Monday, 30 January 2012

Handing in the Pledge

Today, I made a trip down to the embassy to hand in the signed Pledge and a photocopy of the passport. The Pledge is basically a one page agreement that I have to sign, stating certain standards that the scholarship awardees have to uphold. If you're wondering what it looks like, here's a picture:
The terms and conditions are actually really reasonable, and I felt so happy when I handed it in. And when I handed in the documents today, I managed to speak with Ms Chiang, who liaised most of the time (at least I think it's her!). So now, I have confirmation: rent is not paid by MEXT, it's to be paid out of your monthly allowance (123 000 yen/month for me). But for Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (TUFS) at least, a single room costs about 17700 a month, excluding water and electricity bills, which is really cheap for Tokyo. If you're wondering, they have a monthly average/estimate of costs for students here (scroll down to "What are monthly living costs?" for a breakdown).

 Plus, I found out that this year, only 5 students were award the scholarship. That's down from 7 last year and 14 the year before if I remember correctly. When I learnt the news, I realised how much it is by God's grace. I'm not sure the number of applicants, but in the exam round, there were more than 10 of us for the Humanities section alone, not including the the Science applicants. But on the bright side, there are three of us going to TUFS together, so I can't wait to meet them!

You know, it's really funny. Whenever I walk down Nassim Road to get to the embassy, the greenery reminds me of Japan (sorry, I forgot to take a photo, and I can't find one on the web). Or maybe it's just the mood I'm in, knowing that I'm going to the Japanese Embassy. And after my trip in Secondary 3, I cannot listen to two songs: Tattoo by Jordin Sparks and 言葉より大切な物 (kotoba yori taisetsu na mono) by 嵐 (arashi) without being reminded of the trip. That's because my mp3 was already breaking down at that time, so I only listened to two songs during the trip. But that's enough for me, because now, the memories are stuck to the songs. So now, whenever I go to the embassy, I make it a point to listen to those two songs.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I'm going to Japan! (With the Monbukagakusho Undergraduate Scholarship)


But before that, I'm so excited! And that's not because I went to the zoo today (but that was great too). No, it's because the letter that I've been waiting months for has finally arrived today:


Although I got an acceptance email way back in December, it's still very nice to have actual paper in my hands. Now, my sisters (and parents and extended family) can't keep asking me if it's a hoax because I have an official letter(: Now, I just need to get them to stop making those rather insensitive coments about whether I'm going to turn Japanese (the hidden subtext being that I'll betray my race).

Now, I realise that there aren't many posts on the Monbukagakusho (MEXT) Undergraduate Scholarship process, and also for my rather-short-term memory, I think it'll be really helpful to write down what I went through.

Stage One: Submitting Documents

This should theoretically be the easiest stage. But, since I didn't have many of the documents, I spend a fair bit of time worrying. That's because I applied before I graduated from school, which meant I didn't have any documents about my final scores and whatnot. All I had was a letter from the school saying that I was "expected" to graduate.

And even that letter was trouble. The first time it was written, they referred to me as "he". And keeping in mind that it typically needs three working days to be written, I was very near panic-mode. All I can say is THANK YOU FRONT OFFICE STAFF. Especially for bending the three day rule for me.

Later on, I heard that some candidates (who made it pass the Document Screening), that they made some mistakes, like choosing Private Universities for direct placement. If nothing changes, MEXT only allows you to apply for public universities. I'm a very cautious person, so I'd rather make no mistakes in the documents, in case it reflects badly on you.

Lesson learned: Make sure you have plenty of time to finish and submit the right documents.

Stage two: Examinations

For the humanities side, I had to take three exams in English, Maths and Japanese. (Did I mention that I'll be studying Business Administration?). The main difficulty with this stage is the lack of time. If I remember correctly, I had about a week to prepare for this. So, I ended up doing past year papers every night.

If English is your native language, the English paper shouldn't be a problem for you. And it probably won't be a problem for many of the candidates. In fact, I think the scores should be the same.

Maths on the other hand, was tough. Even though I take Higher Level Maths (Not that I'm very good in it, since I only scored a 6 in IB), it was still really really hard. I took a few problems to several maths teachers (all of them brilliant) and even they had trouble solving them. But thankfully, I managed to finish more of the questions, although I heard there were candidates who handed in blank sheets.

Finally Japanese, is pretty hard to cram in a week. All I can say is to study regularly, which is why I was so thankful that I've been taking regular lessons. It's supposed to be very important, so some basic knowledge of kana and kanji is essential.

Stage Three: Interview

Again, I had about one week's notice for the interview dates, so you should arrange for that day to be free as early as possible (they do give out a schedule). Other than that, there are only two things:

1. Be Honest
2. Have someone practice your answers with you. I am so blessed to have my Business and Management teacher, who spent the time to give me interview questions so that I wouldn't ramble (too much) at the actual interview. Note however, this doesn't contradict number 1. Thinking about and Practicing explaining your motivations and background does not mean that you make up stories to tell the interviewers.

[EDIT] I've been getting so many questions about the interview, so rather than make another post and have you guys click and click and click (although it would make the blog stats look good), here's what else I can remember after two years:

a. The interview won't be as bad as you think. Honest. The questions aren't tricky, they're the normal kind - "Why do you want to study ______?", "Why do you want to study in Japan?", "What do you plan to do after graduating?". Of course, they may vary the questions from year to year, but it should stay roughly the same.

b. Yes, the interview is very important. It's the last stage of the embassy selections, so do your best.

c. This is just a recommendation  but I think it would make a good impression if you went for the interview either in a suit, or your school's formal uniform. If in doubt (perhaps where you live, everyone dresses in a suit or something for interviews), ask a teacher (I asked my business teacher, who also coached me).

Stage Four: Medical Tests

If I learnt anything from the interview process, it was that the Japanese are efficient people, so like the other stages, I had about a week. This time, things like blood tests and X-rays were needed, so if you can, pay extra to get the results ASAP. It really helps if your doctor writes a note to the technicians there (if you go to outside facilities) to explain why, because they might have policies on that. Of course, tell your doctor the deadline for submission, so he knows why you're rushing him.

This might be a good time to mention that I hand-delivered all documents to the embassy. Although the Singapore Postal system is very effective, I still feel safer knowing when the documents arrive at the embassy, and of course, knowing that they have arrived!

Stage Five: Waiting

This is the most difficult part, because the waiting is the longest. Keep calm and have hope.

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