Inside the embassy (nearly)! Inside the security room is much like security at airports; you put your bags in a tray that goes through a conveyor belt, and you walk through something that beeps if something’s not right. Here’s a little link to the US embassy’s security information webpage to let you know what you shouldn’t try to take inside the embassy.
After leaving the security room, you are finally within the gates, but not quite inside the embassy. A sequence of signs led me to the front entrance, which leads to a reception area where I queued for about 5 minutes before passing over the Visa instructions I had had e-mailed to me before I was given a number to use in the waiting room.
When I entered the waiting room, I was pretty overwhelmed. My number was 543, if that gives a sense of the size of this waiting room. Seats came and went very quickly, but eventually I found myself a seat and watched the screen to wait for my number to pop up. I had brought a book with me, but since the numbers are not called out in order, it was difficult to focus on much else but the massive screen in front of me. But it’s not as frightening as it might sound; there is a ‘ding’ every time a number is shown, so if you do look away for a bit, you know when to look again. When my number finally popped up, an hour and a bit later, I made my way to one of eleven windows where I spoke to a really nice woman and gave her all of my essential documents, including my passport! Parting with my passport and realising I wouldn’t get it back until I got home was a bit of a strange feeling. At this stage, I also had my fingerprints taken. My parents had been worried that I wouldn’t get past this stage and wouldn’t be allowed into the US because a few weeks earlier, I’d cut my finger on a staple hahahaha! But fortunately there was no problem.
Back in the same waiting room, I waited just over two hours for my ‘proper’ interview, which seems to be a fairly standard wait time for this sort of visa. During this time, seeing countless others using their phones to salvage any relief from boredom that they could find, I began to regret that I hadn’t brought my phone with me. An instruction I had read somewhere, which turns out to have been out of date information (please avoid my mistake!!) had made me think that I couldn’t bring my phone into the embassy; signs in the embassy telling visitors to turn their phones off suggested otherwise. When it was (finally) time for my interview, I walked down a corridor to a room with another set of windows. I spoke to a really friendly man who asked questions about where I was going, what I was studying and how I would fund my time away. He told me Long Beach is a really lovely place and that I should try surfing, and ending the interview in less than 5 minutes, he told me my Visa application had been accepted. 🙂