Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is it real yet?

So I was recently talking to a friend who I haven't spoken with in forever and they asked me if my study abroad is starting to feel real now that it's approaching. I still don't really have a good answer for her, but after talking with my fiance over yummy dinner last night I did realize something.

Photo by Illaura Rossiter Copyright 2012
So far, for the last 6 months, or however long ago I decided to study abroad, I've been terrified of it. Terrified of leaving home which I have never been more than two hours away from. There have been times where just the thought of going abroad has reduced me to tears. I was terrified of ending up in a country where I wake up one morning and don't even speak the small portion I speak now. In fact I've woken up more than once with night terrors about getting to Japan and I can hear the people and see the signs, somewhere in the back of my mind I know what they say, but I feel the utter panic of not understanding anything.

True, so far there have been days where I have thrown my arms up in the air in exasperation and said "That's it! I'm not going to Japan!", but every night before bed I understood that if I don't take my chance with this experience that I will always regret it. Yes, it's scary. Yes, I'm going to a country where I will be the minority. Yes, I can't fluently speak the language, I don't intimately understand the culture and for once in my life it won't be easy to pass a class, but if I don't go I'm going to spend the rest of my life being the girl who should have didn't go to Japan.

And what the hey, my student debt is already through the roof, what's a little bit more on top of the pile?

But last night I was thinking about my friend while waiting for dinner and got to talking with my fiance and I realized that the terror I have been feeling every time I've thought about this trip is subsiding a little bit. For now at least. Just T-5 months to go, right?

You all probably think I'm ranting right about now, but I think this is an important part of the experience and I haven't even gotten to the airport yet. Especially if you have never been far from your family and you're big on family (like me), then the idea of being separated by an ocean and in completely different time zones is terrifying. The fear of not being able to understand the language also is a completely understandable fear, no one wants to make that terrifying blunder or not understand something vital.

         "To get through the hardest journey we need take only
             one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping."
                                               - Chinese proverb

However, I'm finally reaching the stage where I've cried about as much as I can until it's about time for goodbyes and I'm starting to really, really be excited about this again. So many things to do, so little time. So much to learn. So much to see, experience, eat, people to meet. There are so many opportunities and experiences I don't even think I've thought up yet, so it will be an experience to remember.

So if hurdle number 1 was the paperwork, then the next hurdle is an emotional and mental one. If you're doubting yourself asking "どうして日本に行きたい!?!" (Why do I want to go to Japan!?!), then just step back and take a breath. You can do this! It might not be easy, but you'll be all the better off for it. If you have any friends or family backing your study abroad experience now is the time to talk to them! Remind yourself why you want to go, what you want to accomplish and that you have people backing you every step of the way! Don't forget, you've already taken the biggest step in your study abroad experience, deciding to go.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

So you want to study abroad?

There isn't much to report on the study abroad front right now. Things are pretty tame other than the fact that I can now apply for the Gilman Scholarship. I won't hear back on if I receive a scholarship until pretty close to my departure date I think though. On the topic of scholarships...

So you want to study abroad?

Well, obviously I’m not an expert on the topic as I’m still going through the process myself. Nevertheless a month or two back I was asked to do a college and study abroad presentation at North Eugene High School a couple of months ago. So I thought I’d pass on what I told those students, starting with college.

My first piece of advice was YOU CAN AFFORD COLLEGE! Yes, I said it. You can. You don’t have to come from a rich family to attend college. These days between FAFSA and scholarship websites you can easily afford college. Okay, maybe not easily. You have to be very careful of the websites you use for scholarship searches. If you find a scholarship that’s too good to be true, it probably is; back away quickly. Otherwise do a web search for that specific scholarship, see what other people have to say. The internet is a great place for information and you can usually find out if something is a scam with a simple search. Second, file your FAFSA, it makes you eligible for all kinds of grants and federal loans (which can be used to pay for study abroad!).

Copyright of scholarshipforcollegestudents.org

Second. No 4.0? No problem. You don’t need a four point grade average to get into college or even to earn a scholarship. There are hundreds of scholarships out there that don’t focus on your academic history in the least or even some that are specifically for lower end GPA’s. If you’re interested in basketball or sewing or if you speak a foreign language or are intending to study one there are scholarships out there for you. Also, check your family’s union for scholarships. My first scholarship came from my grandmother’s union.

