Sophia University’s Decision

I was told on March 24th, when I finalized the Sophian side of my application, that I would “know the result by the end of May”. Between March and May, several things that didn’t warrant their own blog post happened, so let’s catch up on them first.

Thu Apr 22 – Scholarship results

I had applied for individual awards through the Education Abroad office at UAI, which takes the format of one single application that they then somehow disseminate and mass distribute to all the different possible awards, and assumedly perform some wizardry behind the scenes to match people up with their best awards. Any given person couldn’t choose the scholarships they wanted to apply for, it was a bulk process and thus actually much easier than I expected.

I was not really expecting much because, well, since I have been working for a few years now, I’ve long paid off my student loans and have some money saved up, enough to finance the entire trip. I stated that as part of the application, but also noted that the reason I was applying for a scholarship/grant/award anyway was that I would be sacrificing my financial stability to do this and this would ideally eventually lead to a different career path for me, but despite having enough to fund the trip, there was still an inherently large amount of risk in the move, and any money I might be able to get would help offset that risk. I ended up writing quite a lot in my award application, mentioning my work, school and some volunteer experiences, my migration from Singapore to Canada when young, my goals for the future, and even the transgendered aspect of my life and my journey through that. It was actually quite fun to write in the end as it parallels quite nicely with what I am trying to do with this blog down the road, with regards to writing down all my memories.

At any rate, that must have struck a chord with someone, because the results were really kind to me. I was shocked. The Education Abroad Individual Award on that page showed values from $750-$3750 only, so I was expecting and hoping for something on the lower end of that, maybe to the tune of $500, or even $1000 if I was lucky. Instead, one of the Endowed Awards on that above linked page selected me, specifically the Rod and Judith Fraser International Undergraduate Learning Award, to the tune of $4000. That really, really helps and I am super appreciative to them for that.

I had to fill out an acceptance form for this award, and I noticed that there’s a section that goes,

I will be required to submit a written commentary when I return of at least 500 words on the highlights of my experience abroad and how the Award and experience as a whole have affected me, my future plans, and/or my goals.

as well as

I give permission to the Education Abroad Program to publish and use pictures and/or stories about my exchange experience that I submit to them.

And those should be fun, as well as easy enough — I’m going to be blogging the heck out of Japan after all, at least according to my current trajectory, so I’ll have plenty of pictures and/or stories they can use, and the tough part of 500 words will be shortening whatever I have down to that number.

Wed Apr 28 – Sophian Guide 2021 released

Kynji found this one and alerted me in Discord on Tue, May 04. It seems to have been uploaded on Apr 28. While my original writeup on Sophia University had linked the 2020 version of their Sophian Guide (basically a handbook for students, with both EN and JP versions), the 2021 one had apparently been released a few weeks earlier. The 2020 one is here and the 2021 one is here. (Local copies for my own future reference)

They’re basically the same thing, minus some changed opening/closing times and things like finally correcting “There are four types of garbage containers on campus; combustible (paper), incombustible (plastics/bottles), PET bottles.” from the 2020 guide, to tell me that the 4th type of garbage container was for cans.

I also never mentioned it the last time but it’s oddly interesting that there’s a section warning against Cult groups and how some of their characteristics include things like “They deny the past lives of the believers and try to sever all ties with family and friends.” I know “past lives” here means your life before joining the cult, but I like that it could also mean that they deny the theory of reincarnation in general. (In general I do find it both interesting and a bit worrying that they have to have sections in the handbook warning against cults, extremist political groups, deceptive business practices, etc.)

They also cut out a pretty map from the 2nd last page of the 2020 guide, and incorporated it into the flat one on the last page of both guides. Zannen, Zannen. That’s too bad. But by and large, the two guides are identical, just reskinned versions of each other.

Wed May 12 – Declining the Other Path

On May 12, I received this email from the Education Abroad office.

You’re receiving this message because you’ve applied to go on exchange to one of UAlberta’s partner schools in one of the following countries in the equivalent to UAlberta’s Fall 2021 term or for the equivalent to UAlberta’s full year in 2021/22 (i.e., Fall 2021 + Winter 2022 terms) :

We initially told you that we would make a final decision concerning the viability of your exchange sometime in early June.

At this time, there have been no changes to the travel advisories from Global Affairs Canada, and the University’s suspension of travel is still in effect.  These may be lifted before your intended start date, but we cannot be sure of this.  As well, you still need to consider travel plans, visa entry requirements and potential quarantines upon arrival in your host country amidst all this uncertainty.

