Getting my House in Order

Now that the University of Alberta has accepted my application, there’s a mountain of paperwork in front of me to handle. This blog post both gives me the opportunity to showcase and log what this paperwork entails, as well as keep track of my own application so that nothing gets lost in the darkness of my bad memory. Most of this involves the UAI exchange student portal, called Horizons, or the Sophia exchange student portal. I’ve long started the process, I just got lazy on actually logging my progress. So without further ado, a recap of the acceptance emails from the last post:

UAI Email

By Friday, February 12:
  • Accept your nomination in Horizons (a “post-nomination” task).
  • Upload a scan of your passport identification page to Horizons (a “post-nomination” task).  If you need to renew your passport then please wait and only do this task once you have the new passport.
  • Complete the Accommodations task in Horizons (a “post-nomination” task)
  • Complete the Transfer Credit task in Horizons (a “post-nomination” task)
  • Pay the $250 nomination fee in Horizons.
As soon as possible:
  • Determine whether or not you need any study permits, visas or other immigration documents to go to your exchange destination by viewing the website of the relevant embassy or other consular authority in Canada that represents the country in which your exchange destination is located or by calling the embassy or other consular authority directly. You will need to find out what you need to do and if you’ll need to make any in-person visits to the nearest embassy or consulate.  To be clear, you are only collecting information at this point in time.  You should NOT act on any study permit, visa or other immigration requirements UNTIL you have a letter of acceptance from Sophia University or unless they direct you to start doing so.  Also, you’ll need to eventually double check what you think you have to do before you start doing it because it’s not uncommon for immigration requirements to change from one day to the next and without warning.
  • Check your passport.  When will it expire?  Once you know the exact dates of your exchange make sure that your passport is good for at least 6 months beyond the last date you plan to be outside of Canada at the end of your exchange (or longer if the government of the host country requires it).  If it isn’t then make sure to renew it as soon as the Government of Canada (or your home country if you’re not a Canadian citizen) will allow you to do so!
  • Check the start and end months that we advertise for your exchange on our website.  To find this information, look in the “When can I go?” section for the page dedicated to your exchange program.  We don’t advertise specific dates but are you willing and able to start your exchange at the beginning of the start month indicated and to stay until the end of the end month indicated?  If not, please be sure to contact me right away so that we can discuss other options for you. 
  • If necessary, find out if you are eligible to use student loans from a Canadian provincial government to help subsidize your exchange.
By sometime in April:
  • Complete all Pre-Departure eClass modules before the start of the Pre-Departure Orientation mentioned below. You are required to complete all modules and quizzes and, in the “While You’re Abroad” section, the Risk Management Plan.  (Please note that the “Risk Management Plan” just mentioned is different from the “Risk Management Agreement” that is one of the “post-nomination” tasks you’ll need to complete in Horizons.)
  • You may have to attend an in-person or online Pre-Departure Orientation on a Saturday in April. You will need to plan to participate for the whole day.  The location, date, start time and format (i.e., online vs in-person) will be communicated to you sometime in the future. 
By Tuesday, May 11:
  • Complete all remaining “post-nomination” tasks listed in your online Horizons exchange application with the exception, for the time being, of the Risk Management Agreement and the Confirmation of Health Travel Insurance document.  Those documents will need to be updated before you can start work on them.  I’ll let you know once they are and you will then need to complete them as well and by the same deadline as the other “post-nomination” tasks.   

Sophia Email

The following completed application materials should be sent via email during – April, 10 2021.

(1) Application form (2 pages to be downloaded after online submission)
(2) Letter of academic recommendation (form provided)
(3) Official academic transcript(s)
(4) List of courses currently enrolled (if not listed on the transcript)
(5) Valid IELTS/ TOEIC/ TOEFL (ITP or iBT) results for English-taught program applicants
(6) JLPT test report (N1) for Japanese-taught program applicants
(7) Certificate of health (form provided)
(8) Digital color
photograph (length 4cm × width 3cm *exact size)
(9) Photocopy of passport

Sophia Application Site

Submit Online Application : Deadline: 2021/04/10
Submit Required Documents : Deadline: 2021/04/10
Submit Immigration Information – Upload CoE Application form (excel file): 2021/04/10
Submit Housing Application : Deadline: 2021/04/10

Part 1:UAI Email

Accept nomination

This was just a simple checkbox after reading the Exchange Nomination Acceptance Terms and Conditions. It in turn refers to the Terms of Student Participation document.

