Friday, March 16, 2012

Mid-March update

I guess it's time for another update, since I haven't written in a few days!

It's currently mid-March and things are progressing smoothly, more or less. I received the invoice from the school the other day, so today I went out to the bank and put in a bank transfer. It was a bit of a painful process, if only for the fact that the bank teller had to figure out how to spell things like HANEHIGASHIMACHI or KOSEIDORINISHI, and then read them over the phone to someone else she had to coordinate with. It was kinda cute, in a painstaking sort of way.

So, I'm told that it will take three business days maximum to reach the recipient, which means that the payment will be received no later than Monday. Hopefully they'll send the materials out right away and I'll have the certificate of enrollment in my hand as early as Wednesday. That'd give me a week and a half to get the visa.

Cutting it a little close. Still though, I should be done with everything with a few days to spare. I'm glad I made my last day at work the 23rd, so I have a whole week with no work to do last-minute things that need to be done.

In other news, I went out shopping this past weekend. Managed to get myself some good summer clothes, as well as some sandals. I figure it's kinda important to have summer clothes because from everything I've read, the summers get pretty oppressive in Okazaki. Still have a bit more shopping to do, though. I still want to find some uniquely-American candies or foods to pack in my suitcase to offer to the other students who may not have ever had them before.

All in all, this should be fun. Hurry up, international banking system.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Patience is a virtue

Well, it's been just about two weeks since I sent the paperwork in, and it seems like they're taking their sweet time sending me an invoice or any other documentation. I'm trying not to let it bother me, but it's starting to stress me out a little, especially since I put in my two-week notice and bought the (very expensive) tickets already.

I'm keeping myself entertained by eating spaghetti and watching penguin cam. I feel like this is a good use of my time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Study Tools Ahoy!

Some of the most important things I can think of to bring over to Japan are a set of tools I can use to make my study time as effective as humanly possible. I don't really have the spare cash to buy a brand-new cool electronic dictionary like many students of Japanese do, but honestly I don't really think I'm gonna need one. I have plenty of stuff I can carry around with me that'll do the trick.

The coolest thing I have is, of course, my phone. I'm gonna have to permanently set it to airplane mode since I won't get service over there (obviously), and anything that uses the internet is gonna be a wash (unless I'm connected to WiFi--I don't know how common that is over there though). Still, I have some really cool tools on my phone that, in my opinion, makes it almost as good as a fancy-pants 電子辞書.

The IME for droid phones, Simeji
I have an IME called 'Simeji' on my phone. IME, by the way, stands for Input Method Editor and it's basically a way to type in a foreign language using either a QWERTY keyboard or some other layout. Here's a neat online one for when I'm on a computer that doesn't have an IME installed on it, like my work computer. Anyway, essentially Simeji is just a way for me to type in Japanese, which is very useful since I have a number of Japanese dictionaries already installed on my phone.

I have a program called WWWJDic and it has a pretty okay J-E dictionary on it for quick look-ups, but where the program really shines is its ability to let you draw in unfamiliar characters and look them up for you based on stroke order and character shape. I'm sure this is going to be insanely invaluable when I'm out and about and need to look up a character I don't know. That's one thing that's pretty interesting about the Japanese writing system: there's no real way to "sound out" a word like you can in English. If you don't know a character, the only hints as to the pronunciation or the meaning are the little elements that make up the character, and even those can get pretty esoteric and obscure.

On top of that, I also have a program called DroidWing which is simply a program that displays dictionary files that are saved in EPWING format. The nice thing is that I already have two EPWING dictionaries from a while back: スーパー大辞林, a very good J-J dictionary, and 新和英大事典, a well-respected J-E dictionary. They're older editions, but perfectly fine for what I'm going to be doing.

