Five Life Lessons From a Passport Agent

 

In celebration of working for a passport processing facility for a full year now, I’ve put together a few things I’ve learned over the last months. Working for a passport office is great because it’s the first step to any international adventure! I get to be one of the first people to interact with someone before they become a world traveler or I get to be the first one to congratulate someone on being granted citizenship into the United States. Even though the paperwork can be tedious and a pack of children can really shake the place up, overall, the work is oddly fulfilling.

Getting a passport can be overwhelming. As a passport agent, here are the top five things I’ve learned about the general American public and their life lessons.

 

1. American is full of procrastinators.

You would think ensuring you have your passport or that your passport is valid would happen a couple of months in advance to a trip. Perhaps I am the overly prepared type, but I don’t like to find out that my passport is not valid two days before my airplane takes off. That just makes for too much of a wild adventure with anxiety for me.

Yet, there are always applicants that will come in at the last moment. They wait until the same day that everyone else waits (which usually ends up being a school holiday or the day before/after a three day weekend) which ends up making their wait time even longer. These same procrastinators, due to their heightened anxiety usually have the wrong form, wrong information, or are missing the necessary application requirements.

So, in case you thought you were alone when it comes to putting things off until the last minute – fear no more, it’s pretty normal.

Life Lesson Number 1: do your research before hand, and don’t put things off until the last minute. It will cost you way too much time and a lot more money in the long run. 

 

2. No matter how detailed a website is, someone will always claim that it’s not easy to understand.

Web designers and administrators spend hours upon hours ensuring a website has the optimal readability. They scourer every inch of a webpage to find all the wrong quirks and make sure every link works. Yet, there will always be someone who says something is difficult to understand.

If I had a quarter for every time someone said, “Well, that wasn’t on your website”,  or “Maybe you should say that better online”,  or better yet, “But online it says…”, I’d be a very rich lady. Each time someone tells me about the lack of clarity a website holds I can’t help but find the humor in it. I wish I could say only the elderly or those who lack computer skills are the ones that come to me and say these things, but honestly it spans all age ranges. More often than not, they have no idea where they got the information they got but will refuse to admit they might be wrong about the information they believe they saw (or didn’t see). Humor, because within the same hour, someone else always comes with all the requirements in tact that will tell me everything on the website was very straight-forward and clear.

In the age of Google, I’m amazed at how little people know about researching an important topic.

Life Lesson Number 2: Google will be your best friend, if you learn how to use it properly. Not all sources are valid, so make sure you’re checking the right ones. [Pro Tip: When it comes to American passports, this is a great one to look at: US Dept of State]

 

3. There is a whole generation that has no idea what the difference between a check or a money order is.

I’m going to say this again just in case you didn’t get it the first time, there is a whole generation which does not know the difference between a check and a money order.

When I was in the third grade, I remember my teacher spelling out for us how to write a check. I also remember being very excited about this lesson because I just knew it was going to be crazy useful to me one day. My mother used checks, my grandmother used checks, my aunts, my cousins, and every other person that loved to hold up a grocery store check out line used checks! I was going to be one of those people one day and I better get to learning it as soon as I could.

Then debit cards and credit cards took over. By the time I was in college, the use of checks was nearly obsolete. Yet, I still used them to pay my rent because I had a stack of checkbooks that I didn’t want to go unused.

Granted, I’m not much older than the current generation of  college-goers, but I find it frustrating that I get questioned about the difference between a check and money order (By the way, it’s a requirement to have one of these when going through a passport processing agency in order to apply for a passport).

To a certain extent it makes me sad to know that these things are becoming a thing of the past, while at the same time I’m excited to see what the future of payments will look like. Too bad government agencies haven’t caught up to the times yet…

Life Lesson Number 3: Money orders take money directly out of your bank account as soon as you withdraw it, checks will only take the money out of your account once the person issued the check cashes it in (so make sure you have enough in your bank account for when money is taken out). These are more secure ways of transferring money and having a receipt of the money withdrawn, as opposed to cash. 

 

4. Parents don’t know how to let go.

The greatest lesson any child can learn would be how to maneuver the world around them on their own. One of my favorite things about solo travel is the fact I can test my own limits, what I can and cannot achieve on my own. When I was 18, I got my very first passport. My mother made the appointment (for my sister, herself, and I) and I of course overslept. But at the end of that morning, we had three passport applications in route to be processed by the U.S. Department of State. I never learned what it took to complete an application because she had prepared everything for me. I didn’t know what it took until I became an actual passport agent.

I was 18 and right out of high school. I was used to my mother taking care of things like doctor’s appointments and government paperwork. I wasn’t given the freedom to mess up and learn what it took to be a real adult until I was 19 and had to apply for my first apartment (although I did know what a check or money order was!)

Parents will escort their 20+ aged sons and daughters to the passport office, have the paperwork filled out for them, will cut the check, and do just about everything except sign the application for these youngsters. This has gone as far as having parents yell at me (or my boss) over birth certificates for their 30+ year-old children.

The point is, parents have a hard time letting go.

This kind of dependency I see in young adults honestly terrifies me. It’s one thing to know you have your family to fall back on in times of trouble, it’s a completely different thing to be totally reliant on mom and dad to get things done for you.

Life Lesson Number 4: It’s good to allow your children to get their hand dirty and learn the ins and outs of application/paperwork processing. Independence is not only fun, but a necessary part of adulthood and being wrong isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. 

 

5. Not enough people take adventures.

The European Union has made it so easy to jump from one country to the next. It’s no wonder people all over the continent travel from place to place all the time. Granted, North America isn’t divided into quite as many countries. Additionally, Canada, Mexico, and the USA are rather large countries. It is a tad more difficult (and more expensive) to country hop.

I’m so excited every time someone gets a passport for the first time. It means they are about to have some great adventures. Sometimes, applicants will make it over 50 years on this planet without ever getting a passport to go elsewhere.

There are so many beautiful and wonderful things to see in America. Yet, going outside your comfort zone and discovering foreign lands will make every prejudice you may have disappear. Dissolving boundaries is an even more beautiful thing, and unfortunately too many people go too long without doing just that. In a world that tries to create a sentiment of “us” verses “them”, it’s so important to see the humanity in “us”. Questions? See this cartoon.

If you are to take away any life lesson, then take away this one:

Life Lesson Number 5: Never be afraid to take on a new challenge. Adventure awaits just on the other side of your comfort zone. 

JOIN IN ON THE ADVENTURES!

Comments

    • The funny thing is, my mother will still try to do paperwork for me despite the fact I’ve been on my own for six years now!

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