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Nightmarish Bureaucracy

Beware of Bureaucrats! (street art found in Ottawa)
Beware of Bureaucrats! (street art found in Ottawa)

I have never been lucky with bureaucracy in France. In Fact, it’s almost a joke among my friends: my full name doesn’t fit on most applications, and I don’t fit in most boxes anyway. Somehow, I always ended up being the exception.

Moving to Canada turned my luck around. I find the Canadian government quite efficient and accommodating and so far, I haven’t had any major problem.

Until I decided to take some classes at university.

Last year, I showed up at the university to register for the summer session and everything went fine… until the woman realized I was French. “You need to take an English proficiency test“, she said. “Sure, where can I do that?“. She looked up at me, probably surprised by my eagerness: “the TOEFL will do“.

I came back home and registered to take the TOEFL test. It was early June and the closest test date was late August. I had realized, by then, that I wouldn’t be able to attend summer classes, but I didn’t mind too much. I spent the summer practicing for the TOEFL instead.

But two days before the test date, I received an email from TOEFL saying my test had been rescheduled… to October. Bye bye Fall session. I went back to the university and begged: “please, let me attend classes, and if I don’t pass the test in October, just kick me out!“. But the university was inflexible. I missed the Fall session.

I studied for the TOEFL again. It was rescheduled. Again. I was finally able to take the exam in December 2008, a few days before our Latina America trip. I passed quite easily: 115/ 120. Gee, thanks, I can speak English.

In April this year, upon coming back from the trip, I went to the university again, my TOEFL scores in hand. “Can I register now?“. “Sure, but in which program? Do you have the prerequisites?

I explained I had a three years degree from a French university. That I had been working as a teacher for the past four years. That I had taken a few additional classes in linguistic and in history here and there, but hadn’t been able to complete my French Master degree because I had moved to Canada in between.

Make a formal application and we will see if we can give you equivalences… otherwise, you will have to start from the scratch“.


Not willing to start in undergrad year 1 again, I gathered all the paperworks. It wasn’t easy: in France, universities are “free” but we have no services. My transcripts are just print outs with a half-erased stamps from the registrar office. I had to provide all the classes’ descriptions — this is where I realized that my degree didn’t exist anymore, thanks to last year’s reform in France. I had to prepare a resume because I’m considered as a “mature student” (at 26 years old!) and show my motivation to take classes.

I printed and copied until both machines died and applied.

I’m sure most North American are familiar with the process, but for a European, it is quite daunting. It is necessary to apply online, and then to bring all the documents at the university, where they are certified. Then, you just wait and see…because you may not be accepted.

So I sat and waited. Until the day when I logged on to the intranet to see my application status and saw it was “incomplete“. I was missing… the results of my TOEFL test. See, normally, TOEFL send the results to four university of the applicant’s choice. I had listed the two universities in Ottawa, so the results must have been there. Quod erat demonstrandum.

I went to the university with my own TOEFL report in case of. The copy of the report wasn’t accepted, but my original was taken.

I sat and waited some more.

A week later, my application was still incomplete. I went back to the university: “we don’t accept applicants’ reports, score reports must be mailed by TOEFL“. “But I already requested a report for you!“, I pleaded. “We don’t accept applicants reports…“. Gotcha. Since the university is bilingual, I asked if I could register in French instead. “You have to prove you speak French“. “But… I’m French“, I stated, unsure of whether is was a joke or not. “You have to prove you speak French anyway“. “I’m French“, I repeated, this time a bit louder. “How can I not speak French?“. “You have to prove you speak French“.

I was so frustrated I almost bought every chocolate I could find on the way home. I asked again TOEFL to send the results to the university. I paid again, of course. Apparently, it would take about 6-8 weeks.

I went back to the university with the printout of my test reorder. “See, I reorder the scores. Given that you already have the original of my test results, could you please make a decision on my application?“. “When we will receive the official scores“.

I argued that I was due to start the summer session soon, and that I was not going to take summer classes if my application for September was refused, that it was a waste of time. “Your fault, you should have applied earlier“.

As a Canadian, I’m way too polite, so I kept my mouth shut. But the French in me was seething with anger. I need to have some kind of Canadian education to improve my chances to get another job. I am willing to pay to go to university. I made it through immigration (and almost citizenship). I speak both official languages. And yet, I’m facing a wall of bureaucracy.

I really, really hope I eventually get accepted and get credits for my degrees in French.

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