University of Alberta’s Decision

That euphoric high from Sophia’s acceptance didn’t last long at all! Less than 72 hours after that happened, and after my last blog post, this email arrived:

Wed Jun 02 – UAlberta cancels Fall 2021 exchanges to Japan

Subject: Bad news!!! Cancelling all Fall 2021 and 2021/22 Full Year exchanges to Sophia University

Hi,

You’re receiving this email because you’ve applied to go on exchange to Sophia University in Japan during the equivalent to UAlberta’s Fall 2021 term or for the equivalent to UAlberta’s 2021/22 school year.

Unfortunately, I’m writing with bad news! UAlberta has made the decision to cancel the exchange to Sophia University during the periods mentioned above.

If you would instead like to switch or shorten your exchange so that it is instead happening in only the equivalent to UAlberta’s Winter 2022 term then I need you to please let me know by the end of the day on Sunday, June 6. If I don’t hear back from you by that time then I will have to cancel your exchange plans and I will make the arrangements necessary to have you reimbursed for the $250 nomination fee that you’ve already paid to UAlberta.

This email was sent at 3:32 pm, basically at the end of a business day, and this was pretty terrible timing on their part because it left me with little runway to speak to anyone. I understand why they did it in the name of giving us as much time as possible to prepare for alternatives though, but doing this so soon after the Sophian acceptance letter and chopping the legs off of that euphoria, and then not having someone immediately available for support when this was a major life change, means that it hurt quite a bit in the immediate aftermath. It felt a bit like I was talking to a wall, as an email followup came back with a reply of:

Yes, unfortunately, it’s a final decision. Sorry, once again, for the bad news!!!

The “Bad news!!!” in the original title and here and there felt very tabloidy, as someone put it, as though they weren’t serious and respectful about the impact that this had on their students at all. Either way, I pressed, and got this follow up email:

I can certainly understand your unhappiness with the current situation; however, you’ll recall that ever since I initially accepted your application for exchange (starting with my February 5 email entitled, “Your nomination for exchange!”) our message has always been that UAlberta would be making a final decision in early June concerning the viability of your exchange.

And as it turns out, the decision was actually made for us by the Government of Japan. To give you some more perspective, a member of my team called the closest Japanese consulate to inquire as to the status of the border, student mobility, etc, earlier today. Essentially, we were told that student mobility in the Winter 2022 term would likely be permissible but with their state of emergency right now, plus the Olympics, they are not going to process any non-essential visas (and they consider student visas as non-essential) for entry at this time and definitely not for any Fall term study. Furthermore, UAlberta’s decision aligns with similar decisions made by our other Canadian partner universities already. The University of Calgary, for example, has already cancelled all exchanges to Japan with Fall start dates.

Also, UAlberta would not cancel your exchange and then shortly later say that it would be ok for you to make all arrangements on your own and to allow you to attempt to go anyway. That wouldn’t make sense and would completely undermine the decision already made.

Honestly, your only options right now are to cancel your exchange or to shorten it to one happening only in the equivalent to UAlberta’s Winter 2022 term.

Once again, I’m very sorry to have to send you this bad news!

Now, my initial response was that this was a stupid move on UAlberta’s part because Sophia had accepted me and they had given me a separate deadline (end of July), plus an option for online mode learning anyway. So why was UAlberta butting its head into this, considering our positive vaccination numbers? I would have been eligible for my second jab from June 28th or so onwards, so that wasn’t a concern.

That last reply up above shed some light on that, apparently the Calgary consulate was involved in this decision. Still, I did think this is premature and a knee-jerk move that UAlberta was making because they are more interested in optics (i.e. because “other Canadian partner universities” had already cancelled) than actually trying to help us make this work to the best of their ability. Note that the Olympics were given as a reason — well yes, it’s because the consulate, as a representative of the government, isn’t allowed to say that it was probably going to be cancelled (or face a much smaller turnout than expected), so why not wait until THAT decision was made first?

The more I thought about it though, the more I was okay with it. i think UAI bungled the delivery, but the decision itself was fine. Although it would have been nice to go right away, there would always have been lingering worries, not over health but over things like whether the experience would be fully worth it or not, as most of the Japanese citizens are still not vaccinated yet. It was ultimately good to know as soon as possible, and I had barely moved on anything yet besides telling some closer friends, so nothing was lost in that regard besides hurt feelings for a day or two (and some good friends helped with that). I also could have taken some of the semester online, but then what would have happened if some stretched into all? I think I only get two Study Abroad semesters, and that would have burnt one of them without actually going overseas.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, the key was not to dwell on the decision but instead find the silver lining and the Plan B within this. Two things were kept in mind. Firstly, the Rule of Two, where the first attempt never works out, but the second probably will. And secondly, this happened for a reason, so either it helped me avoid some catastrophe that would have happened if I had gone in Fall 2021/Winter 2022, or it helps me not miss a window of opportunity or an event that I would have otherwise missed. I trust fate/the gods on this one. So what was Plan B?

