Applying to a Language School

So, the time has come to start preparing an application for a language school.

The application process starts from the end of March to the beginning of May, in which the school will apply for a Student Visa on my behalf.

For the financial section of the application, I need two years worth of tuition saved–one for the language school, itself, and another for the technical school I plan to attend. I’m applying for a year because I really want a solid language base before going into higher learning, and it will give me time to prepare for the next round of applications. Thanks to “enyasu”, a cheap yen exchange rate, this part is solid, so now I just need to make sure I don’t get fired, haha.

Speaking of which, I also must provide proof of employment and something showing annual salary. I asked for the verification of employment for my job, but that doesn’t list salary, so I will also mail the school last year’s W-2s. I am a little curious as to how this will play out because if they contact my job that could be grounds for termination putting me in a very tough situation. Hmm.

Another thing I’m worried about is that the school asks if you have committed any criminal offenses. I have two traffic violations, one resulted in a prayer for judgment and the other one was dismissed in court. I’m not sure if either these count, or if they only want to know about felonies. Since the application doesn’t ask for a background check or explanations into the nature of the offenses, I’m probably going to put ‘No’ and move on. I’m not sure how that is gonna play out, but we’ll see.

Although it’s still early in the application process, I have already gathered a lot of documents. In particular a certified copy of my diploma and birth certificate. I tackled these last year because they would have taken a while to get, due to the red tape involved. JLPT test results are also required, but this too is taken care of.

Nevertheless, there are documents that must be gathered and dated after the start date like, an official bank statement, a doctor’s note, and the written essay portion (in English).  Oddly, the doctor’s office stated that since I already had a physical, they would just write a note and e-mail it to me on the application start date. I think that’s weird because a health condition could develop between now and then, but oh well.

Lastly, I have to wire the school approximately $200 before they will even start the visa process. Most likely I’d want to do this the week before I mail the documents so that the funds will clear on or immediately after they receive the paperwork.

So that sums up the application process. Fingers crossed.

Baggage

When planning a trip abroad, it’s best to travel lightly bringing as little baggage as possible. When planning a life abroad, this also applies figuratively.

My ex and I parted on amicable terms, and we have an agreement that he would keep a car that is in my name as long as he pays down the loan. The arrangement has worked out well so far. He’s pretty diligent about making payments.

Nevertheless, I decided to pay off the remainder of the loan with a recent paycheck, and as soon as the title comes, I will hand it over as a gift. While I definitely thought about dragging this out until next year, collecting payments to recoup the loss, I thought it is best to just get this over with and allow us both to move on with our lives. Besides I’m going to be too busy filling out school applications and immigration forms to worry about a car loan.

Think Native

Hello,

I’ve spent the last few weeks preparing and going on a trip to Japan so there hasn’t been any blog posts since June.

Since the last posts have been finance related (Hey, money talks) I will briefly say that Japan is very weak against the dollar, so if you are able, now is the time to exchange currency. At the airport I exchanged all the remaining dollars I had.

The trip to Japan was a kick in the pants. I found out that my skills are not even close to proficient, probably even worse than what I originally thought, even though I never had a high estimation of my language skill to begin with.

When I first got there, I couldn’t even figure out how to reserve a hotel in Tokyo for three nights without the attendant switching to English. I then met with a friend in Osaka for a weekend who speaks only Japanese, and rather quickly. I later went to a bar by myself the last night, and everything just went smooth. Maybe the bartenders were using easier language, but I didn’t feel like I couldn’t keep up once. I went back to the hotel in Tokyo the next day, and I was able to speak Japanese to the same attendant. We switched back in forth from English to Japanese (this phenomenon is common in Japan, so embrace it!), but it wasn’t due to a deficiency, but rather an understanding that the attendant wanted to practice English, too.

After having a retrospective on what went well and didn’t, I noticed that I picked up several (good) habits which I know will propel my skills to N1 or higher.

First, I began to think in Japanese. These thoughts weren’t big ideas like ‘The Chinese stock market slump will have worldwide implications’ but rather “Man, I’m hungry. I wonder what restaurants are around.” I recognized this after departing. However, two weeks later I’m still trying to maintain and cultivate. Maybe one day the former example will come as natural as the latter.

Second, every time I encounter a word or phrase in English or Japanese that I can’t translate or understand, I write it down and record it in Mnemosyne. On the surface, this is has probably been the most beneficial habit and results on average to 25 new words and expressions per day.  Also, it will go a long way to improving the first point as this process is cyclical. You think in Japanese, you find an expression that is difficult to translate, you then look it up,  it becomes easier to recall, and you progress to harder ones. The process then repeats.

Every since that trip, I bombard myself with newspaper articles, blogs, podcasts, etc in Japanese. Every time I learn something new, it’s a small gratification that keeps me going and from burning out.

