I uploaded this video to YouTube on Christmas day! :)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Well, I can finally say it: I go to Japan this year! No longer when I talk about going to Japan will it seem just that little bit further away because of one digit in the date…it is 2011 NOW, not 2010…I will be hopping on that plane to Osaka, Japan, this year…this month…in less than 30 days! On the 28th of January, I will leave my life in Western Australia behind for much longer than I have ever done before. It is strange, because although I have fully accepted that I *am* going to Japan this year…in less than 30 days… a part of me still feels as if I am only going for a holiday of sorts. Last time I went to Japan it was only for two weeks, so maybe that is why it is difficult to imagine being there for any longer than two weeks. Will it take two weeks into my exchange to fully realise that I wont be returning home for a long time? Who knows, but what I do know is that I do need to start fully preparing myself for the adventure ahead of me.

And by that I largely mean learning Japanese as best I can before I leave, because if my previous “mini exchange” experience in Japan taught me anything, it is that the more Japanese you know the better. Now I don’t mean that aiming to be fluent is the best way to prepare for exchange to Japan, because if that is the case I might as well stop my preparations right here haha…I am far far far far far far farrrrr from fluent; I think I am farrrr from the stage that a person needs to get to before they even consider preparing to prepare to study and practise towards being fluent. I may have studied Japanese for 7 years through High School and at University, but I have always been held back by my lack of confidence in speaking it which has kind of dampened my motivation to study really hard at some points. In fact, usually the only times I have studied a lot is before tests, for assignments in Japanese etc. Usually when I do try having conversations in Japanese, when it comes to me responding to something I will try and construct the sentence *perfectly* in my head, which means I spend even more time fixing errors, trying to think of the right words/phrases/particles etc. so that when, if, I finally have something to say, the conversation has already moved on to a different topic. Surprised smile I have gone ahead and spoken about a completely different topic in the middle of a different conversation at least a few times, to be met with a few odd looks haha… I wouldn’t say I am embarrassed to make these kind of mistakes, and I like to learn from my mistakes. I think it is more to do with me being a little bit of a “perfectionist” that if I believe something will be wrong, I just wont say it, and will try and revert back to English instead. In fact, I have friends who can speak Japanese far better than myself, so I do my best to listen and understand what they are saying, but I will end up just responding in English and the conversation will continue in that way. So, they speak Japanese and I reply in English…surely a strange sight to any English-only speakers sitting around us haha.

So you can probably see that I haven’t always maintained an “I want to master Japanese” attitude…but from today, I plan to try and change that to at least a “I want to be great at Japanese” attitude before I leave! I know from experience that when in Japan, knowing as much Japanese as possible is very helpful (and I would argue that in some areas, necessary). For any new Japanese learners out there going on exchange, even knowing a little Japanese before you go helps a lot! In the very least, people will appreciate that you have tried, and that might go a long way with some people Smile. I would say the Japanese I knew last time I was there was pretty basic, but even the most basic of basic Japanese comes in handy when you discover that you are the only person in the room who speaks English Smile with tongue out.

So, to get better at Japanese before I go, I plan on trying to study for at least an hour a day using my textbooks/resources from University and High School, resources on the internet, and flash cards which I have found are really handy if things need to be memorized really quickly. Flash cards can be made and practised on the computer and on portable devices like the iPod Touch too, which I think makes practising them a little more interesting than making them by hand and flicking through endless amounts of paper/cards over and over again! I used to make them by hand in High School…even going as far as cutting each card out precisely with a knife Surprised smile.

Anyway, so where am I at in terms of preparation at the moment?

Flight – Booked and paid for! Open-mouthed smile Well, paid for mostly with frequent flyer points, but I believe the airport taxes still had to be paid on top of that…a good money saving measure nonetheless! I will be flying with Singapore Airlines, leaving Perth (Western Australia) on the 28th of January at 3:55pm to fly to Osaka via Singapore, arriving in Osaka at around 8am on the 29th of January. Kansai Gaidai provides a transfer service from the airport, and the 29th is the first day exchange students can arrive at the dormitories, so I am hoping others also have the idea to start exchange “as early as possible”, because otherwise I may find myself all alone in the seminar house Surprised smile.

Homestay Application – Done and approved! Open-mouthed smile Although we don’t actually find out who our host family is before we arrive, but it is still exciting nonetheless! Wait, now I am wondering how many gifts I am supposed to bring with me…it could be a little awkward if I turn up with one tiny gift for a family of 12! Ok, 12 might be exaggerating, but I think it is a legitimate concern…especially if I brought a gift intended for a little kid and I ended up living with an elderly couple Smile. Maybe I will try and be as general as possible with my gift giving…

Speaking Partner – Application sent! From the beginning I knew this was something I wanted to apply for, as I think it will be good to meet a Japanese Kansai Gaidai student straight away, and the program will hopefully help with settling in and practising the language. I have heard of people making really good friends from the Speaking Partner program, so I think it is something that everyone should at least try out…because really, what is the worst thing that can happen? Meeting with your speaking partner once and then never hearing from them again? haha… :/ But in all seriousness I am looking forward to it, and Kansai Gaidai says we should be able to start contacting our assigned partner in mid-late January. Smile

VISA – Kansai Gaidai applies for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) on your behalf, which you need to apply for a student VISA to enter Japan with, so once I received that (mine was sent to my University, but you can get it sent to your home too) I applied for my VISA at the Japanese consulate in Perth which took about a week to process. For some reason the photo on my VISA looks like a mug shot featured on America’s Most Wanted, which was a shock because I was quite proud of the passport photo I had used for it haha… Take a look below! The VISA is stuck on to a whole page in your passport, and the COE was stapled to another page because it is still needed for when you arrive in Japan.

japanvisa
So what else do I still need to do before I leave for Japan? Besides studying Japanese and passing Final Fantasy XIII on my PS3 (a very high priority Smile with tongue out), I still need to buy proper, full-on winter clothes because I keep hearing that the weather in Japan at the moment is quite the opposite of the really hot Summer we are experiencing in Western Australia right now! I’m not sure if I am really looking forward to the cold weather, but I *really* want to see snow for the first time, so it is a trade off I am willing to make! Open-mouthed smile A few days ago I bought my new laptop for exchange, so I can cross that off the list…apart from that, I cant really think of anything else I still need to do Surprised smile. Oh, I may have to buy a new suitcase! I am sure there is plenty of other things I still need to, but like a lot of things in my life, they will be left until the last minute Smile with tongue out. But hey, I might be able to blog about the frantic rush during my final week before exchange! I hope I am joking when I write that… Surprised smile

Forgive me if this post is a little random or jumpy…it is New Years Day after all! Smile But it is getting a little long, so I will end things here by saying HAPPY NEW YEAR once again! My countdown to student exchange at Kansai Gaidai in Japan has well and truly begun, and I look forward to posting more about my experience in the future! 2011 is definitely going to be an exciting year!