The key lay in that note at the bottom of both of the longer emails — even though I had denied the option to switch to a Winter 2022 only session, my coordinator again offered that option. There was a modified decision date this time, June 06 instead of June 01 (see Declining the Other Path), so they had obviously even made some arrangements behind the scene to try to accommodate this. I noticed that and appreciated that.

Thu Jun 03 – The Day After

Late on Wednesday, I had proposed that instead of doing Fall 2021/Winter 2022, I instead did a Winter 2022/Fall 2022 exchange. This is because Sophia’s school schedule looks like this (local) — they basically have a Spring term of Apr 01 – July 31 and a Fall term of Sep 27 – Jan 31. Unlike North America, where it’s 4 months Fall/4 months Winter/2 months Spring/2 months Summer, Sophia has a 4 months Spring/2 months Summer/4 months Fall/2 months Winter calendar instead. While our Fall 2021 is their Fall 2021, my Winter 2022 portion of the exchange would have been a Spring 2022 semester in Sophia instead.

With that in mind, a “Winter 2022/Fall 2022” exchange on the UAlberta side of things would be about an equal length as a Fall/Winter one, since it overlaps with their Winter and Fall semesters whichever way you cut it… if they allowed something like this. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. I actually quietly asked Sophia before I asked UAI, and I got back this reply:

If you would like to defer your exchange program to Spring 2022 and Autumn 2022, you must be nominated by your home university and go through the application process again.
If you cancel the exchange program and would like to attend fee-paying program, please refer to the website below.
https://www.sophia.ac.jp/eng/admissions/ug_p/nd/index.html

I hope this answers your quesion.
Please let us know once you or your home university decide to cancel exchange program for Autumn 2021.

In case that Spring + Fall thing through my home University didn’t work out, I had also asked about the possibiltiy of straight-up trying a Sophia application that I would do outside of UAlberta, for the Spring 2022+Fall 2022 semester. But the reply seemed to come back okay! And then I asked UAI, and this was the response I got back from my coordinator:

Your idea to shorten your current 2021/22 full year exchange to one happening in the 2022 calendar year (i.e. Winter 2022 term + Fall 2022 term) instead sounds fine provided:
1) Sophia University agrees (I would contact them to ask on your behalf)
2) You continue working on your current application (which we would shorten for you to a Winter 2022 term only application),
3) You submit a brand new application later this year for an exchange to Sophia University in the Fall 2022 term (once I open the 2022/23 exchange application period – I’ll probably do that in late August or early September of this year – I’ll let you know once I’ve done so). Horizons doesn’t accept calendar year applications so you’ll need to ultimately have submitted 2 separate applications to us (maybe to Sophia University as well)
4) You’d need to continue demonstrating that you meet all eligibility requirements required by both UAlberta and Sophia to allow both of your applications to be considered.

***Please note that we don’t do this often and individual circumstances behind these types of “unorthodox” applications can and do vary so I might have to come back to you at a later date with more requirements for you to fulfill. I’ll need you to please be patient with me.

That’s fair! While there were many asterisks included, he said that it might be possible and he’d talk to Sophia University about it, which I had already kind of done in advance. I haven’t heard back, so whether that works or not is a topic for a future post, but that was a suitable Plan B for me and I was happy again. In fact, dare I say, this solution (if it works) is even better than the original schedule? Why, you ask?

