So…. I’m leaving tomorrow–When’d that happen?!

Hey interwebs!

This is Maria, popping in to say hey, as she frantically tries to get all her music from her old MacBook to her new one so she actually has stuff to listen to in Japan.

BECAUSE SHE IS GOING TO JAPAN. TOMORROW.

(FYI: tomorrow is in T-minus 36 minutes!!!)

Holy crap, guys! I’m leaving in 8 hours!!!!!!!!! Most of that time will be spent sleeping so it’s really going to fly by!!!! This past week (month!) has been crazy busy but insanely amazing. Last Sunday my best friend drove down from Georgia and we spent a week together doing last minute errands and eating at Jaxson’s Ice Cream parlor and even squeezing in a trip to the movies to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2” which was awesome! photo 2 photo (2) photo (1)photo 1

The fact of the matter is… I’m leaving tomorrow. I’m packed–Finally (though I have been mostly packed for a few weeks now). photo 4 I’ve got my computer pretty much set up! I’m going to miss everyone. My aunt and uncle! My mothers! My coworkers! So many special people. Most especially the special ones that I spent tonight with that made it an amazing last evening in the states. I promised I’d try post something every day. Let’s see how this goes, okay guys? Wish me luck. (For all those interested: My best friend Katie’s blog can be read here.)

Interpals.net – Final thoughts

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So, quite a few posts ago I mentioned I was trying out Interpals.net, the international penpal site. I just wanted to give my final thoughts and kind of close that topic.

I stayed on interpals for a week or two more after that post but very shortly there after stopped going on.

I’m sure it works for some people but it was not working for me. At all.

Connecting with Japanese people was difficult as most did not return my messages and those that did eventually slipped off the face of the planet. I was also constantly being messaged by random guys from every country besides Japan even though I politely asked for that not to happen on my profile. Most were three word messages (as mentioned before) but a few were kind of creepy and some of the guys just kept messaging even though I never replied and some even got insulting.

Over all, I just got skeeved out and that was that.

Would I recommend interpals? I’m not sure. My best friend tried it out shortly after I started and her results were the same and she quit before I did.

Like I said, I’m sure it works for some people and there are even people who have met up in real life through interpals. It just isn’t for me.

Not Getting the Boren: It sucked.

In my first post after I returned from my hiatus, I mentioned I didn’t get the Boren which I was really, REALLY hoping to get.

It sucked.

I got the email on a Sunday afternoon and it kind of killed my soul for a minute or two. I immediately called my mother who was like, “Ah well. We’ll be fine,” which was a completely blase response. A very, very true and valid one but blase none the less. It kind of shocked me, to be honest.

We didn’t get $15,000 and she was fine with it?!!!

Granted, I had secured almost all the funds I needed to go on the entire six month trip by that point so I didn’t need the scholarship, per say but it would have given me a ton more wiggle room and spending money and travel money and would have left a good chunk of money in my bank account for when I returned from the trip.

But mom was right. We’d be fine.

So why was I so upset?

Quick answer: I wanted validation.

Long answer: There are few things I am very confident in myself about. I don’t mean that in a bad way. There is plenty I am good at or okay at or competent in but there is very few things that I know I have down–that I can claim without feeling a bit of doubt. Being a good student is one of those things. I work hard for my grades and work hard to engage in my classes. Yes, I slip up sometimes (Japanese this quarter was whack, yo) but more often than not that is a result of me tackling too much (full time student, part time job, 2 festivals, preparing a study abroad to Japan etc etc). But overall, I am a good student. I’ve got the GPA to back that statement up. All the scholarships I applied to were merit scholarships. I live a comfortable life so need-based scholarships were out.

Out of all the scholarships I applied to, the Boren was the most prestigious and competitive. I busted my ass working and reworking that application and I knew I was going up against tough competition. My Women in Asian History professor used to be on the judging panels and he told me upfront, “Most of the kids that win this are Yale and Princeton kids” or from equally impressive schools. I was coming from F-A-U-No-where and all I had to compete with was my GPA and my reputation as a good student. What more validation could one ask for than going toe-to-toe with those Ivy League kids and getting the scholarship?

