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Post Column: Sophia's Chinerica: Borders separate us physically, mentally

I had quite a struggle last week — again, with my visa.

I signed up for the trip to Prague in the Czech Republic with a student organization. The Czech Republic and Germany are both under the Schengen Agreement, which allows a person holding one member country’s visa to travel to other member countries. Well, this is the short version of it, because conditions could vary case by case and often allow no mercy for a Chinese citizen, according to my previous experience.

I researched online and found various answers. It is very likely that I couldn’t make it to Prague because: 1.) I’m granted a “type D” German visa, which states “valid for Germany,” and 2.) My residence permit that would eliminate the first concern was still not granted by the Aliens’ Office (Ausländerbehörde).

Then I met some Turkish students who helped me call the Leipzig Citizen’s Office and asked on my behalf — my German was not good enough. The official answer was that I was able to travel to the Czech Republic because my visa allows multiple entries into Germany.

So I went to Prague this past weekend and it turned out to be magical. But my problem still exists: I need to get a residence permit. The Ausländerbehörde asked me to prove that I have 8,000 euro in my German bank account with a limitation of spending no more than 697 euro a month. I’m still in the process of negotiation. Hopefully I can get it before Dec. 17, which is the expiration date of my legal status here in Leipzig.

A friend asked me whether this German trip was worth it. Well, I think the answer is more complicated than just “worth it or not.”

Though getting a German visa (read my first column from Aug. 29) and coming to Leipzig have been a real pain in the neck, the gain of this journey will not be discounted by the struggle. For pain is pain and gain is gain; they are independent. If I try to make up my pain by eagerly gathering gains, then the gain would truly be discounted.

In my first column, I wrote, “If I’m defined only by a piece of paper, if I have to choose between my home country and a foreign nationality with little visa drama, then I’d rather live without any nationalities.” However, since I arrived in Germany, I’ve been seriously considering changing my nationality, because ridiculous treatments for “aliens” just keep coming.

Last week, it finally hit me that changing my nationality is exactly defining myself with a piece of paper — just with a different color. So I’ve decided to stick with my nationality, which is People’s Republic of China. You can say it’s patriotism. I see it rather as a tough decision along with endless future visa struggles, as well as a chance to prove to any country I want to go to and anyone I come across that China Mainland citizens deserve to be trusted.

Being from different countries and being different nations are not the problem. It is the walls between us that are wrong. It is the ones who make a profit from such walls who are wrong. Then is there a way to change it?

The answer lies in ourselves.

In Germany, people largely depend on trams to commute. Unlike in the U.S. or in China, they don’t have cashiers to take the fee or card swipes by the drivers. Instead, they have ticket vending machines in the middle of each carriage and at the stops. And as a semester ticket holder, I was only checked twice in the past two months, though I ride the tram almost every day.

It’s hard to say if it is the 40-euro fine that is ticket-escaper-proof, or if there’s really no need for extra regulation on these civilized people. But I guess, since I’m not a policymaker, sometimes it might be people who are changing the system. If we can spend more time getting to know another nation, or reconsidering our previous impressions of others to reach mutual understanding and trust, maybe it won’t be so hard to cross borders.

Maybe by then, my visa nightmare would truly end.


Bingxin “Sophia” Huang is a master’s student at Ohio University who is studying at the University of Leipzig this semester and a columnist

for The Post. Send her your thoughts at

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