Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas (eve)

Hey everyone! Just popping in with a quick Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope tomorrow is awesome for all of you!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

15 days

Hey everyone, so there isn't a lot really to talk about right now. Not much has happened since my last update. I received notification that my verification stuff for the Gilman Scholarship was approved and mailed off my Freeman Asia verification information. I should be seeing the Gilman money in 2-3 weeks (but I'm really hoping it will be two weeks, you know, before I get on a plane). However, I won't hear about Freeman Asia until after I am abroad. So there is that.

Right now I'm shirking Japan preparations and instead I'm focusing on Christmas. Right now I've been sewing non-stop to get all those Christmas presents finished and in the process wondering just how much I really like all these people. Just kidding. Love you guys, but seriously, sewing needles and pins just don't like my fingers.

Not quite sure where this one came from, but copyrights to it's original owners.

Anyways. I think the biggest issue for me at the moment is all this fear and worry that's circling around in my head. I think I've called off the whole study abroad thing about 4 times this week, but somehow I'm always right back on board the next morning. Long story short I'm having doubts about my language skills (which at the moment seem next to none), fears about leaving my family and life and doubts about well, just about everything. I'll be doing normal things, going grocery shopping, cleaning the house, watching a movie and I'll find myself bursting into tears because I'm leaving so soon.

I know that this will pass though as soon as I'm abroad, it's just weird to think that this is not how I imagined I would be feeling right now. I always imagined that at this stage in my trip I would be so excited and making plans, but instead it feels like I'm walking up to the executioners block. Funny how that works out. Any who, I'm sticking it out with a lot of help and support from everyone I know. It's amazing just how many people who have my back right now. It really does help.

Next up on my study abroad experience is my first ever going away party. Yes it is December. Yes it is freezing and we did get just a teensy bit of snow the other day. But we are barbecuing on Friday because let's face it, that's just the way we Oregonians roll. Oh and note to dad: back off the ribs; I'm cooking them this time! :) A few days after that (you know, assuming the world doesn't end and all) will be Christmas and then I'll start packing my apartment.

Again, copyrights to it's original owners.

I've tried packing before now, but every time I start I find myself in a weird nostalgic everything makes me tear up state. So I'm waiting until after the festivities and I'm getting the gang together and we'll just power through this. Hopefully.

Oh also, Heather, if you're reading this, that Quillow was awesome. It's totally going in my carry on.

I'll try and pop in again on Friday, or maybe Saturday before my Resident Evil 6 marathon (because I totally haven't had time to play it since you know, it came out). Until then, I hope your holiday season is going wonderfully!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Preparations for Japan

Hey everyone! It's been a while since my last personal post so there is a LOT to cover. I'll make a bullet list so that I remember to talk about it all.

  • Departure and living situation
  • Orientation
  • Scholarships
  • Sponsorships
  • Yakkan Shoumei
  • Visa
  • Other Preparations

Departure and Living Situation


As I said in my Point of No Return post I will be leaving for Japan just after New Year's on January 3rd. Due to date mix ups which are still beyond my comprehension I will be taken in by an amazing friend, Ayumi, for the first month of my stay in Japan. This will be a great opportunity for me to begin adjusting to Japanese culture and using Japanese on a daily basis before I move into my host family's home on January 27th.

Once I move in with my host family I will have a couple of days to settle in (more on that later) before orientation. I am told there will be some kind of testing, but more on that once I have the details. 

I'm not going to lie, I was REALLY shocked when I received my host family's information. Typically when I think of host families I think of younger people, or couples in their 30's to 40's. I myself host (and am actually quite young as far as the standards go), but I was surprised to find out that my host family will consist of an elderly couple and their two daughters who are nearly twice my age. This is a bit daunting for me, mostly because I am not used to being around people who are much older than me. However, I am told by friends and my program coordinator that older host families are the best ones to get because it allows for a greater level of time they can spend with you and a bit more freedom in the process.