When to start looking? Yesterday. Seriously. The minute you enter high school you should be looking and applying for scholarships. There is a golden window in high school where every conceivable scholarship is out there for the taking and many are not awarded because no one applies. So look early, plan and APPLY early. Trust me, you can’t start soon enough. There are still scholarships available after high school, but they are fewer and far between unless you are a non-traditional student.

How does this tie into study abroad? Money, pure and simple. Scholarships, financial aid, savings they are the key to your study abroad program. You can study and keep your GPA at a 4.0, but unless you have the money that program is unaffordable. Of course, financial aid students can’t afford to study abroad in say Japan right? Wrong. You’d be surprised what your financial aid will cover. The key to this is selecting a program that is within your budget. By that I mean a program that costs the rough equivalent of the same amount of time spent at your home college. For example, studying abroad at Japan Women’s University will cost around $24,000 for the year while I receive about $18, 000 a year in financial aid. Add on the extra I’ve saved over the past year and I’m just less than $4,000 away from studying abroad, which isn’t nearly as large a gap as it seems.

That said, back to scholarships. APPLY for them! There are scholarships available for study abroad as well ranging anywhere from $500 and up. Don’t think any amount is too small to apply for. That $500 is $500 closer to your study abroad goals. The trick is to look early, start looking into programs your first year of college, find out the rough costs and start researching. If your school has a study abroad office pay them a visit and get the information. More than likely they have a list of scholarships for the country you want to study in and can help you select the right one.

DO remember that most financial aid and scholarships cannot be disbursed to you until your term actually begins. That means if you need vaccinations, doctor visits, passport, visa, a suitcase, etc. prior to leaving for your trip you will need access to funds to pay for them. That’s where saving comes in. Vaccinations and luggage sets can be expensive, not to mention the start-up costs of moving to another country for any amount of time. You’ll need to have that money to spend ahead of time. Oh, and usually you’ll have to pay for the cost of your round trip plane ticket (right around $1500-$1800 currently to Japan from what I’ve found) out of pocket prior to departure. There are some short term loans available in most places for this type of expenditure, but usually they must be repaid within 90 days and they have high interest rates.  So plan ahead. 4 years or however long it may be until you leave on your trip may seem like a long time, but you don’t want to come up short at the last minute and have to cancel your plans.

Also, don’t forget to apply for your passport early. It can take a LONG time to get your passport so it’s best to get it early. The first thing I did when I decided to study abroad was get my passport and it made the whole thing seem a lot more real. The prices can be easily found on the web but it can take anywhere from a month to six months to get your passport depending on waiting times. Your best bet is to go during a not so busy time of year (I went in October) so that the wait time will not be as long. Do keep in mind that different countries have different rules and sometimes you cannot enter a country if your passport is within a certain time frame (such as 6 months) prior to expiration. So make sure if you have one that’s nearing its expiration to check that country’s regulations so you don’t find yourself packed with nowhere to go. I don’t know much about this, but I’ve also heard that it is VERY bad to let your passport expire while you are abroad. So if you are getting close to expiration make sure to get your paperwork in good and early to avoid any fees or worse.

Okay, so that was a bit more info than I gave those students in some ways and less in others, but that’s my advice for the day if you’re thinking about studying abroad. I hope it’s useful to someone and not just a bunch of random gibberish floating around the web.

Until next time!

Friday, August 3, 2012

What to Pack - Guest Post from Onaji Sora

Hey everybody, remember I told you about that guest post that was coming? Well it's here! Camille from the blog Onaji Sora who has studeid at Tsuru University in Japan and is currently about to embark on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, has written to give those of you heading abroad before me some advice!  On what, you might ask? Well, what to pack! Read on for some wonderful advice! And thanks again and a big round of applause for Camille! Don't forget to check out her blog sometime! She also has a new blog for her JET experience at >>Kousaten<<.

Also, quick update, information on the Forever Photography sponsorship is now available on the Sponsor Me page! Last note before I let her get to it, at the end she mentions omiyage. For those of you who aren't well versed in Japanese omiyage means souvenir. Enjoy!

This is a guest post that I'm doing for Illaura, who will be studying abroad at Japan Women's University. Make sure to check out her blog!

I leave for the JET program this weekend, so I just finished packing myself. This will be my second time in Japan, and although I went during the winter months last year (January through March), I've had to change my mindset a bit since I'll be going into the hot, humid months and will be there for a whole year instead. So here's what I thought about while packing.