Status: Done.

Upload a scan of your passport identification page + Check your passport. When will it expire?

My passport is good through 2027. Locked in and uploaded.

Status: Done.

Complete the Accommodations task

This “accommodations” turned out to refer to disabilities that require help, not as in where I’d stay. While I am deaf in one ear and do wonder about my medication, I didn’t feel that either of this was worth mentioning. So this was a yes/no radio button asking if I needed any accommodations for any issue I might have, and I selected no.

Status: Done.

Complete the Transfer Credit task

The Horizons website says:

All transfer credit decisions will be made by your home faculty or department at UAlberta, not by the Education Abroad Program at University of Alberta International. You should start a transfer credit conversation with an academic advisor or student advisor in your faculty or department AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. To help you, we’ve created a document that you can use to put forward your transfer credit proposal. Please only use it if your department or faculty doesn’t already have a similar document for you to use instead. You do NOT need to upload a completed version of the document to your application in Horizons.

Transfer Credit
Yes, I have read, understood and will act on the transfer credit advice provided above.

So this is basically another yes/no box and is not something that UAI requires you to have strenuously done, which is good because I’m not dying for transfer credit — I would like it, of course, but I’d rather take courses based on what I want to take while there, rather than be stuck with courses because I need a certain amount of credit from the exchange program. It sort of looks like I can do this after I return from the trip, too, and this is doubly likely to be my path because most of the Japanese universities seem to not give you a firm course list to choose from until you are there, though you can sometimes find out previous courses in advance. And triply likely because who knows what will happen with the pandemic, and online vs in-person vs cancelled classes?

That being said, if I do find out that Sophia has a list of courses (and I think I might even have to submit that as part of my Sophian application), then I can always turn around and give that to my faculty after, even though I might not have the full syllabi yet. Again though, that comes before this.

Either way I don’t consider this a barrier to going so I checked this box.

Status: Done.

Pay the $250 nomination fee

Not much to say about this one. According to the Terms of Student Participation document above, I should get this back if either Sophia rejects me, or if UAlberta cancels it due to the pandemic.

Status: Done.

Determine whether or not you need any study permits, visas or other immigration documents

From what I understand, Canadians going to Japan for over a period of 90 days will require a visa, and there’s detail on it between here and here, as well as the forms from the returning students that have went to Japan in the past. Study permits are something that will be taken care of in the Sophia side of the application, I believe. That one is a bit murky to me, but I see some document applications in that side so I’ll leave it for later.

I don’t know if I can apply for a work permit without actually having plans as to where to work, but if I can then I will as well, to be on the safe side. As in, I don’t want any opportunities to pass me by because I don’t have the right sort of visa. I don’t plan to actively seek part-time work except as part of networking or volunteering though. Like, I don’t need it to finance the trip.

Anyway, there’s separate line items much later on to actually apply for said permits/visas, and this checklist item is just to review requirements for now, so..

Status: Done.

Check the start and end months

This varies by program, but for the Sophia exchange, the semester application dates are listed here, and start and end dates are listed here for Fall and here for Spring. So the fall semester is from Sep 27 to Jan 31, with orientation on Sep 21 and arrival date in Sep 16-17, but if we push that back two weeks then it’s the very start of September instead. Winter break is Dec 23 to Jan 04, Spring break is Feb 01 to Mar 31 (or Apr 11). Spring semester starts Apr 12 and ends Jul 31.

Status: Done.

If necessary, find out if you are eligible to use student loans

Not necessary, since I’d have to pay that back eventually. I did apply for some scholarships, but not for student loans, since I have enough in the bank to cover. Technically student loans would push my funds further, but since I am working right now and have a good amount of money saved up, I doubt I would qualify for it anyway.

Status: Done.

Complete all Pre-Departure eClass modules

This is an eClass course and I haven’t gotten around to it. Some weekend or other soon. It’s a task with no further post-tasks so I’m not too worried about it. At a glance, it also has a lot of potentially interesting information on it so it will need its own blog post eventually, and it seems like info useful to have once I am approved and in the right mindset to be heading to Japan, so I don’t think it’s even something I want to do until I get approved by Sophia. I mean, that’s why it’s called Pre-Departure, right?