So, after about 5 weeks I will move into my Japanese dormitories through most of the remainder of my stay. My first impressions make me a little bit worried about my experience with them. In America we experience a very high level of freedom and independence when we go off to college. If you live in the dorms you aren't very regulated past no candles, hot plates or alcohol.

Photo from Mormon Cartoonist

However, from what I've learned so far I will have a very strict 10:45 pm curfew which, if I break more than 5 times, can get me kicked out of the program entirely. Yikes! No late night partying for me! Another surprising fact is that, because I do not have a legal guardian (Uh, can anyone say I'm 22 here!?!) in the country, I must receive permission from the international affairs office if I wish to stay overnight anywhere except my dormitory which I then must pass onto what I'm assuming will be the dorm mother or dorm administrator. Last, but not least of my recent discoveries is that alcohol is permitted in the dormitories. Just seemed strange to me that that would be allowed yet I have a curfew. Hmmm....


Orientation


Okay, first off let me start with this. You'd think if a study abroad program e-mailed three participants and asked for available meeting times that they would pick a time that works for all three participants. Falling short of that, you'd think a 2/3 majority time would be picked. As for our orientation they happened to choose a day when two of us were in the same class, preparing for a final, during dead week (for those of you who don't know, this is the week before finals which is known for it's high level of intensity and work that is due). A few e-mails later and the date and time were changed. Unfortunately for me, this coincided with the last quiz/study day of my Chemistry class, but being the oddball out, I had to miss it and instead attend orientation.

Photo From Bestflag.blogspot.com

Now, orientation is mandatory for every study abroad program. Basically, to make it to orientation you must have applied and been accepted for the school. From what I understand, some people were finding out about their acceptance right as they were being signed up for orientation. The University of Oregon likes to split people up into their program rather than lumping them up by country. I liked this because it allowed a smaller group more tailored to our actual program than the generics of "Oh, Japan. Yeah, they have sushi. And take your shoes off before you go in a house."

Originally I thought a one and half hour session would be a) too long and b) intensely boring. But we kept up with a good pace and everyone had questions to ask so the time went rather too quickly. At orientation we went over (and skipped) many things. Because my classmates and I are fairly well versed in Japanese culture, etc. we skipped the generic intro and background on Japan and it's culture and delved right into the meat of our discussion. We covered everything from program contacts to financial aid, clothes, driving and working in Japan to health and safety. You can view my orientation documents >>here<<. Please note that for the privacy of my coordinators I have removed some information.


Scholarships


Gilman Scholarship
So, as of this last week I have learned that I have been selected to receive the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship as well as the Freeman Asia Scholarship. These are both great programs, however, I have recently discovered the the Freeman Asia will no longer be offered as of this Summer. This is very sad, but it is always a good resource to check into in the future in case funding becomes available once more. I talked about the application process before and the application is VERY important. As I tell the high schoolers I have presented to, if you don't apply you can't receive them. Get help working on applications and give yourself plenty of time to complete the application. However, even once you have completed the application, as I recently discovered, if you are accepted there is more work to be done.




Once accepted you must complete the verification process. This can include everything from proving your financial need, available assistance, grades, bank account information (for direct depositing your scholarship), and verifying that your information (including program dates) is still correct. It can be as simple as a few steps, or as difficult as an entire packet of information that is required. The Gilman program does require proof of insurance for your program which can be provided with your insurance card or one or two other means. However, please be warned that some scholarships require a voided check and will not accept other proof of your bank account, so it is a good idea to have a few on hand if you are planning for applying to a scholarship program because there is a limited window you have in which to respond.


Sponsorships


I really, really wanted to take a moment here for a breather. Ready, breathe. I have been extremely blessed to find myself in the company of many fine people who have been generous enough to sponsor my program. I am honored to know every one of you and I truly appreciate your support! So here is a shout out to my three, well four really, most generous sponsors this month. Laura Harris, John and Kim Hutchinson and Julie Hutchinson. Thank you all so much for your assistance!