The dictionary program that comes with MacOS
Now, as far as computer tools, I feel like I have a bit of a leg up in that department as well. I bought a Macbook Pro a few months ago (mostly because I'm gonna need a good reliable laptop when I'm overseas), and as it turns out, it contains a very good J-J dictionary and a progressive J-E learner's dictionary, which is actually one of my favorite dictionaries I own. The cool thing about this dictionary program is that you can highlight any word in any application, and press a certain key combination--the dictionary opens and shows you the definition of the word in whatever dictionary you want. Very useful for reading webpages or other documents.

What's also pretty cool about my laptop is that I installed a part of the OS that allows me to use the trackpad as a writing surface for character recognition. The only problem is that it's actually part of the Chinese IME, instead of the Japanese one. That means I can only look up characters that are shared between Japanese and Chinese. Luckily that's still a lot, but I kinda wish there was one specifically for Japanese. Maybe in the future.

I also have a bunch of books, though I'm not sure of how many I'm actually going to bring over there. I have the first volume of Genki, which I completed my freshman year of college at Cincinnati. I also have the second volume which I sorta worked through myself. I don't think I'm gonna bring those books because I have limited space and they cover stuff that's pretty basic. However, I also have An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese, also from the Japan Times, and I think I'm gonna bring it. It covers a bunch of stuff I'm still pretty shaky on, and has a lot of exercises that I can use to supplement my coursework. As if the coursework isn't gonna be enough.

I feel like I need to mention this, in case anyone reading this is in the process of learning Japanese: Tae Kim's Japanese Guide is honestly one of the best Japanese-learning resources I've ever seen. I keep a hard copy on my laptop and on my phone for quick reference. Particularly, his grammar reference is absolutely spectacular and comes with tons of examples.

I also have a number of intermediate novels and articles I've accumulated over the years, most of which are above my level right now. Still, I'm probably gonna end up bringing them with me. Why not? What's a couple extra pounds in my suitcases? At the very least, they'll give me something to struggle through on the plane.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Less than a month to go...

I've started the process of getting ready for the trip that is less than a month away. The tickets are booked and ready to go (all times local):

  • Depart 9:55 AM from Pittsburgh - Arrive 10:30 AM (Apr. 1) at Chicago (Flight time 1 hr, 35 min)
  • Depart 1:10 PM from Chicago - Arrive 4:20 PM (Apr. 2) at Tokyo (Flight time 13 hr, 10 min)
  • Depart 6:25 PM from Tokyo - Arrive 7:35 PM at Nagoya (Flight time 1 hr, 10 min)

And from Nagoya I'll be hopping into a Yamasa vehicle for a ride to the Okazaki campus. Now that there's an actual schedule, everything feels way more official...

...And yet there's still so much to do.

Get My Student Visa
Probably the most important thing I need to do is to continue filling out all the paperwork. Admissions sent me a bunch of PDF's asking about my housing preferences and arrival times and all that good stuff, which I filled out. Today I'll have to figure out how to get my signature onto the PDF and send it back to them so they can send me the next step in the visa process. Basically, once they get my paperwork I've filled out, they'll invoice me, I'll pay for two quarters, they'll send me an official letter of acceptance, and then I'll have to bring that to a consulate to get my actual physical student visa.

I'm not sure how that works. From what I can figure, I'll either need to send all the paperwork in the mail (which might include mailing my passport, which makes me a little nervous) or go visit the closest consulate and get my visa in person. I'd rather not miss much work, though, so hopefully they'll be open on a Saturday. We'll see, though. First step is getting all of the Yamasa paperwork out of the way.

Go Shopping
I'm going to need to do at least a little bit of shopping for things to take over there. All of my summer clothes are at least half a decade old at this point, so I'd really like to go out and get at least a few nice pairs of shorts and some t-shirts that aren't from high school marching band functions. Maybe some sandals, too, for the awesome summer weather I'm probably gonna encounter over there. I want to go to the beach at least once.