We do not want to discourage you from your exchange, but given the unknowns that are still in effect, you may wish to consider shortening your full-year exchange, or switching your Fall term exchange, to one taking place in the equivalent to UAlberta’s Winter 2022 term instead.  We are cautiously optimistic that Winter 2022 will proceed (and hopefully with fewer restrictions in place for travellers) and thus this might be the best option for you.

Please let me know by June 1 if you’d like to shorten or switch.  If I don’t hear back from you by that date, I will assume you want to continue with your application.  If it turns out that we have to cancel after all (due to ongoing travel restrictions, your host university cancelling incoming exchanges or any other reason) then I will proceed to cancel your exchange application and refund you the $250 nomination fee that you’ve paid.

Please note that replying to me by June 1 is also important because we have a second application deadline on June 2 for Winter 2022 term exchanges only. With all of the work you have already done with your application, I would like to be able to reserve a spot for you on the exchange (if you want it) rather than give it away to a new applicant.

Makes sense. This was the office offering a compromise for those who wanted to hedge their bets and go for a far more likely Winter semester abroad, instead of a full year Fall/Winter one, due to the pandemic. At this point, there was still no word about even the first dose of vaccine in Edmonton yet, but I still rejected this offer the same day, never mind waiting until June 1st.

The reasons were simple. First and foremost, I would not want to give up my comfy, full-time job for merely a 4 month stay in another country. That’s not worth it, in my book. Secondly, even if I had switched, the real issue would be whether Sophia would accept me with my complex transcript that had an asterisk on it anyway, and not so much the borders part — sure I will be somewhat disappointed if the borders don’t open, but I wasn’t even at that checkpoint yet and I needed to find out if Sophia would accept me. Thirdly, I reasoned that even if I were accepted but the borders won’t open in September, they might be in October or December and I might be invited there after anyway, so it would be the same as this. And if not, that was fine. Fourthly, I thought that it would be betraying some of the work I put into this, especially asking for the recommendation letter from my instructor, as well as the hopes and dreams I had poured into my statement of intent, to merely settle for a one semester gig. And lastly, I’m pretty sure that would have impacted my awarded scholarship. At least the amount I would have gotten.

So while I appreciated the offer (and it was mass mailed out to a bunch of students, so I definitely understand the intent), it was an easy No for me.

Sun May 30 – Sophia’s Decision

Sophia had promised me the result by the end of May, and apparently they took that literally, since May 30th here in Edmonton, at least at 7:22 pm when I received the email, is May 31 10:22 am over there. Anyway, when the emails arrived, they said:

Email 1:

Greetings from Sophia University! We are pleased to inform you that the following student has been accepted as an exchange student to Sophia University.

If any information is wrongly displayed, please let us know.

Period of Acceptance: September 21, 2021 to September 20, 2022
Program to be enrolled: DEPARTMENT OF LIBERAL ARTS

Official acceptance package (an acceptance letter and CoE which is necessary for their visa application process) will be sent out in early August.
(Students holding Japanese citizenship will not receive the package.)
Currently we assume that Autumn courses will be offered in face-to-face format, but please kindly understand that we may have to switch the exchange program to online mode  or cancel the exchange program depending on the future situation. In such case, we will let you know immediately. We expect final decision about the format of courses will be decided by the end of July.

Your accepted students can refer to our Academic calendar, Arrival instructions, visa instructions, and course registration information through their Sophia application portal.

If you have not received other nominated students’ acceptance notice, it means the applications are still under checking or screening. We will inform you once the result of faculty’s review is received. Thank you in advance for your patience.

If you have any inquiries, please feel free to contact us.

Email 2:

Dear students whose acceptance notice is received,
 
Greetings from Sophia University!
We are pleased to inform you that your application was accepted by Sophia University.
As you are aware, the current situation of COVID-19 in Tokyo is very uncertain, so we would like to remind you to read carefully the attached documents which are available through application portal as well.
 
Please check your email regularly and follow our future instructions.

Thank you very much!

Two attachments were attached to this 2nd email: This one and this one. Nothing too terribly exciting. I also logged in to the web portal and found a letter of acceptance though, which is nice! Except it was in html format so I had to print it to PDF and then screenshot it to cut out the date and timestamps… Sophia pls. Anyway, the UAlberta side of things seems to want a copy of that letter, so up it goes.