Yakkan Shoumei



When you go to Japan there are many rules regulating what medications are allowed in Japan, how much you can bring, etc. Certain things like Nyquil are illegal in Japan because they contain something or another as are many other medications. While you might thing "well, my doctor prescribes such and such it must be fine." On that count you might well be wrong. Some medications which can be prescribed to you by a doctor can be considered illegal substances in the same category as things such as meth in America. So it is best to air on the side of caution and do your best to find out if your prescription is legal in Japan.

Photo of South Park character. I claim no rights, owner retains all rights to image.

If you are going to Japan, you can generally bring your personal prescription with you so long as you don't carry more than three months worth and as long as it is not illegal. In some cases if your prescription is illegal and there is no alternative, or if you want to bring more than three months worth of medication with you (prescription OR over the counter) you will need to apply for the Yakkan Shoumei. Basically, you fill out a form stating what you will bring with you then for each medication you fill out information such as manufacturer, dosage, etc. After that you will need a letter for each medication from you doctor stating the medical necessity of it.

Then you mail it off and wait. If you don't hear back, everything is all clear and you should receive your certificate within a month. If, however, you forget to attach something (like I did) you will receive an e-mail (as long as you provided it) stating that you forgot to attach a document or form. At this time you can fill out or acquire the document, scan it into your computer and e-mail it or fax it to the office. Once you have sent it you probably will not receive a response and one to two weeks later your document will arrive in the mail. It will look very familiar to you, in fact, that is your handwriting on it! The first page of your application is the certificate. It will have a few stamps (mine are purple) and signatures and you should be good to go.

For more information on the Yakkan Shoumei you can visit the Japan/US Embasy page or you can view and download this document which contains the Yakkan Shoumei application and instructions


Visa


No, not the kind you spend money with. The kind that gets you into countries.

This past Wednesday my fiance and I made the two and half hour drive to Portland to apply for my visa. There are a lot of rules regarding visas and as such, you must apply in person (at least in Oregon, not sure about anywhere else). So it's best to look for your nearest Japanese consulate and plan ahead. In some cases it can be farther away than a day trip will allow. To apply you will need a completed application, a 2" x 2" photograph of yourself taken against a white background  within the last 6 months, a certificate of eligibility (usually provided by your school) and your passport. Please note that I was told they do not accept home printed photos and they will make you go to the nearest photo printer to print a "real photo" on actual photo quality paper if you do not bring one that is up to their standards.

Photo Copyright of Out Adventures

It's simple and straight forward enough. There are some sections that I was not sure of. When it asks for your occupation, if you do not work you are supposed to list student and then give your school's information. As for guarantor/inviter, each case will differ. In my case I was not invited to the country so I was to leave that blank and my guarantor is Japan Women's University. As for addresses where you will be staying, list all known addresses (tedious, I know) and use a separate sheet of paper if necessary for additional addresses. When in doubt call the consulate and if they don't have the answer, generally they are more able to help you upon arrival. Please note that visa regulations are changing all the time. As such you want to wait until close to your arrival to apply.

It takes about a week to receive your visa which you then pick up in person. You will want to do this in any case, not only because it is required, but also because you will receive your passport back from the consulate. Silly me, my family does not travel and so I did not know they would take my passport or that a visa goes INTO the passport. Well, you learn new things all the time I suppose.


Other Preparations



So, what else have I been doing to prepare? It feels like everything and nothing at this point. I have purchased some new clothing to match the more dressy/modest fashion sense I am told is present in Japan. I have also purchased some very Oregon お土産 (omiyage) or gifts for my friend and host family. Gift giving is a very important aspect of Japanese culture, so I figure it will be good to start on a positive note. I will also be making an Oregon photo album for my host family with photos taken by myself and Forever Photography of the beautiful nature and places in our area.

