visa for entry.

For the next four days we travelled from office to office, constantly being redirected towards other officials who could “help” us. Eventually, we were lead to a restricted area. Once inside, we handed over our documents and were told to wait. The solution that was offered: sign a fake document stating that I was born in America, perjuring myself as a foreigner without a proper visa. Under these new circumstances I could be deported, guaranteeing my exit from the country.

I signed the documents, and was driven by my arresting officer to the courthouse. There was even a cage present in the courtroom to protect the judges from vicious miscreants such as myself. Sadly, as a minor, it was ruled that I could not be deported. Instead, I would live in an orphanage for two years until I came of proper deporting age.

Once again we returned to our hotel for the night. The next morning, my father was feverishly looking up avenues of escape, seemingly on the edge of tears. I realized at that moment that the predicament I was in, while bizarre, was very real, and that I should be taking it seriously. My father decided it would be productive to try to attain another entry visa into Belarus. Thoroughly desperate, we went to the Belarusian embassy, knowing full well that they would not accept us as new applicants. We were granted an interview with the senior official in charge of visas. After we recounted our experiences, she proceeded to berate us for our idiocy and then stamp our passports with visas.

After returning home, I began to reflect on the trip as a whole; a series of bureaucratic technicalities that managed to transform into an unprecedented legal nightmare. The experience taught me that you must prepare for every circumstance, as you never know when a plan can come apart at the seams and land you in a serious predicament.

In summary, I learned that caution is its own reward.This wisdom has helped me move forward, acting as a steadfast platform that I can stand on to propel me to success in all of my future endeavors, scholastic and otherwise.