In retrospect, I realize how ridiculous that is. No one can take away the fact that I am a good student and I’m still going to Japan. The scholarship isn’t even designed to award the most amazing student–its designed with the whole “working for the government and national security” angle and kids who are studying diplomacy or who are International business majors  or who study international politics and what not are in a much better position to swing the “I would like to be a diplomat or foreign service officer” thing that I am even though I am genuinely interested in that career path.

So I didn’t get the Boren but that’s okay because I’m going to Japan. So there.

Tokyo: Planning a 3 day trip

How do you consolidate Tokyo into 3 days?

I’ve only ever read about Tokyo and even I’m having trouble trying to figure that out. It feels almost impossible. It doesn’t help that we don’t even have a full three days.

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Just in case anyone missed it, me and my best friend are going to Tokyo for a short trip during our time at Seinan Gakuin University. By short, I mean, super short.

We leave Friday afternoon or evening (we aren’t sure since the schedule is a biiiit unclear from Seinan’s side) and would stay all of Saturday then return on Sunday evening.

So yeah. Short.

The purpose of this trip basically comes down to the fact that we both refused to leave Japan without going to the Studio Ghibli Museum. Yes, you read that right. Going to Tokyo was first and foremost about the Studio Ghibli Museum. If the museum happened to be in Osaka or elsewhere, that is where we would go. Luckily for us, it is in Tokyo so we get to see Tokyo as well!

Granted, we don’t just plan to go the Studio Ghibli Museum. We’d like to do other things (like going to Akihabara and Harajuku and Shibuya and visiting shrines and exploring etc etc) but we are on a super limited budget. Like… a “ramen-noodle-every-night kind of budget” to quote Allstate insurance. That is also a lie. I am a foodie. Katie is a foodie. We will explore Tokyo through its food as much as anything else. This may limit us to bentos and department store restaurants as well as conveyor belt sushi but apparently all that stuff is yummy anyway!

We found a really nice looking hostel in Asakusa and we’ve booked it since things were getting filled up really quickly. We’ve decided that besides the Ghibli Museum, we are going to explore Akihabara and Harajuku. We will be taking the advice of Grace Mineta from her etramping.com guest post about spending less than $25 a day in Tokyo. Its been super helpful and I would totally recommend looking it up (or clicking here!). It gave us an idea of what we wanted to do and how to keep this all within a sane budget.

I want very little specifically out of Tokyo. I’m going for the experience and besides the Museum there is nothing that I’m like “OMG!! I HAVE TO DO THAT OR ELSE THE WORLD WILL END IN 5 DAYS” which is good. It means our options are super open and this trip is going to be very casual. Lots of walking and exploring. Maybe even checking out a second hand kimono shop and trying one on and feeling like a princess for a little bit.

As a said before, I’m a foodie. A HUGE foodie so food is something I feel is part of the whole experience and if anyone has recommendations on really fantastic restaurants that won’t go breaking any banks, please let me know!

Because things can’t be easy for long – Visa Problems (and Resolutions) –

Two nights ago I received my acceptance email from Kansai Gaidai. I woke up around 2am and just so happened to check my email for some reason and saw it. I was thrilled (in the sleepiest way possible) and went back to sleep with a lopsided grin on my face and the sleep-fuzzy idea that everything was finally coming together and I was actually going to Japan for 6 months.

By the time I woke up to walk my dogs with my brother at 5am, that was no longer true:

I might not be able to get my student visa before leaving the States.

SAY WHAT?!!

Yes, you read that right. Kansai Gaidai (as per their email yesterday morning) stated that if they applied for my Certificate of Eligibility now, it would not come through until just before I leave, not giving me enough time to get my student visa. Instead, they recommend I come into Japan on a tourist visa then get it changed to a student visa while there. There was a confusing bit about whether I would have to go to South Korea to actually get it changed but I’m not sure.

I’d love to go to South Korea! But not to get a visa straightened out!

I called the nearest Japanese Consulate to my house and asked them what that would entail and what it meant. They strongly recommend I do not enter with a tourist visa. First and foremost, my flights in and out of Japan (which I have already purchased) exceed the 90 limit for a tourist visa. Secondly, Japan doesn’t look kindly upon people who come in with the wrong visa type then try change it. They might not approve it.