Next week I will begin to pack my apartment up so I can put the items I will not be taking into storage at my parents house. Switching bills into my fiance's name is also on the list of priorities as is purchasing necessities such as luggage tags, power converters and thermal underwear. (There is still time to get them from my wish list if you are in the giving mood!) Space saver bags are also a must as is spending some quality time with my friends and family. I don't think the importance of the last once can be overstated. I am big on friends and family and I will miss them all so dearly that I want to spend what time I can with them now.

Let's see. I can't think of what else I have been doing at the moment, but I will keep you apprised of any updates prior to departure!

Until next time!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Study Abroad Tips

As promised, awesome 友達 Naomi has written a guest post for us! It's full of a lot of GREAT advice that I personally plan to follow in the coming year! I hope it helps you prepare for study abroad no matter where you find yourself!

Studying abroad is an experience that everyone should try to take advantage of while in university. Even if it is just for a semester, the relationships and experiences you create while abroad will shape the rest of your life. It sounds corny and cheesy, I know; however in the few months I have been in Japan on my own study abroad experience, I don’t want to even consider a life without the friends or the memories I have made here. There is only so much the books and advisors can prepare you for before coming to the country you want to study abroad in. Everyone is different and has different needs, likes, dislikes, so it’s hard to create a “what to bring/not to bring,” “do/not do” list for everyone. But there are a few things you should definitely check into well before you start off on your journey.
Firstly, if you are taking any medication of any kind, check to find out if your medication is LEGAL in the country you are going to be going, and if not what paper work you need to file in order to import your medications. For example, in Japan the over the counter cold medicine, Nyquil is illegal because the active ingredient is considered a stimulant. You can’t claim ignorance if you are randomly selected to have your luggage searched, and they find what they consider to be an illegal substance in your possession. Also, if you are staying abroad for a year, some countries require you to file paperwork, they want to make sure you’re not going to bring it over and sell it on the street. This may require doctor notes and other such complicated things. Check with your program coordinator ASAP, sometimes even the coordinator may not know, and in that case you could be on your own to figure things out, or if you give them enough time, they could be super nice and do the research for you if they don’t already know. Also, I suggest bringing Ibuprofen, allergy pills, and whatever over the counter brand of pills you think you may need.
Is your size of clothing sold in the country you are going to be studying abroad in? I am a bit overweight, so when I packed my clothes I did so knowing these would be the clothes I wore for the next year, and if I needed something I would need to buy online or have my friends it ship to me. Also, shoes are another important thing to bring along. Especially if you are going to be staying a year, bring sturdy shoes, and bring more than one pair. Granted if you have averaged sized feet, you should be fine to buy shoes, however, if you are US lady size 11 wide, you should stock up on shoes before leaving.
Toiletries, not all deodorants are made equal. My friend warned me that Japanese deodorant is not the best, so I brought enough to last me the year. Also, purchasing US brands in foreign countries can get expensive. US brands in Japan are more expensive than Japanese brands. So if you have skin allergies it is better to either make sure the country you will be staying in has brands available that will not irritate your allergies. Don’t be afraid to try new brands when it comes to hair products and skin products if you don’t have allergies. You may even find that the ones available to you are better than the ones back in your home country.
Know your customs. I know this sounds kind of obvious, but the other day while observing my kendo circle’s practice an American man walked into the dojo without taking his shoes off or bowing to the dojo, he then proceeded to start asking my friend questions. Granted not everyone knows you should bow before stepping into a kendo dojo, however it is pretty obvious that when you enter a Japanese style room(or house), you should remove your shoes. It is one of the more basic things that you should know if you come to Japan. If you intend to join a club, especially a martial arts club, do your
research beforehand and know the basic proper conduct. Don’t try to impress them with knowledge on the subject, just do your best to be polite and show your interest.
Know appropriate behavior. In America, it is fine for a girl and a guy to hug and there is no implication. That is not true for all countries. If you are a hugger, you might want to hug your new guy friends to express your feelings; however this could be culturally inappropriate. And cause awkwardness for the person you are hugging and yourself, so be aware.
