So you’ve finished your first year at HEC Paris and you’ve decided that you are more or less ok with committing to another 2 years of croissants, camembert, and champagne. As with any commitment, however, you also know that formalizing this decision involves overcoming a series of administrative hurdles—and anyone who has spent more than a few months in France knows that if there is one art the French have mastered, it is the craft of erecting intimidating lines of administrative defense.
As an American, I leave it to the wise words of my compatriot David Lebovitz to summarize the French psychology:
“Something Americans don’t understand is that the person sitting…behind the counter in France has the inalienable right to say ‘non’ for whatever reason he, or usually she, wants. Unlike in America, where everyone’s taught to say yes, in France, ‘oui’ means more work.” David Lebovitz (The Sweet Life in Paris, 2011)
So it was with great tremblements that I turned to Agnès Tourneix, the Student Affairs Coordinator at HEC, about renewing my Titre de séjour to prolong my student status. I prepared myself for the worst: a multi-month process that would require hours of commuting back and forth from Paris, a printing budget that would rival my monthly rent, and countless ‘no’s’ from can’t-be-bothered administrators who would view my visa extension application as a personal threat to their lunch break.
But there’s a reason why Agnès’s name is an anagram of ‘anges,’ the French word for ‘angels.’ When I told her what I was seeking, Agnès’s face lit up. “Don’t you worry,” she said with a wink. “We have a special status at HEC Paris. You’ll see what I mean. Fill out these forms and print out these documents, and I’ll set you up with an appointment.”
Curious to see what this special HEC treatment involved, I duly filled out the forms (a reasonable 2-pager) and printed the necessary documents (the usual suspects: proof of student status, proof of housing, passport copy, etc.) before returning to Agnès’s office the very next day.
After verifying that my dossier was complete, Agnès opened a scheduling app on her computer to book my appointment.
“Which day and time works for you?”
“Well,” I said, “let’s see…I would have to go into Paris, so I’ll need a free afternoon to do that…”
“Go to Paris? Mais non, the Préfecture comes directly here to campus!”
Thinking I had misunderstood her, I asked her if she could repeat what she said.
And she leaned in to share with me one of the many great secrets of HEC:
“Normally, if you were to renew your visa, you would have to show up at the Préfecture in Versailles and stand for hours in a line like this,” she said, pulling up a picture on her computer.
The ‘normal’ queue outside the Préfecture in Versailles.
“But,” Agnès said, “as we are HEC, the Préfecture comes to us.” She took a map of the campus from her desk and pointed her pen on one of the classroom buildings. “They come to meet you here, so you can time your appointment right after your classes and just go straight there.”
Visibly amused by my dumbfounded expression, Agnès went on to explain that since 2014, HEC had negotiated a deal with the Préfecture to set up a temporary antenna on campus for 2 months of the year to provide service exclusively to HEC Paris students. She pointed out that this was exceptional treatment on the part of the Préfecture; similar arrangements took place in only a handful of other establishments in France.
On the day of my rendezvous only a few days later, I showed up at the assigned location and waited on a comfortable chair outside the room to await my turn. The queue was indeed dramatically different from the usual situation outside the Préfecture de Versailles that had been captured in Agnès’s terrifying picture.
When it was my turn, I was called in kindly by a woman named Lora, an HEC administrator who was present to coordinate affairs with the representative agent from the Versailles Préfecture—a woman also named, ironically enough, Agnès.
Taking finger scans.
This Agnès, however, is more famously known around town as Agent AA. At one point during my appointment, when the system momentarily ran into a glitch, Agnès ‘Agent AA’ whipped out her phone immediately and called an unnamed contact. “Yes, it’s me. We have to régler un problème with the system.” Within 2 minutes, the system was back on track again. “We at the Préfecture have special contacts, too,” Agent AA said with a wink.
Within 30 minutes, Lora and Agnès were able to transfer my dossier into the system, complete my finger and thumb scans, and provide me a copy of my récépissé (a temporary document confirming my visa extension). They also assured me that my official Titre de séjour would arrive within a few weeks, also to be picked up at the same room conveniently located on campus.
Earning that récépissé—success!
The speed of the process, the supreme kindliness of Lora and Agnès, and the convenience of the entire arrangement were so surreal that for a moment, I suspected I had made some grave error and accidentally extended my visa to the wrong country.
But then, at the end of my appointment, when both Agnès’s came out to celebrate with me and even roped in Célia Traoré Miquel, the MBA Student Services Manager who was innocently passing by, to join in a collective moment of joie de vivre, I knew my visa was exactly where I wanted it to be.