Overall, pretty sucky, right?

The Consulate told me to ask Kansai Gaidai if there was anyway to expedite the CoE. I emailed them yesterday afternoon and never received a reply (nearly 24 hours later!) which was disheartening.

It would have been  more disheartening had I not taken matters into my own hands.

After I sent the email, I spent a good amount of time panicking about the whole situation and trying to figure out what I’d do if they told me they couldn’t expedite the dang thing. I jumped to extreme measures in my head and decided (rather than canceling a portion of my trip: Summer – can’t do! My best friend is coming! Fall – I’d lose more than half the trip!) I would cancel my arrangements with the Wahaha language school and then at the end of the Summer program fly back to the US for three weeks then fly back late August for the Fall semester. This would enable me to go on the summer trip on a tourist visa then come back to the States, get my student visa processed then go back.

Neither of my mothers thought this was a good idea. At all. The new ticket I would have to add in between my original one would cost the same as my three weeks at Wahaha but with no actual benefit besides sitting on a plane.

Luckily, my non-biological mother had a stroke of brilliance. She asked, whilst we sat at dinner discussing this predicament, if I had contacted the other schools I had applied to about how long it would take them to get me the CoE.

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The clouds parted and I saw the genius in her words. Seinan Gakuin University always knew I would be in Japan from June 28th because they ran the Summer program! They had even mentioned when I applied to both that they would take special steps with my visa stuff since I’d need it sooner. I quickly ran off and emailed them.

At around 3am I woke up and checked my email. Seinan said they were all good on their side. I just needed to fill out the application form and get it to the asap and we’d be set.

So, ladies and gents of the interwebs, I am now going to Seinan Gakuin University for a Summer Program, followed by Wahaha Language program for three weeks, then returning to Seinan Gakuin for the Fall Semester.

Who saw that coming?

Not me.

This means I spend my whole 6 months in Fukuoka (besides my short trip to Tokyo, a short trip to someplace I don’t remember as part of the Summer program, and a short trip to Kyoto during the Semester).

Holy shiitake mushrooms, guys!!

A problem and resolution in a 24 hour period?!!!!

It was intense. I came close to crying. Sitting here on the other side of it, I am immensely relieved and all sorts of giddy. I am going to Japan for 6 interrupted months.

Every hurdle that has come my way makes the happiness and excitement I feel right now even sweeter. This process hasn’t been easy and there have been several times when my mother has turned to me and said “I don’t know… It feels like the world just doesn’t want you to go.” There were times when I felt like that too.

But I am going.

So there.

My life is crazy.

(Please note: As with a lot of pictures, the above aren’t mind and were found via google!)

South Africa, Botswana, Cyprus and Greece (Say What?!)

What do the places in the title of this post have to do with each other? Two are on the same continent, so that is sort of a connection, but the other two are European and are heavily populated by olive skinned people who speak Greek. They have different climates and histories. What is the common thread that ties them together for the purpose of this post?

Me.

I have been to all four places.

I figured it was about time to share my previous travel experience. I haven’t traveled extensively and though I’ve been out of the country, I’ve only been to one other state besides the one I live in. So I wouldn’t call myself well traveled. Lucky, yes. Well traveled? No.

I’m lucky because I’m connected to all four places in some pretty substantial ways that have allowed me to visit them. Let’s start with the place I was born and have visited the most:

South Africa

I was born in SA and lived there until I was about five. I’ve gone back three times to visit family and I absolutely love it. South Africa feels like home to me in such a strange and integral way. It’s not about the buildings or even the people (even though my family in SA is amazing and I love them so much). There is something about South Africa itself that makes me feel like I’ve come home. It’s the smell. It’s the red dirt. It’s the sounds. Its the hills and kopjes. I don’t know. I just love it. It is so beautiful and I miss it all the time.

The house i spent the first five years of my life in.

Now let’s go to something slightly similar:

Botswana

Botswana might be the most off the beat and track place I’ve been. As mentioned before, I work for a safari company and so does my mother. When I was turning sixteen, my mom planned a trip to SA to visit family and was going to take me for my birthday. Work decided that if my mom was going all the way to Africa she might as well check out some properties. These properties just so happened to be in Botswana and I got to go with. I was on safari for a grand total of four nights and they are four of the most amazing nights of my life.