Seasonal -- Layering from Winter to Summer

If there's one thing I learned while in Asia, it's that layering works the best. If you have good basics, from tank tops to long sleeves, you can use them year round.

Bring versatile clothing you can wear in any season, since Japan gets all kinds of weather, including all 4 seasons. Japan also experiences monsoons and rainy (tsuyu) seasons.

Really, my best advice would be: Don't overpack. If you're like me, you're going to want to do some shopping over there anyway.

Winter -- Stay warm under layers

One good jacket or coat. You really only need one, reliable jacket. I brought two with me, but ended up using one 95% of the time. It was semi-long, hooded, and reached mid-thigh. If I needed to, I would layer a hoodie under it. Depending on the extent of the cold, I would also wear a thin long sleeve shirt with a tank top underneath.

Leggings and tights. Even if you don't have them or only bring a few with you, you will finds tons of Japanese shops selling socks (from knee-high to thigh-high, simple to lacy), tights and leggings. I bought so many leggings and tights in Japan, even a few simple leg warmers. When it's freezing out, I also layered tights or leggings under jeans.

It's also just a good idea in general to have good, clean socks without holes. Especially because you will be taking off your shoes when you enter people's homes and they will be seen.

That's another thing -- Shoes! If you have larger feet like I do (a US size 9), you won't be able to find shoes that fit anywhere, so bring all the necessary shoes you need. I got lucky and was able to squeeze into an XXL ankle boot when I was in Tokyo, but that was a rare occurrence... and not worth the ¥10,000 in the end. Japanese shoe sizes are in centimeters, and if I remember correctly, the highest size is usually 23-24 cm/US 7-8. Ones that are easy to slip on and off are nice for when you are visiting people's homes. Not necessary, I would say, but I've caught myself feeling like I was holding people up because I had boots that required lots of lacing up. Depending on where and when you're going, you might want to think about boots that are waterproof and can handle the snow.

Keep those shoulders covered! One thing I was warned before going to Japan was don't wear shoulder-revealing tops like tank tops or spaghetti straps. Or at least put something over like a cardigan. I studied abroad in a rural, small town university, so I think it applied more there. People won't necessarily say anything to you about it, but you might get a few stares since it's not very commonly seen. However, It seems to be fine if you're out in the bigger cities and you're young. For more business-like or other formal situations, it's better to put something over it.

Summer -- Layering is still your best friend

Since I'm headed to Japan in August, I've been thinking more about warm weather clothes.
Thin, breathable material, like linens. Tank tops that can be layered under knit tops or cardigans. Cardigans also transition well to cooler, fall weather or as an extra layer in the winter months. If you see a UNIQLO when you get to Japan, they've got good undershirts and other great basics, and even a UV Cut collection.

Thinner leggings or more sheer tights to wear under skirts or shorts. I've bought more flowy skirts recently. Since I'm going to be in a more conservative, rurul area, I got skirts around knee length or maxi skirts.

Another thing I was advised was to have undershirts to wear under your normal shirts. Although it may be hotter, I'm told it's better to have that undershirt sticking to you in that humidity rather than your actual shirt.

In general, I tend to wear long tops/shirt-dresses over tights or leggings, which transition well from summer to winter, as I have leggings of various thickness and I can easily put on a jacket over. They also are just easy to pack because they take up less space. Currently, my two suitcases are mostly filled with those, plus jeans, short sleeve tops, tank tops, 3-4 knit tops, a thin jacket, a cardigan, a blazer and some button up shirts (business attire for JET, but if you're a student, highly unlikely you'll need it), skirts, and my shoes (1 pair each of rainboots, ankle boots, heels for work, and 2 pairs each of flats).

I'm basically all packed... except those omiyage...

Other things to think about when packing

Toothpaste or deodorant, since you may find the ones in Japan may be weaker or just not to your liking. I don't like the toothbrushes or floss in Japan. All other toiletries, shampoo, conditioner, soap, facewash, I just buy in Japan (their hair products are amazing!). Brands you prefer may be available, but they'll be more expensive, like I saw Clearasil, but they were often double the price. Also just be aware that a lot of the facewashes have products to lighten your skin. I had no problems with pads over there, but for those of you who prefer tampons, there are few choices available, and they may be smaller than what you are used to. If you have a favorite cold or flu remedy, perhaps consider that, since it's very different in Japan. I survived by taking anything that looked like it had lots of vitamin C or citrus.

Well, this post ended up being longer than I intended, but I hope it can be a little helpful!