The site says to expect it to take about 4 hours.

Status: Done (Oct 24 2021).

You may have to attend an in-person or online Pre-Departure Orientation on a Saturday in April

This, too, sounds like post-acceptance. I have no further detail on it at this time so I cannot proceed.

Status: Pending.

Complete all remaining “post-nomination” tasks listed in your online Horizons exchange application

The remaining post-nomination tasks in my application are:

Student Connection is:

The Education Abroad Program (EAP) at University of Alberta International would like to be able to connect you with other UAlberta students going abroad to the same part of the world.

Some advantages of this connection could include providing you with:

  • potential long- or short-term travel companions 
  • people to consider as potential roommates
  • people whom you could ask for tips and advice when packing, selecting interesting and fun travel destinations and activities during your free time, etc.

We strongly advise you NOT to give or receive advice about immigration procedures.The best source of advice for immigration procedures is the nearest embassy or consulate of your destination country.  The next best source is your destination school or institution.

This was a Yes/No option, and I selected Yes, of course. I wonder if anyone else is even going to Japan through UAI this year? Still, I am happy to meet others, if any.

Yes, I agree to let EAP share my name, email, destination information (e.g., country, city, institution, program name, start date, end date, etc) with other UAlberta students participating in its programs to the same part of the world.

For the others, the forms are either not available yet, or things that I feel are post-acceptance. So for the moment, the UAI portion is mostly done, or at least in satisfactory (to me) pending/waiting states.

Overall Status: Pending.

Part 2: Sophia Application Site

I’m going to skip the Sophia email because everything in there is actually in the site as well, as you’ll shortly see. The site has four main portions:

Submit Online Application : Deadline: 2021/04/10
Submit Required Documents : Deadline: 2021/04/10
Submit Immigration Information – Upload CoE Application form (excel file): 2021/04/10
Submit Housing Application : Deadline: 2021/04/10

2a. Online Application

There are two main help documents for this one, the Online Application Instructions guide that was sent in the Sophia Email as well, which covers logging in to the Sophian web portal as well as the Application Guide, as well as the Instructions for Application Materials guide, which is basically for the same section. Somehow they have two different documents for the exact same thing, both linked off of the web portal, and some information is in one but not the other.

The application itself is an 8-page web form, and so I am not providing screenshots of that here. It did occur to me while filling out the sheet that this was a place where I could invent/decide on a kanji name for myself, but I passed on the opportunity. Making up a random first name is one thing but doing that for the family name feels wrong, and my Chinese family name (陈 / 陳) has no clean Japanese translation.

Gosh I’m so happy I got a nice, long passport renewal pre-COVID-19. Imagining having to deal with that on top of everything else now in a pandemic gives me an ulcer.

My first issue was a part on page 4 where it asks me for a “List of Schools You Attended (from Primary/Elementary School to Present)” — It only gives me space for 5 schools, but as you’ll see once I get my biography page off the ground, I have studied at 7 different ones, and the U of A twice in there, so I really need 8 boxes. I really have moved around a lot over the years, huh. From grade 1 to 12, my school stints were 3 years, 3 years, 2 years, 6 months, 3 years. I’ve never spent more than 3 consecutive years at a school, whereas most people spend 4-6 years at one. Even at University, I did 3 years at UAlberta, then 1 year at NAIT, then a long 15 year break, and then now I’m on my 2nd part-time year at UAlberta again, and trying to break that up by going to Sophia. Counting two years at kindergarten before that to start, Sophia will be my 10th school stint. I’m the worst.

Anyway, this is on hold pending a reply from Sophia.

Mar 10 Edit: They claimed they emailed me back on Mar 01, after I emailed them on Feb 27, but I never received it. Worrying. At any rate they answered this one — just list my latest 5 schools. Okay.