Botswana was incredible. So much open space and wilderness and so few humans or anything I had grown so attached to up to that point (IE: laptop, cell phone, internet). The camps we stayed in were spectacular, but the scenery and wildlife were the truly breathtaking aspects. I took nearly two thousand photos in those four days.

Me in a Makoro

Botswana felt like an integral part of who I was as a human being and while I was there I felt like I was connected to rest of the world and universe for the first time. It wasn’t about being home or feeling like I was home like South Africa. It was feeling like I was suddenly connected to nature and I loved it. I cried like a baby when I had to leave Botswana. I had decided I was going to live there for the rest of my life. My mother had other ideas… Like finishing high school and going to college. Oh Mom.

Me in the copilot seat of a tiny little airplane!

Greece

I’m Greek. My family is Greek. My uncle lives in Greece. I’ve been twice to visit him, but both times were very short (a few days each time, if I’m not mistaken). I saw the Parthenon and ate yummy food and went to a beautiful beach.

Me and my sibs outside the Acropolis.

Cyprus

So, my family is Greek but (plot twist) we are Cypriot Greeks. Yes, indeed, my family comes from the small Mediterranean island that is half Turkish, half Greek. My grandparents (both sets) live there and it is where my mother was born.

I’ve been all over the Greek part of Cyprus. My one set of grandparents lives in Limasol, my cousin lived in Nicosia, we visited Pafos and Platres in the mountains and traveled along the coast to different beaches. I saw the place where Aphrodite is thought to have emerged from the ocean. I spent most of my time in Cyprus in Limasol but overall I got to see some really beautiful places!

Cyprus was also the country that made me realize I am not cut out for city life and I would rather live in the countryside surrounded by farmland and mountains.

Me and the Fam at Cape Greco

Cape Greco and my sis

So those are the places I have traveled! None of them are anything like Japan and I went to all these places with family that guided me and translated where necessary. Going to Japan I’ll be on my own most of the time. I’ve never been on my own. This is going to be intensely exciting.

 

So, what is she doing now?

Now that school is over and I’m done with all my applications and all that good stuff, there is still a TON of things to do!

Mostly working. As much as possible… Because a trip to Tokyo does not pay for itself… SADLY.

I work at a safari company. During school I was part time, but at the moment I’m working full time until I leave in the hopes of getting in as much cash as possible before I leave. It’s a pretty awesome company. If you haven’t guessed, we plan and book safaris to Africa for people. Most of our trips are pretty high end… As in, I couldn’t go on one if I wanted to. Some of them cost as much as my entire 6 month trip to Japan but for two weeks… Per person… Holy cow, right? We also have less expensive trips and our agents personalize almost every trip so it’s a lot of talking with clients and making things perfect. NONE OF WHICH I DO.

I am an “admin assistant” which means basically, I do everything that no one else does. I do all our mailings and filing and updating databases. I also do inventory and even order some stuff we need. I also do anything else anyone tells me to do… I’ve even been known to make some tea for everyone in the afternoon (3 o clock in the afternoon is tea time… We have a lot of British/South Africans who DEMAND their tea at 3!). My mom is one of the senior safari consultants and she is pretty amazing. All our agents are, really.

Anyway, except for the week before I leave and a few days in early June, that is what I’ll be doing.

Other things? Oh, there are plenty.

I still have tons of odds and ends to buy for the trip. I’m pretty much set on clothing (which will get its own post because… Clothing!) but I still need to grab some more toiletries and homestay gifts. I just got my suitcases (my mother picked them out, actually–because she is fabulous) so I’ll start laying stuff out soon and slowly start filling those puppies up. I HATE last minute packing because I always forget something. I’m being so organized about this I can’t stand it. Actually, I feel like my mothers would kill me if I wasn’t.

I have to get my visa organized as well as finishing paying for the trip. So far my Summer trip is covered and my airfare is bought.

I’m hoping one of these days to get an email from school with the results of the scholarship I applied for. It would be amazingly helpful right about now.

I’m also (hopefully) going to get babysitting jobs which would bring in some extra cash! I know a lot of people with small children.