I need to give the people from A.I.I.S. some props, that's for sure. They handled all the arrangements for my last two trips to India. I did have to do some last minute running around the first time--mostly because I applied to the program a month or two after the deadline has passed--and I was a little stressed out about GOING TO INDIA that first year. If I remember correctly, though, last year I was so relaxed about the whole thing that I almost forgot to send in my visa, and I didn't get around to packing until a couple of days before my departure. I could be that relaxed precisely because I wasn't responsible for obtaining the supporting paperwork for the visa, making housing arrangements, affiliating myself with a university, etc. About all I did last year was buy the plane ticket (the first year, CLS/AIIS took care of even that detail).
All of this is to say is that it is kind of stressful putting together your own research application for India. In the end, USEFI came through for me and got me an affiliation with JNU in Delhi--good for them, I say, because although I managed to get a department to agree to support my affiliation, and although said department send the letter of approval to the foreign students registrar, I was never able to figure out how to get that letter sent on to me for inclusion with my visa. I spent a lot of time trying to work through the JNU switchboard (in Hindi!), but never had any luck. So, without USEFI, I'd be out of luck right now.
So, that was one huge step taken care of for me. The rest has just been non-stop drama, though. I had to include seven copies of the proforma (essentially a data sheet) with my visa application. That's seven photos, plus two for my visa, plus two for my passport. That's a total of eleven photos. You know how much that's going to cost you at the local CVS, the US Post Office, or the photo store downtown? 59.94 plus tax. And if you're me, after you pay for all those photos, and use only two on your passport application, you're going to lose the rest when you're moving. After a lot more drama, I managed to use the scanner and the local "U-print" facility to produce replacement 2" x 2" photos, but it was a huge hassle and required two trips across town. And then you have to fill everything out, glue on the photos, and send it all off via overnight mail because you needed the visa, like, yesterday.
Anyway, that sounds like a bunch of whining, but the point really is this: it's easy to take the Chicago office of A.I.I.S. for granted, and wonder, "Hey, where is my paperwork?!?" But when you have to sit down and do it all yourself, you suddenly realize how incredibly together they have it--they know what they're doing, and if there is some small delay, just be glad you're not standing in Kinko's pasting on photos with a glue stick while listening to the creepy kid next to you make a drug deal on his cell phone. Because that is a really sucky way to spend the afternoon.