What side of the street should you walk on? When in doubt follow the crowd. Sometimes even if there is a sign posted indicating which side to walk on, the majority will ignore it and walk on the opposite side. Don’t be the person to follow the sign in that case, get behind someone going in the same direction, and do what they do. When you first come to your target country things will be a little confusing, you won’t have the luxury to fall back on your native language, so it can be a little overwhelming at first. Just do your best and mostly people will see that you are giving it your best shot and help you out a little, or at least be kind. Also, don’t feel the need to be talking all the time at first, observing is very helpful as well, especially if you don’t know how to act in a situation. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So long as it is legal.
Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand something. It’s embarrassing, but it’s better to be honest and tell people you don’t understand and ask them to repeat what they said. You won’t be in a classroom anymore, and believe me, what is taught in the classroom is different than what you will be hearing and speaking. Also, if you claim to understand something, then later make a mistake because you did not understand, that will bring up issues, especially if you join a club. People will really question whether or not you understood them. Be honest, especially in club situations. Mostly if a club does not want foreigners in the club, they will make an excuse or be honest about why they reject you. If they let you join, then they do so with the understanding that you since you are a foreigner you may not understand 100% of what they say.
Know how to ask for directions. In the beginning you will get lost, I still get lost all the time and I have been here for 3 months. Just accept the fact that you will get lost. Know how to ask for directions and know your direction vocabulary. If you have a cellphone, don’t be afraid to call or text a friend for help if you are just not understanding the people who you ask for directions. Pay attention and know how to get back to where you started. People are mostly friendly and will be willing to give you directions, and sometimes if they are super nice, they may guide you to where you need to go.
Don’t come with the expectation that your language and culture skills are bad ass, even if you are an A+ student in your target language. Or that you’ll be able to communicate with perfect ease at first. You are not in the classroom anymore. Yes, living in the country of the language you are studying will help you learn faster, however you are going to make mistakes. You are going to look like an idiot from time to time. And there will be times when you get frustrated with yourself for not understanding as much as you think you should. Learning is about making mistakes, believe me I have made some pretty big and small mistakes since coming to Japan. It is better to laugh it off in front of your friends, and if you’re really upset, cry later. Every chance is a chance to learn, or make connections with people.
Even if it feels like you are not learning fast enough or not at all, just be calm, you are learning faster than you think, and you are indeed learning. My best suggestion if you want to get a better grasp on your language skills is to try and join a club. Depending on the club you join, it may be that no one speaks your language. Also, depending on the country you will be staying abroad in, there times when someone wants you to teach them English(or your native language), if you feel that by teaching your native language is taking away from your precious time abroad, suggest doing language exchange with them. You speak for a certain amount of time in English(or your native language), and then switch to the country’s language. Everyone wins, and you won’t get the reputation of being rude and unfriendly. Also, if you live with a host family, watch tv with them. My host mom will turn on anime if her favorite drama is not on. Listening, even if you don’t understand is really helpful. Even if I don’t understand everything said, I will recognize grammar structures and from the context of what is happening, guess the meaning of the conversation.
Never give out your information to people you don’t know. Just don’t talk to strangers. Don’t do it. Depending on which country you will be living in the possibility of being approached by cults is high. In Japan you will be approached by men or women and they will hand you a golden Buddha card thing. Then ask for your name, email, and phone number. Politely return the card and walk away. I was in Harajuku once and one of the cultist’s came beside me and pressed the card into my hand. I was shocked, I am used to people handing out tissues and flyers, but having someone walk and force something into my hand was a shock. I didn’t know what was happening at first, so I thanked her and looked away, but she pulled out a book and asked me to write my name. I had been warned at orientation about cults and I immediately returned the card as politely as I could and walked away. Just be wary of people who hand you books or shiny gold Buddha cards. However, if you are coming to Japan, businesses will hand out free tissues for advertising. Take the tissues. You can always use free tissues. Back to the main point; don’t give your information out to people if you don’t know them. If they are not a student at your university, be careful, even if they are be careful. Religious organizations will sometimes walk around the campus and offer flyers or invite you to come to their events. Just be careful, if you give them your information they will spam your phone with messages and never leave you alone. Be careful of overly friendly seeming people. Just because you are not in your home country does not mean everyone is super nice, super safe, and it’s ok to give out information. Humans are humans. Don’t abandon common sense.