After this experience, I now realize the best way to learn a new language is first-and-foremost by immersion. Barring that, I believe that even a mini-vacation, with the proper foundation, can go a long way to creating the tools required for distance learning.

Bank of America

So, I created a Bank of America account with my latest paycheck. They put a hold on it for the next several business days (could be up to a month), so I had to dip into savings to pay this weeks bills. I only use cash.

Speaking of which, in order to apply for a Japanese Visa they require a bank statement that indicates your deposit and withdrawal history. Ostensibly, this is just to see how well you manage money and if your net income is greater than your expenses. I, however, believe they use this information to scrutinize who they give entry to. You may be a superb teacher, like 夜の先生, but if they see a monthly subscription to Playboy, the Japanese immigration officials might think twice.

If I had any advice, it would be to keep your bank account pristine and only use debit/credit for things that do not incriminate you.  For daily transactions, use cash. It is clear that all commercial banks sell your information to advertisers. Likewise, government also cannot keep their hands off this wealth of personal data on the individual. Unless you are an important multi-millionaire with high-profile business dealings, you better err on the side of caution if you are trying to enter another country for an extended period of time.

But, I digress. The actual procedure was pretty straightforward, but tedious when it comes to personal information. I really needed this account opened so I used a debit card as a secondary ID because I didn’t bring an SSN. Not sure if this will bite me in the end, though.

Later today, I used my account to request JPY for an upcoming trip to Japan. If there is any silver lining it is that banks charge a less outrageous fee than airport kiosks for currency exchange. I wish I could use Bitcoin, but it’s a short trip and arranging a seller in that time would be a hassle.
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Bank Accounts

I have been reading a lot about which banks offer Wire Transfers.

So far my best option is Bank of America (cringe).

I have a deep mistrust of Bank of America since their foreclosure scandal, charging insane rates for overdrafts, arbitrary closing of accounts, and so on. However, they are really no more evil than the other big banks out there like Chase or Capital One; and they are the only big bank in this area so I’m kind of stuck.

Smaller banks are not an option for me because while some can perform wire transfer, the account holder has to be present at a local branch to do it. Since that won’t be possible, I have to choose one which can do this via phone or web.

I do not do direct deposit, so right now, I go to the bank that’s on my payroll check and save the cash. Come next pay period, I’ll open the BoA account in person (I heard horrible accounts about people who do this online). Save up money for the next year and half and once I reach Japan, I plan to open an account at Suitomo or Mitsuho and wire all of my savings over.

Unfortunately, to be considered for any long term visa in Japan, you need this money documented in a bank.

Time to roll the dice!

Thousand Dollar Tax Bill

Today I was sent a bill more than $1000 by the U.S. Department of Treasury because I neglected to file a 401K that I cashed out when a quit a previous job.

Ugh! This was totally my fault so I have no one to blame but myself! To take a wild guess why this happened–I think I forgot that this even happened because the 401K was cashed out in January the year prior to the filing date.

This is why it is soooooo important to stay on top of your bills! In my case, I was lucky that I’ve been saving so much so there is an emergency buffer for these type of unexpected occurrences (but not much!)

Luckily since the beginning of 2014 I have been eliminating potential tax problems by not participating in 401Ks, closing any stock portfolios, and not opening any accounts that bear interest or capital gains. Of course, in the 2015 tax return, I will have list those retirement accounts I closed as capital gains.

I don’t recommend or unrecommend those out there who are contemplating a life abroad to close your accounts, too. It depends on your own circumstances. I really can see that you probably want to keep your accounts open (and file them!) if you are on a temporary assignment or foresee yourself retiring in the States.

However, since I’m not going to be earning an income for the following two years, I really don’t want Uncle Sam in my savings nor I do want any tax bills that I will have to figure out how to wire transfer from a Japanese bank. Also, I have no intention of returning to the U.S. permanently even if Japan does not work out.

Certified Diploma

This month has been spent mostly preparing for the JLPT N1 exam. I’ve been using the Nihongo Sou-Matome series, and there is a huge leap between the number of new words I’ve encountered since N2.

However, I did decide to send off for some important documents this week: a birth certificate, some college transcripts, and a diploma.

For a US birth certificate, you have to send an inquiry to the state you were born by mail and some form of payment, and they will send you a copy of the original in a few weeks. Each state differs, so you will need to look on-line.

Getting a certified diploma is not much different in the sense that each college has different procedures. My alma-mater does not give original diplomas and only replaces the original with a copy if you lose it. Instead, it allows you to get something called a “Authenticated Diploma” where you send a scanned copy of the original and they affix a seal to it and send it back to you. They also do something called an “Apostille” which is a notarized letter stating that you went to and graduated from the school, all for free.

I decided to get both an authenticated diploma and Apostille and pending any mishaps, it should arrive next month.

I probably could have waited until next year to start getting these documents, but I have a need to do something each month so that it feels like I’m contributing to my dream of living abroad, in Japan.