Mar 17 Edit: I’m done! Although I found part of this Agreement at the end a bit weird:

Promise 誓約

an applicant for admission to Sophia University, hereby promise to obey the laws of Japan and the regulations laid down by the government for the conduct of students coming from abroad. I am fully aware that a serious violation of these laws and regulations may be followed by expulsion from the University and deportation from the country.
During my study abroad, I promise to take credits by semester according to the criteria of Sophia University and to finish the final examinations. In particular, I promise not to abandon my studies in the middle of a semester for any reason nor will I ever ask for special arrangements at Sophia University, such as early scheduling of examinations, in order to return to my country earlier than the academic calendar permits.
Upon completion of the exchange studies, I give Sophia the right to release my academic transcript to the home institution.
Finally, I do not hold the school responsible for my personal conduct or for my personal debts or fines imposed upon me for violations of laws.


Particularly the part about asking for special arrangements. I know arrangements were made to accommodate students at the U of A for pandemic/quarantine-related reasons over the last couple semesters, and/or some people cancelled their studies to return home, so this struck me as odd, but then again this is probably just a boilerplate agreement.

Can you imagine coming all this way and then clicking No on this?

Another weird part of this was needing to not only submit the form at the end of the 9 pages, but also having to download a PDF copy of the form, attach a photo to it, and then email them that form. It seems redundant since I’m already submitting the 9 pages itself as part of the online form, and also submitting a picture as part of 2b below. Oh well. Anyway, Adobe is stupid and I refuse to pay for their garbage (or the other sites that prey off of it) so I ended up using this site to combine the photo with the PDF.

Oh, and i had to write a 900-1000 character (not word!) Academic Purpose Essay – an English essay on why I wanted to study in Japan and Sophia, and how it will help accomplish my future professional and career goals. This was the 5th time in the past month that I had to write something like this as part of my efforts to study abroad, so it went by quickly.

And one last weirdness was page 5 or so, where I had to select my planned courses. This is weird because the class list apparently doesn’t get updated for the next year until sometime in March, and well.. I’m writing this as of March 17, 2021, and I’ve just handed in my completed Online Application.. but I had to use 2020 pandemic class data to fill in a tentative class schedule. I don’t think I’m bound to those choices anyway, but I still found the timing a bit odd. Either way, I ended up for now with Intensive Japanese (pending placement test) through both semesters, a history course in the Autumn 2021 semester, and two literature courses in the Spring 2022 semester. We’ll see how all that pans out!

Status: Done (Mar 17 2021).

2b. Submit Required Documents

The Required Documents page links here, and this is the reason I skipped the Sophia Email section above, because this list is the exact same list as that list.

Documents to be Submitted:

  1. Application form (downloaded after online submission via portal)
  2. Letter of academic recommendation (form provided)
  3. Official academic transcript(s)
    *If the transcript does not include a list of courses you are enrolled in this current semester, please submit a currently enrolled course list separately.
  4. TOEFL / IELTS(Academic) / TOEIC official test report
    (for ALL applicants from non-English-speaking institutions applying for English-taught program)
  5. JLPT official test report
    (for applicants to departments/ graduate programs taught in Japanese)
  6. Certificate of health (form provided)
  7. Digital color photo (length 4cm × width 3cm *exact size)
  8. Photo copy of your passport
  9. Application for Certificate of Eligibility (*online submission via portal)
  10. Housing Application (*online submission via portal)

In addition, Step 1 (Application form) is Part 2a above, and Steps 9 and 10 (Application for Certificate of Eligibility, and Housing Application) are Parts 2c/2d below. In addition, coming from an English-speaking institution and aiming for the English-taught Faculty of Liberal Arts with some Japanese classes on the side, steps 4 and 5 do not apply to me.

So what’s left is:

Letter of academic recommendation

This is the form. Because my goal is to take the Japanese immersion classes there, my first choice for the letter of recommendation was my Japan 301 instructor, but she actually turned my request down — and this was really unexpected because she was a teacher I respected and liked a lot.

The official reason she gave was that she was only my teacher for one semester, but it was probably a combination of having dropped Japan 302 during the first week a month prior (although I sent her an email about it explaining why and apologizing and she seemed to respond positively), or because I criticized the course in the Japan 301 end-of-semester evaluations as it was a gong show. Things weren’t improved at all for Japan 302 either, which played into my reasons for dropping it — basically neither class was properly adapted for online teaching and it was one of those classes where they stuck to traditional in-class methods that didn’t work and had videos to watch as well as full 90 minute lectures to attend so they were double-dipping on time, the Zoom breakout rooms were miserable experiences most of the time because a lot of the students didn’t care, and easily 75% of my written work ended up not being corrected by the teacher or TA (they were basically participation marks), which in my opinion defeats the purpose of a language course, and shows that the homework workload assigned was insane. Still came out with a B in Japan 301, though.

