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!

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