On the second day of this trip, we had our first border to cross. We left Backa Palanka, in Serbia, and headed to Vukovar, in Croatia. Normally, this doesn't pose much of a problem, as long as you hold a valid passport and you don't drive a van full of bikes, backpacks, satchels and assorted boxes filled with ripe plums and/or video equipment.
So guess what...
On my way out of Serbia, I was questioned about Andi's equipment. Said it came from Austria. No problem.
On my way into Croatia, I was questioned about the reason of my visit. Pointed at the giant logo, mentioned the group of cyclists that had passed. Little hesitation, then no problem.
Half an hour later I discovered such group of cyclists had in fact NOT crossed the border before.
After a few hours, I had to return to Novi Sad. Same border post.
On my way out of Croatia, I was asked why I wasn't registered as a trucker, so to speak. Referred to officers on the previous shift. Also, I'm not that much of a trucker yet, even though the tan on my left arm may be misleading.
On my way into Serbia, I was subjected to a customs check. The primary target, this time, was a small cardboard box hidden deep within the loins of Boris. Turned out to be the box where we keep the flyers, so that lightened the mood a bit. An awkward moment ensued, when four people couldn't figure out how to pop the hood of the van, which twenty minutes later led to a polite "sod off".
Later that night I showed up again, but this time they were expecting me, and not that happy to see me. Had I not been accompanied by german-speakers the second time around, my quest would have been much harder. Need to work on my Serbo-Croatian, I suppose.
This ordeal got me thinking: it's true, the normal student going abroad does not drive a van full of crap. Although I did, back in '07, but nonetheless.
Many students on mobility face lots of different problems, either with visas or residence permits, or even documents that cannot be produced for the simple reason that they make no sense elsewhere! I recall I was once asked, on a form, to indicate my previous date of birth in case I'd changed it, thus proving that time travel is possible.
It's about time we streamline these processes and facilitate the movement of students, and all people in general, to ensure that we build a world where people know, respect and understand their neighbours, no matter how far they are apart. We, in Europe, have a common identity background and we should embrace it, not deny it. Let student mobility be the first example, and let many more follow.
It shouldn't take a Boris to figure this out.