Anyway, I still respected the instructor and was surprised when I got the no reply — I had waited on purpose until the start of Reading Week to ask, so as to be as light a burden as possible to the instructor, but this still felt like “revenge” hidden behind honey-coated words because I had written to her (in homework) and expressed my intentions and even asked her for advice through the entire J301 semester. It is extra work, certainly, but what kind of language instructor says no to writing a letter of reference to someone trying to experience immersion to improve their proficiency in said language? This gave me unnecessary stress for an entire weekend and I lost most of the respect I had for her.

The “only known you for one semester” reason was so off-putting because that’s the way University works a lot of the time, especially for me schooling part-time — how many people tend to have repeat instructors? I had had 4 Japanese instructors for 5 Japanese courses at the UofA up till that point, for example, and I realized that this was made even worse by the online distance learning thing because online learning made it even harder to get to know an instructor well and secure a letter of recommendation from them.

Anyway, at this point I considered my choices and begged my Japan 102-201 teacher, who might be the only instructor I have ever had for two consecutive completed semesters (even though one was a truncated Summer one). It was a year and a half ago, but thankfully she accepted, bless her good heart for all her future endeavours. She looked at the letter template and asked me a few questions over email, and I answered them. I’m now eagerly awaiting the letter (or she might email it directly to them?), and so hopefully this one is almost squared away.

Also, Rule of Two.

Edit: I received a very nice letter from my sensei on Mar 24 and sent it in. I got a confirmation that my application was now complete.

Status: Done (Mar 24 2021).

Official academic transcript(s)

For this section, I will be not only submitting my UAlberta transcript, but also my NAIT one, as well as my two supporting letters from the institution, as requested by Sophia. I have all the documents scanned or downloaded and ready though.

Status: Done.

Certificate of health

This is the form. I wonder how long it takes to get an X-ray in Alberta. I should call in soon. This is also the first time I’ve heard of the term Occult Blood, but I like it.

Edit Mar 01: Apparently there isn’t much of a queue at all, and after calling the University Health Clinic, I secured an a requisition form and appointment for the X-ray at a drop-in clinic, and an appointment with a physician to fill in the Certificate after the X-ray results come in, all later this week. There’s a fee associated with it, but that was expected (there usually is, for UHC filling in forms for you).

Printing the certificate form and the requisition form was a bigger concern, since I don’t have a printer and there’s a pandemic out there, but I’m counting on SUBPrint, the student printing service on campus, for that. Emailed them my files and hoping to pick it up tomorrow with any luck.

Edit: This was incredibly quick. I called my University doctor on Mar 01, immediately was emailed a requisition form for the X-ray, sent the forms as a print job to the University, picked them up and did the actual X-ray on campus on Mar 03, and then went in to the clinic for a quick checkup on Mar 04 and got the rest of the form filled. My doctor even printed off an extra form from the X-ray specialist signalling my clean bill of health to send as part of my application, just in case, as he wasn’t 100% sure how to fill out the “Describe the condition of applicant’s lungs” part of the form. The X-ray was free but the University clinic filling in the form was $70. It’s times like this I wish the CRA was clearer on what certificates exactly this potential claim includes, though.

Status: Done (Mar 04 2021).

Digital color photo (4cm x 3cm)

I don’t like photos, but I got one done when I went out on my birthday and was having particularly good luck, so that should do the trick.

Specifications for the photo include:

No edge; EXACT SIZE (length 4cm×width 3cm); of full front view with plain white background.
– The digital photo must be high resolution in “.jpg”, “.jpeg”, “.png”, or “.gif”.
Submit one digital photo data, as well as attach one digital photo on the CoE application form.
File name of the digital photo data must be your name (Family Name, First Name).

No big issue. “Digital photo data” here seems to reber to the actual .jpg/.png file, whereas there’s also a box on the CoE Excel file where one can be copy/pasted in.

