Only a day ago I was frantically packing my bag, trying to think of things that I may or may not have forgotten to bring. It reminded me very much of my first day working, anxious and full of excitement over making a simple drink. In hindsight, just like many other things in life, it wasn't such a big deal. I realized that halfway in and my worries faded; I ended up replacing them with a hope that I would meet my soulmate on the flight. Anyways, our program doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, but how we prepare beforehand is quite important, so I wanted to share a few of the things I learned:
Packing: Pull out everything, then pack it. Don't try to do both at the same time (pack one thing at a time). This time I forgot this obvious tidbit and it made keeping track of things difficult. As for what to pack, that's best up to you. We will probably come up with a list of similar things, however if you really aren't sure, just google it!
Banking: Personally, I think travelling is nothing difficult as long as you have money. So make sure you can access your money on the other side of the world. One of the things I did was change my PIN number to 4-digits. Some machines won't let you enter more than 4, I remember experiencing this on an exchange during my undergrad. Another thing to do is try and use your cards at the airport, so that the bank knows you are travelling. Lastly, change your security options. If you're trying to do some online banking, you might be asked for a verification number...sent back to your home phone (if you use landline) or cell (that you can't access). Have that verification number sent to someone you trust and can communicate with. Otherwise, pay off everything you need to early!
Home: Cancel all your subscriptions, your phone plan, if you're away long enough you can temporarily uninsure the car. Wrap up loose ends: finish your paperwork, pay off those bills, clean up the, tell that person you've been interested in that you and your interest are away on vacation.
I'm only one day in, so the entirety of what I've missed hasn't hit me yet. I frantically sought out a place to purchase a data SIM card and adapter--a kind exchange student that I made friends with reminded me that the airport would be the best place to grab that. We all have to pass through it, there are English-speaking staff, and the entire industry is catered to travellers...makes sense. Fortunately, I need to return there tomorrow so I can do that.
I wish I did more language preparation, but what I did put in did pay off. I studied the first 5 chapters of Genki and subscribed to a website called WaniKani. It really helped my vocabulary, upon arriving at the airport, I was elated when I realized I recognized quite a few of the words. Don't fret though, many of the things here in Hokkaido are labelled both in Japanese and English. While the copious amounts of Japanese text might make you feel like you're missing out on something, much of the text is a romanized form of what has been written in English (i.e. when you read the Japanese, it'll sound like English read with a Japanese accent).
Sapporo seems like a wonderful place. So far, I've spent 80% of my time away from home in a metal box 30,000 feet above the ground or inside a unventilated, small room. However, I took a few walks and it actually reminded me very much of Calgary. We've actually a similar population, they're sitting at almost 2 million, with more people/km2. It's quiet and peaceful, it doesn't give off the bustle of a metropolis, like Tokyo, or a small town vibe. It's just right.
The humidity surprised me, I completely forgot about it. Looking outside these past two days, it's been overcast. Though I checked the weather and knew we'd be in the mid-10s to low-20s, I realized I didn't know how it feels. Seeing that overcast weather, I automatically dressed for Calgary overcast, which was too much.
I'm looking forward to meeting my homestay family as well as the HUE staff and students. I'll be working my hardest to break down that language barrier throughout this exchange. I'm sure many of the other students will mention what they've noticed in Japan that is different/similar/nice etc. I think much of it will overlap. I've been here a few times, but its only this time that I noticed how many older folks are working--and when we examine the demographic of the entire country, it makes a lot of sense.
Anyways, thank you for reading. I am currently preparing to introduce myself to my homestay family. They sent me an email a few weeks after my introductory email, apologizing because they weren't "too good at English". Man, that made me worried because my Japanese is certainly not up to par.
P.S. I did meet my soulmate on the plane. Her name is Nausea.