Kelsey: 九日!!

March 23, 2010

I leave in NINE days!! I have all of my paperwork in, I’ve received my visa, and I (hopefully) have saved enough money so I don’t starve. Right now is just an awkward period where I’m seeing friends, coworkers, and family for the last time and I just don’t know what to think.

Although it has been nearly 18 months since I decided to study abroad in Japan and began the application process, the preparations seemed to drag on. In order to help out future Sophia Bilateral Exchange students, I’ll start from the very beginning.

The way the Bilateral Exchange Program works is you switch places with a student at the school you want to study at for a semester or year. It is the cheapest way to study abroad, as the program fee is simply your regular tuition charge that you pay to your home university. If you are willing to plan all of the details of your trip on your own, you will save a lot of cash.

Because the Bilateral Exchange is so cheap, it is also extremely competitive. An applicant must first be nominated by their home university, then be accepted to the university you will be going to. All of this planning began way back in the Fall of 2008. I decided to try to be nominated to go to Hiroshima University, so I gathered recommendation letters and transcripts, filled out the application, and wrote my personal statement. I submitted my application in December, then began the first of many agonizing waits.

At the end of February I received a phone call that I had been nominated to go to Sophia University in Tokyo. I was a little upset that I didn’t get to go to Hiroshima, but I was happy to be nominated for anything at that point! I scrambled to submit all of my confirmation materials, do an online orientation, and come up with $500 for the deposit, all of which was due less than two weeks from being told I was accepted.

After that I heard nothing until the middle of April, when the orientation for all of the students nominated for exchanges at Japanese universities occurred. This was not very helpful, since it was an entire year before I would be going and I still didn’t know anything for certain. Nevertheless, I got to meet the nominated students (less than 10 total for 3 different schools!) and received some advice about the trip. When I expressed my fear that I wouldn’t get accepted to the school, I was told that they had never nominated a student who didn’t get accepted, but there was always a chance it wouldn’t happen.
Next, in August I set up my financial aid for the program. At the end of September I received the application for Sophia University itself, in which I had to choose a housing option, get a physical, prepare my transcript and more letters of recommendation, and fill out a lot of paperwork. After I submitted the application in the middle of October, I got my registration and insurance stuff squared away.

In December I was notified of the larger orientation program that included everyone who would be studying abroad in 2010-2011. Again, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I could have because I still hadn’t received an official acceptance. One of the smaller meetings was with 3 other bilateral exchange students going to other countries. They couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten accepted yet, but since the semester doesn’t start until April I guess the lag was understandable. I also met all of the other people going to Japan through IES and such, and they had the same reaction.

I guess I should have been a little more patient, because 5 days later I got my official acceptance notification via email. It said that we would be receiving our materials for housing payment, visa application, and other things at the end of January to mid-February. Although I knew I had been accepted, I was still nervous about getting everything done in time. I booked my plane ticket the day after I was accepted but there wasn’t much else I could do except save money.

Then it was on to the home stretch of going to Chicago to get my visa, wiring money to pay for my apartment, getting medical appointments in, and visiting family one last time.

I’ll write more in detail about specific aspects of the process in the future. I just wish I had this detailed of a description about other Japanese bilateral exchange students’ experiences with the process, so I could stop being so antsy every step of the way! I really hope this helps future applicants.

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