What is Water?

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Change your perspective // September 2015, Capri, Italy

If there was ever only one reason to travel, this is it. But first, you have to ask yourself, what is water?

It’s okay if you’re confused right now. I’ll explain.

Today in my entrepreneurship class, we were discussing why a much higher percentage of entrepreneurs in any country are immigrants.

As my professor explained, if we live in a blue house in a blue world and everything around us is blue, what is the one color we can’t see? Answer: it’s blue.

Confused again?

Let’s try another analogy. My professor’s “blue” story immediately made me think of the following parable from David Foster Wallace:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,

“What the hell is water?”

Wallace gave an entire commencement speech about this story, but I never really understood its message until today. The fish don’t know what water is because it’s the only thing they’re used to. The reason so many immigrants start businesses is that they go to a new country and they can see blue. They know what water is.

When we have lived in the same country our entire lives and have never traveled, we are viewing everything from the same perspective. We are conditioned to see everything around us as “normal” (whatever normal is). When we go to a new country, we not only bring a fresh perspective to the country we are visiting, but we also bring back home a new way of thinking. We start to question why things are the way they are. It’s why immigrants start such successful ventures. They can see problems and think of ways to fix them.

We should incessantly ask questions, just as children do. The first question we need to ask ourselves is, “what is water?”  Then, let’s go find out.

My Experience at Immigration

This week I had the pleasure of visiting the Hungarian immigration office. Imagine the DMV, but literally 100 times worse. Because my stay in Hungary is 15 days above the 90-day allowed length of stay for those traveling as tourists, I had to apply for a residence permit.

My friend and I followed the instructions of our program coordinator to get there before the office even opened. Armed with all our necessary documents and our passports, we set off for the office. One metro ride and one bus ride later, we arrived at 8:15. The office opens at 8:30, so we thought we were doing great on time and would be in and out in an hour. Boy, were we wrong.

There were probably 40 people ahead of us in line already. We met a nice lady from Canada who was in the same boat as me. Once the clock hit 8:30 the line started to move pretty quickly, which made us optimistic. Nah, turns out we were just in line to get a number. They assign numbers based on what your purpose is at the office. Those just picking up their permits, European Union citizens, and those already with Visas get first priority. Last priority: people like me – getting a residence permit, non-EU citizen, with no Visa.

I was given number 220. About 15 minutes after sitting in the waiting room, the TV screen indicated that number 200 was up. We soon figured out that those with numbers in the 200’s were all going through the same process as me. My friend Margaret had already gotten her Visa while she was in the US, so her number was 719 because she fell into a different category. As the 700’s steadily ticked by, progress in the 200’s was slim to none. Every 10 to 15 minutes the next 700 number would get called up. The 200’s increased about once an hour. At that rate, I’d be at the office for 20 hours.

Continue reading “My Experience at Immigration”