I was gonna include "buy a suitcase" in this section, but I went to my mom's place yesterday and she had gotten me a very nice suitcase, so that's one thing to scratch off the list! I'll need to figure out if I want two suitcases, though, and if I do, I'll borrow another from my dad or something. Then I'll need to figure out what's going on with carry-on bags. How many am I allowed? Which bags am I going to take? I'll need to also figure out how to get as many of my instruments over there as possible. I can't take all of them, I know, and I'll be leaving my big instruments at home (basses, trumpets, possibly violin) but I'll definitely be able to bring my smaller ones (flute, tinwhistle, harmonica, cornet, possibly ukulele). I guess I'll do a test run one of these days pretty soon to see how easy it'll be to pack all those in my suitcase.

I'd also like to hit the grocery store with a list of non-perishable foods (candy, mostly) that I won't be able to find over there. Not really for my own sake, but for sharing with people who may not have tried them before. Snickers and Starburst come to mind. Also maybe some pop tarts or granola bars as airport snacks.

Move Out of the Apartment
This is gonna be an interesting one, because it's going to involve a lot of sitting down and sorting all of my possessions into "keep" and "toss / donate" categories. The majority of my clothes are going to be donated. I don't think I'm gonna need my bedding material since I'll be getting that stuff when I'm over there.

The problem, really, is that I'm a packrat of epic proportions. I still have spiral notebooks full of notes from my freshman year when I was in Cincinnati. I'm gonna have to dig my heels in and force myself to throw away all that stuff that I'm never going to read again, much less actually use in my daily life. I'll keep my Japanese books, though. I'll probably even bring them with me. But I still have a statistics book that is currently being used to prop up a broken cabinet. I have an old calculus book. I have so many cords and computer parts in my closet that I can't even begin to imagine going through all of them.

But within the next few weeks I'm going to have to slowly move all my crap (that is, only the stuff I'm planning to keep) out of my apartment and to my dad's place. I should probably do that as a gradual thing so I don't spend the last week before my flight departs running back and forth doing a bunch of last minute stuff-hauling.
I really am gonna miss my
Bubble Bobble thumbtack art though.

Write a Letter For My Two-Week Notice
This should be a short-term priority for me, because I plan on officially giving my two-week notice this coming Friday, the 9th. That'll make my last day Friday the 23rd. Then I'll have that weekend, the whole next week, and then Saturday the 31st to finish all the stuff I need to do without distracting things like a 9-5 office job.

Probably a Bunch More Stuff
Of course, there's probably a lot more stuff to do that I just haven't thought about yet. The above will keep me occupied for the time being, however. I just need to force myself to do it now so that I'm not stuck on the 30th with panic attacks because there's still so much to do and not enough time.

This is gonna be fun.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Leap Day Celebration! Student Visa Approved!

Student visa approved, baby.
Happy leap day 2012! And more importantly by far, welcome to my new blog. For most of the people who are ever going to read this, you probably already know my plans regarding traveling overseas for the next half a year, but for those of you who don't, I'm headed to Japan, starting on April 4th!

Over the past year or so, I've been working on--and waiting for--things related to obtaining a student visa through a school in Japan called The Yamasa Institute. Particularly, I've applied to their Academic Intensive Japanese Program (AIJP) for a 6-month stay. That's about all I can comfortably afford. Hopefully I will be able to get some sort of work-study deal going on over there or a part-time job at an English conversation school (英会話) so I can build up a little extra scratch to do fun things or possibly even extend my stay.

[As a note, if 日本語の文字 just shows up as boxes to you, your browser / OS doesn't support Japanese fonts. I'm not going to type in Japanese very much in this blog (I have another journal for that) but there will be occasional words here and there that you may or may not care about. A Google search may help you set that up.]

So why did I decide to start a blog? Primarily it's for my own benefit. I want to document the entire journey from day one (that's today) so that years from now I can look back and make fun of myself and my horrible writing style. It's also for the purposes of letting everyone back home know what I'm doing from day to day in the most passive way I could think of.

With all that out of the way, the next month is going to involve a lot of packing, a lot of shopping, and a lot of bureaucratic nonsense. It's a little scary to think that it's all happening so soon, but I can't wait. Now to sit tight and wait for another email.

This is gonna be a long month.