  1. My original schedule would have seen me arrive in time for the Fall semester in late September 2021, and leave at the end of July 2022. This one, if accepted, would instead go from mid-March to end January. Instead of cutting out two summer months that I could use for travelling (or having to spend extra time there on my own budget), I would instead be cutting out two winter months! There are still some things during the winter that I want to see, but they pale in comparison to the number of events (and how much I would want to go out) during the summer months. I don’t care about heat and travelling and torrential downpours, I love all that stuff. It’s snow and ice that annoys me and that keeps places closed. (Cherry Blossom season is basically in the second half of March, so I’d be there for that anyway due to having to arrive early for quarantining.)
  2. The Japanese school year actually does go from April to March, instead of the Canadian/American ones that go from September to June/August. Not just the University school year, but other levels of school as well. The full year exchanges were always weird because it’d mean that the Japanese students would probably rotate out halfway through the year, either moving to a higher grade or graduating, and suddenly the people in your dorms and clubs and maybe social circles were different. This way, I would be following the regular Japanese school year (and it would be closer to Singapore’s as well, though they do Jan to Dec) and would probably have a better experience. For example, their schedule on Page 4 of this aforelinked document shows that Freshman Week is in April, not in September, and I would be able to participate in something like that and not worry about not joining things because I was going to leave in 4 months. On the flip side, something like the Sophian Festival would be in November, and even if I had started in September and decided to join a club, it would have been awkward being able to participate in this thing, especially since my language skills and comfort level would not have been up to par that quickly. This way I would have a ton of runway to get ready if I did end up joining a club.
  3. Lastly, because of how this decision played out, by the time I found out about Sophia’s decision on May 31st, the deadline for things like these was already over, as those were due in mid-May. Now, they were cancelled this year anyway due to the Cov19, but not only is there a much better chance that the January session will be held, I would in theory (if UAlberta and Sophia manage to talk things out right away) have a much clearer picture on where I stood and if I were going, so I could actually possibly sign up for this when the registration period opens in October, and tack that to the start of my year abroad, so I’d do that in January and February and then transition into the full year. If Fall 2021 had been given the green light, I wouldn’t have been able to do the summer one this year, and it would have been pointless to do the summer one next year after I had completed my year. (I had applied to Ritsumekan University’s summer program last year too, but that got cancelled at the very start of the Cov19 pandemic.)
  4. It would give me more runway here in Edmonton to take care of matters. I’d have up to 6 more months at my job, so would have some extra money, and 6 more months to finish my various scanning projects, spring-cleaning, continuing to try to learn Japanese via Wanikani and watching Japanese shows, figuring out more things I want to do while there, and other ways of getting ready. Also, I don’t think there are enough International students here for this, but if there’s a Summer Connect peer position again I could do this again and make another new friend.

So yes, all in all not a bad turn of events, once I had actually sat down and thought through it. There are some negatives — for starters, this will put a serious dent in my moving plans as I don’t think I’m going to move for just a 6-9 month period. I’d have to sign a 1 year contract and that would tie me down and render me unable to adapt to whatever opportunity might arise. Also, I think I will miss my sister actually being in Japan for the entirety of my trip there instead of it overlapping for a couple months there with her. Oh well. It’ll overlap back home here in Edmonton instead.

Worries and follow-up questions

There are still lingering worries around this however, since it’s all unorthodox and special like UAI said.

  1. There’s still the rule that I had to be a full-time student the semester before going abroad, and I had inquired if this would be waived if the Fall 2021/Winter 2022 exchange period was shortened to just a Winter 2022 one for now. I asked twice as part of a longer email and did not get an answer back on that portion either time, which I think makes sense as everything is sort of on the fly right now…. BUT I don’t plan to be a full-time student this Fall due to work, and due to me already having a lopsided schedule with more Winter classes remaining than Fall ones. I won’t be able to take Winter 2022 classes (or at most I could take one) since the last month of UAlberta’s winter term would overlap with the start of Spring semester over in Sophia. So what would happen with this requirement? If I need to become a full-time student here at UAlberta in Fall 2021, I’d still do it, but my boss has indicated that management probably wouldn’t allow it and it would be messy to try to accommodate since I would have to be on campus for some classes regardless of whether we’re working in-person or remotely, so this would probably involve me quitting work prematurely, even though he doesn’t want that.
  2. There is the possibility that I only got accepted on the Sophia side of things due to a much lower number of people that applied due to the Cov19 pandemic. Will this translate into some sort of preference if I applied for Winter and then again for Fall (if it’s two separate applications)? Or will there be a chance that I’d actually be denied for that (despite a 3.5 or so GPA right now) due to those failed courses 20 years ago? Would I have to get things like letters of reference all over again? Is it possible that I’d be accepted for Winter and then denied for Fall while I’m already there?
  3. What about the scholarship? That’s less of a consideration but at some point I need to know what happens with that as well and if I have to reapply again. And how would a Winter semester plus an uncertain Fall semester play into that?
  4. If I were approved for Winter (Spring) but denied for Fall, and I knew that in advance, would I still do it? Or would I postpone again and try for a Fall 2022 full year exchange? At that point would I risk Sophia again and go through all that worry about possibly being denied? Would there be other schools on the radar by that point?

I appreciate that both Sophia and UAI seem to be trying their best to make it work for me though, so that I can finally go do this study abroad thing. But you know what? At the end of the day, me going is partly about me seeking out new and unique experiences in life, and these little mishaps are totally their own blend of really unique and interesting experiences too. I’ve already learnt a lot and had plenty of interesting experiences to write about, and have had to juggle a lot of different considerations, even without ever actually going there to study.

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