If you go drinking, make sure you can get home safely after. Don’t go out and drink yourself into oblivion and expect someone to take you home. Be responsible. Know phrases to politely let people know you don’t want to drink too much. In Japanese culture drinking is pretty big, especially if you join a club, going to drinking party could be after every practice, or once a week, depending on the club. However, if you are a lightweight, 「二日酔い」 =ふつかよい= two day drunkenness. Basically, if you say this it will let them know you don’t want to drink too much. If it is against your religion, then don’t be afraid to say so. They will invite you along, but you don’t have to drink alcohol. If you are living with a host family, let them know when you are going out drinking and when you intend to go home, especially if you are going to be late. Just be careful and responsible and know your limit. Know how to ask for help if you don’t think you can make it home by yourself. Also, what happens at the drinking
party stays there. Don’t upload drunken photos to facebook. If someone confesses their undying love to you, even if you like them, do not respond, think of a way to change the subject or pretend that you didn’t understand, whatever. Keep it real. People say things when they drink that they don’t mean. However, it could be true what they are saying, but if it isn’t, and you really like them and confess your feelings, it could get a little awkward later on, especially if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend. If they don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend, then just try and get to know them when they haven’t been drinking and if something happens, good for you!
Can you work while studying abroad? If you want a part time job for some extra cash, check to see if it is legal, and if you can get a student work permit. This process is actually very simple in Japan, so long as you have the paperwork filled out, you can submit it when coming through the first check point after landing in Japan. Ask your program coordinator for the information.
Also, know the politest way to say “no” in your target language. In Japanese, you don’t outright say you don’t want to do something. It’s a little abrupt and can been seen as rude. So you kind of beat around the bush and hint at what you want to do. The other person will then take the hint and move along. However, if they don’t simply walk away, go find a place with a lot of people, call a friend, or walk to the nearest police station. Also, at least in Japanese culture, if I invited a friend out for say a movie on Saturday, and he said he had to study, so I suggested going on a different day and he still said no, then I would understand he is not interested in going to the movie with me, unless he makes a suggestion himself. If you ask twice and the answer is no, then move along. If they really want to go, they will work with you in figuring out a time that works. Also, be careful when people are asking you to go do something and keep the same thing in mind. Again this is for Japanese culture, I am unsure of other cultures. It is best to learn these social dances before going to the country in order to avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings.
As for the academic…don’t think that your year abroad is just for pleasure and play. Failing a class in Japan is failing a class in any country, and will transfer as such. Balance your time so that you have the time to study and to play with your friends. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends you have to study and can’t go out, just make sure that you don’t make it a habit to where they stop asking you out. Also, don’t count on a two day weekend, at Waseda University some classes are on Saturday and attendance is mandatory. Having class on Saturday has forced me to re-work how I study and prepare for my classes, and honestly, since classes have started it feels as it has been one long week. I have Friday and Sunday off, but there is something about having two consecutive days of rest that signals my brain that there is a new week. For me this has been both physical and psychological change that I am still trying to get a handle on.
Don’t go on a crazy shopping spree the moment you get settled. Figure out your budget, especially if you plan on joining a club, there could a yearly fee, or they could hold retreats during breaks. So make sure you save your money for important things. Also chances are you will be able to find cheaper stores later, after you have gotten used to your surroundings.
I think I have rambled on a little bit too much at this point. I hope some of what I have mentioned will be able to help you on your own journey abroad. I tried to think of things that they didn’t tell us in the manual or in orientation. I hope this has been a little bit helpful to those reading it!