So far, I'd twice taken the early steps of doing a university-level study abroad but never actually gone through with it. First financial, and then personal reasons kept me in Canada, but then out of nowhere I was offered a chance to go to Korea for a year, with nearly all my expenses paid for. About time, I thought! It came right at a point in my life where seemingly nothing was going my way, so I couldn't help but feel like it was almost a karmic apology. After filling out the necessary reams of paperwork – to which I have become accustomed over the years, having grown up amongst bureaucracy, so I really can't complain – I was swiftly accepted by the Busan university extending the offer and shuttled onto the next stage of the process. After an excruciating wait of more than a month, in which time I was forced to forgo some other academic opportunities because I had no way of knowing if I'd be there to capitalize on them, I was informed that the Korean government had rejected me on the grounds of my low GPA. The university had even issued an appeal on my behalf, but this too was rejected.
It was a very short episode, but an emotionally jarring one. I'd gone from thinking I would be in Canada for several years longer, to thinking I'd be on a plane in less than six weeks, to finding out that it was to be business as usual. It certainly messed with my plans for the immediate future, but at least it did one thing: It reminded me that I really, really want to get out of here as soon as possible. As someone who doesn't intend to stick around forever, I feel like every year spent in the motherland borders on being a complete waste of time. This near-miss provided me with the last push I needed to walk up to the Study Abroad office and finally set things in motion.
So I filled out all the paperwork again, much of it almost or completely identical to the Korea application. Part of it required me to write a letter of self-introduction, which I drafted in Japanese before having a team of my friends huddle over it, correcting and revising. I got photographs taken and requisitioned the necessary documentation from the Canadian government and my home university. I was subjected to a mild interview. Finally, I put the package together and faxed it off. Several days later, I received a reply from the coordinator in Japan.
“Thanks you very much for your application,” it read. “Unfortunately, we will require you to re-submit some of the material. We have since revised our application process, and Immigration no longer accepts the forms you submitted. Here are the updated documents. As the 30th is our application deadline, please make all efforts to submit them as soon as possible.”
Attached was all the stuff I needed to re-do. It was basically everything. I got this on the 28th. My first attempt had taken over a week. Uh-oh.
I spent almost one entire day going over the new forms and ensuring that everything was correct and in order. I was now required to write a statement of intent on top of the self-introduction, so I transferred the more formal sections into the latter and expanded on some of the details of both. Again, I had people I know look it over, pinching and prodding, discussing amongst themselves, sometimes at great length. Somehow I managed to get it all done in time. I knew that the head of the Study Abroad office at my Canadian university would be out, so I called its only other worker first thing in the morning.
It went to voice mail. She would be out of the office, just this one day.
No, I thought. Surely, surely I'm not going to go down on something this stupid.
My only idea was to go to the general International people and see if they could help me, but then by chance I encountered my coordinator. She was leaving in slightly under an hour and was just checking in on things before taking off for a month. If there was any providence to be had, this was it. In what I hoped was a confident tone, I asked her what I should do, being that today was the deadline and nobody was around to submit the forms.
“Oh, don't worry about that,” she told me, cool as can be. “We're buddy-buddy with those guys. They won't care if we submit it a bit late.”
At least it was done, though. Owing to the unavoidable delays of the highly necessary and dignified medical tests I was required to undergo, I completed my full submission almost three weeks after the deadline. It went through with no problems.
Funding my adventure proved similarly painful. I knew I was going to have to borrow large amounts of money from the government in order to make this happen, so I pulled an elegantly clever little trick. For the first time ever, I signed up for summer semester, arranging my application so I'd receive as much loan money as possible, then registering for the minimum required number of courses to count as a full-time student. I then lived frugally throughout the summer, and naturally I was left with a nice little chunk of bonus when I was done. Actually getting it required a variety of corrective faxes and letters, plumbing the depths of a telephone labyrinth and a physical trip to the bank, but I finally managed it.
The fall semester money was equally stupid. Since I wouldn't be registering for any courses in Canada, I needed the Office of the Registrar to record me as a full-time student. To do that, the Study Abroad office would have to assure them that I would, indeed, be studying abroad full-time in the fall. And for that to happen, I needed the Japanese government to ratify my Certificate of Eligibility, which states that a given person will be entering the country for a legitimate reason and that the government doesn't feel that the harm they will cause while there is worth expending the effort of trying to stop them. Then a bureaucratic hiccough delayed the issue of all Certificates of Eligibility. I ended up spending the entirety of July waiting for the bureaucratic waterfall to start up so I could start the next round of begging for money, all the while not even knowing for sure whether I was going or not.
Despite my mounting anxiety it did eventually arrive, and shortly after it was time to move out of my apartment, my home for the last two years. Packing all my things ended up being a very slow, sombre affair, as practically each and every item I touched saw me reflecting on the masses of memories I'd formed there, pacing around and sighing sadly. I had no desire to leave, and I had even less desire to move back in with my parents for a month, but I looked upon it as a necessary sacrifice to accomplish my goals.
It's incredible how much sheer stuff I had managed to accumulate since moving out three years earlier, and merely integrating it all into the morass already occupying my old room could have been a yearlong project in and of itself. But there was Visa application to put in, which necessitated yet another goddamn headshot, but proved to be surprisingly streamlined, since the school was now sponsoring me. I thrust a prepaid envelope into another prepaid envelope, added the necessary documents, and then watched with growing discomfort as the projected cost of my plane ticket steadily rose. It's easy to say now that - since there was never really any chance of there being a problem - I should have just gone ahead with it as soon as I was accepted into the programme, but I just couldn't reconcile the risk.
University policy requires every international student to have absolutely gratuitous amounts of insurance, so in the meantime I started looking into various policies. I'll still have MSP (BC's provincial socialized medicine), and I'll be required to opt in to Japan's national health insurance plan, which is irksome, but fine. My mother's employer also covers her dependants if they leave the country for the purposes of study for a period of not greater than two years, covering me for up to $5,000,000 if I'm injured or otherwise hospitalized, though only $10,000 if I die. Somehow believing that five times the recommended coverage was insufficient, my parents then purchased some kind of private insurance as well, so forget about looking both ways, I'm not even bothering to keep my eyes open when I cross the street.
My Visa finally arrived last weekend, and by no means too early. Japanese Visas are actually quite stylish and attractive now, and feature an actual picture or the bearer rather than appearing to be a dot matrix from 1981. I saved a few hundred dollars by booking an epic journey that's going to make the Amazon River look like a milk run. I have my first-night accommodations nailed down, my cell phone worked out, converters purchased, maps printed off, approximately 1500 pounds of brand-new clothing ready to go.
Damn it...clothing. I still need to pack.