Next Steps

Initial reaction: Woohoo! At this point, I feel like I’ve vindicated and earned validation.. even if the exchange doesn’t happen, I won’t be too mad because it’s basically an act of (a) god and no single person or entity would be at fault. I was really worried that Sophia University would hide behind their stringent “letter of the law” and deny me because of the fails in my transcript 20-odd years ago pulling my lifetime GPA down, but the spirit of the law (and the supporting letters from my University that I provided) seems to have won through in the end and I appreciate that. So much for Japan being inflexible with their rules. With any luck I will eventually be able to make Sophia University proud and make Waseda kick themselves for not even taking a look at my application so many months ago now.

So what steps are next? This decision was going to throw my life in disarray either way, as either I was going to spend my time planning for a big life event, or I was going to be re-aligning and looking for a new life goal, but there’s lots of jigsaw pieces on the table now for me to slowly tackle.

  1. I still have some pieces of the UAlberta application to do, that I really should get going on. Things like the eClass course and some other documents I have to fill in. I held back on those due to the uncertainty over the application and not wanting them to be a waste of time. Odd logic perhaps, but it’s probably safe to at least move forward and get these done now.
  2. I need to figure out housing, stat. I declined all the Sophia-offered options because their dorms all had huge negatives that I was unwilling to work with, so I will need to reach out to one or three of the housing companies and tentatively book a place, either through their recommendations or through me looking for a good place myself.
  3. I will be ending the lease of my current apartment once my contract is up at the end of July. Well, sort of. I could continue staying here for July-August at a slightly higher price, and then leave for Japan near the end of August, or I could (if borders open up early, if I get my 2nd vaccine shot, and if I have arranged housing there) go to Japan as early as early August and do some travelling after my quarantine period. I could also leave my apartment after July and stay with my parents for a couple weeks or something before leaving, although obviously I haven’t run this by them yet.
  4. Due to this, no long term plans and recurring yearly contracts. Well, those that involve the address anyway. I need to cancel my renter’s insurance, and while I’m already on a month to month plan for my Internet and phone bill, I need to look into a plan that allows me to keep and (sparingly) use the number while overseas too, since I have a lot of things tied to it. Amazon/Twitch Prime is also a no-go for sure, that’s expiring in a month or so if it hasn’t already. I’m sure there are a couple other things that I’m not thinking about.
  5. I need to figure out a storage cache for my existing loot here at some point. I don’t think I can leave it with the family, and I don’t intend to throw too much away either, but I’m obviously not bringing boxes of books and games with me to Japan, so they’ll have to sit in a rented storage somewhere.
  6. I need to plan my purchases and usage of current items to roughly end around August. For example, I have a huge bag of rice that there’s no way I’m going to be able to finish before then, but that one is fine since I can donate it back to the family. It’s stuff like condiment bottles, laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid, soap, shampoo, canned food, various ingredients and spices, and so on. I will have to keep an eye on those things and see if I can reasonably finish them before September, and avoid buying new things that I won’t be able to finish.
  7. I need to figure out medication and whether I’ll be taking a year’s worth of pills over there or if I will be able (and willing, even) to get some over there. Also, things like taxes and how to file them next year. Basically long-term adulty chores.
  8. On the fun side of things, I need to compile lists of interesting places and events in Japan and see if I can make plans to visit them. Some will definitely be time-sensitive, others I can visit during breaks or weekends. I expect to do a lot of wandering in Tokyo during my free time as well.
  9. Similarly, I need to more closely research the student clubs in Sophia and see if any of them look interesting for me to join.
  10. I’m also going to probably drop some Internet-related obligations, for example I’m going to stop modding a large subreddit’s Discord, rescind an offer to help out AMQ, stop Patreon payments for certain creators, end at least one of my group watches right away with a possible final date for my other ones as well, and so on.
  11. On the flip side, there are things that have bumped up in priority as well. My scanning projects, for example — I have to finish the photos and yearbook and possibly all my random old documents that I have in boxes as well. Spring cleaning and throwing out old stuff is another thing that is more important now than ever, as is figuring out whether I need a better camera and/or whether I want to try video walking tours or not. I also need to get a proper laptop for when I leave the University, and I have a Personal Spending Allotment from work that I need to spend on that as it is a benefit that will be “Use It or Lose It”. I’m also likely going to concentrate even harder on my daily Wanikani kanji lessons (I’m on level 7 now), and likely either check out some good Youtube TV streams or subscribe to an online site that carries Japanese TV programming so I can start familiarizing myself with some local content and also immerse myself in a bit more of the language.

There’s probably a lot more that can be added to these lists too. It’s a wild, wild world out there and it’s all mine for the taking! Pandemic allowing, anyway.

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