Status: Done.

Photo copy of your passport

As explained earlier, I’m good on this one. They want a photocopy of the passport personal information page.

Status: Done.

So this part, minus the recommendation letter which may or may not come to me, and the certificate of health which I have to make an appointment to see a doctor for, is just about done. At least the remaining steps are clear.

Mar 24 edit: My last piece was submitted today and confirmed by Sophia. The really nice lady said that:

Now application documents are completed, so we will send your application to the faculty’s review and let you know the result by the end of May.

Overall Status: Done (Mar 24 2021).

2c. Submit Immigration Information

This is the application form for the CoE, or Certificate of Eligibility, and this is a sample form that was included with it. It’s kind of weird, all done up in Excel instead of an editable PDF, but it seems to work. I do really like all the little guideboxes and arrows on each page. Nothing here seems too difficult, it seems like just a matter of doing it once earlier steps have been completed.

Edit: This was not too difficult. Section 26, the “Method of support to pay for expenses while in Japan” thing, involved a bit of guesswork though. Not in terms of where I’d get the money, but in terms of how to fill it in on the chart, as the instructions are a bit contradictory since I was self-financing. Though I don’t think it really matters in the end as long as I filled out the bank account portion like the provided sample form did. I also have no idea if or why they actually need my address for that section, since it will no longer be my address once I go over there, but.. whatever!

Status: Done (Mar 13 2021).

2d. Submit Housing Application

This one will be a doozy! This one is an online web form, as indicated, with two main pages. The first page is where you choose “SOPHIA Associated Housings” vs “SELF Arrangement”. Picking Self Arrangement just jumps you to the last page of the form, so that’s not really what I want, as I do have a couple top choices and I want to do research into all the available choices. Picking Sophia Associated Housings brings you to a page that reads (as of 2021):


Read housing information carefully from the link below before submitting the housing application. Housing allocation works on first come, first served basis. Those who cannot be placed to any of the housing options must look for housing by your own. You can rank only options that you are willing to move in, but please note that the available slots are quite limited and some housings are very competitive, so if you choose only a few options, you may not be placed to any housings, which means you must arrange your housing by yourself. You are strongly recommended to choose more than 4 options.

Housing List(宿舎一覧):

– AZALEA HOUSE / アゼリアハウス
– FlatShare SHIN-Otsuka Campus / FlatShare新大塚Campus
– BeGood ZoshigayaEkimae / BeGood雑司ヶ谷駅前


I hereby promise:

1. I will enter any housing that is arranged for me by Sophia University without complaints or conditions and will not seek housing arrangements by other contracts.
2. After entering an accommodation, I will observe the rules and pay the housing fee by the designated deadlines.
3. In the case I am placed in an accommodation which requires me to pay all housing fees before coming to Japan, I will complete the payment by the deadline set by the housing. If my housing arrangement was cancelled because of my refusal to make the payments, I will not complain.
4. I am aware that the cancellation of the accommodation arrangement after being placed in a housing is not possible. If I am charged with the cancellation fee for cancelling the housing, I will make the payment without complaints.
5. I assure you that the information which I have submitted is correct.

So I can choose my favourites, and basically rank any of them that I am willing to stay in. If I don’t get in to them, I will fall back to self-arranged. I might be strongly recommended to choose more than 4 options, but it is unlikely I will even choose that many, because of COVID-19 and other concerns. I have no issue going homestay or spending a little bit more for an apartment if need be, rather than get stuck in a lacklustre dormitory. Perhaps this is influenced by how bad I know some of the University of Alberta dorms are, though.

Apparently the earlier I get this form in, the better my chances for my desired housing arrangements as well. I don’t know how early this should be, but I’m about halfway through my application period now (Feb 05 > Apr 01) so now’s a good time to get this done, and leave it to the winds of fate to decide if I get my preferred housing or if it’s a better choice to find elsewhere to stay. Regardless, I do want to do suitable research into all these options, so expect another post right away to deal with these options!

Spoiler Edit: In the end, I picked none.

Status: Done (Mar 17 2021).

Please note that the Statuses on the page will be updated as I complete them because this doubles as a personal checklist too. The original Statuses were accurate as of Feb 28 2021.

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Actually Getting my Houses in Order

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