Study Abroad starts at home!

I haven’t left yet, but I thought it would be good to write about some of the issues I faced getting all of my stuff together in preparation for my Study Abroad experience.

I’m slated to go to the Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, which is located in Beppu, a city in the Oita Prefecture, on the island of Kyushu, in Japan. Orientation for the school will commence on the 27th of March, and the actual semester will start on the 1st of April and will go on till the 3rd of August.

The location of Ritsumeikan APU in Japan

My first issue I faced was not understanding how tight the deadlines are for transfer students. If you’re a student that started at SDSU, this might not apply to you. As a transfer student though, I was accepted around March of 2019 and chose August 2nd as my orientation day. There was a transfer student summit I attended earlier which mentioned the program, but the orientation is where I first heard the details in full.

With everything else on the table and the anxiety of finally starting my university life, I’ll admit I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have and may have missed a mention that 2020 Spring applications were due by the middle of September. I wished there was a bigger push on getting this knowledge out during the orientation.

Imagine my surprise when I finally was able to make it to the Study Abroad Office to find out that I had less than 10 days to get the application process done. To add to that, I was made aware at that moment that I needed to be nominated by a professor.

Lot 9 and 12 are the best parking spots for the office, FYI.

This is the first time that “network with your professors” lesson finally reared its ugly head at me. “Network with your professors!” I’m in the school of business, I had no intentions of doing research or getting nominated to move on a MBA. “This doesn’t pertain to me at all,” I had said to myself with a chuckle until this nomination section hit me like a broad side of a barn.

Thankfully, I had two really nice professors whom I remembered to be really friendly. I fired off emails and they both responded within a day and gave me their blessing to use their email as my reference in the Study Abroad application.

Once you get your application in, you’ll be nominated. At this phase you’ll be in a pool with all other applicants for the programs, and the professors will chose who they’ll commit to the programs. If you’re applying to a highly competitive program, there is a chance you may have to move to your second choice.

Once you’re officially nominated, you decide if you want to commit to the program or decline from the program. You have a deadline which depends on the school you’re going to. Be sure to talk to your Study Abroad advisor if anything comes up! Real life happens and both the staff at the Study Abroad office and the staff at your host university understand.

Next up is the second phase of the application, which consist of 27 requirements. You need to do various quizzes that show you learned the knowledge from the slideshows, and upload a handful of documents.

So many that they couldn’t fit on my screen without zooming out!

The training with the quizzes took me about 1-2 hours personally, so set aside some more time if that isn’t your thing. The last step which I haven’t done yet, which is uploading your itinerary. The school even writes that they don’t expect the flights to be arranged till quite late into the process, as many students tend to be required to get a visa, and this can take a while depending on the country you’re going to and your citizenship status. The visa process in my case is pending the Certificate of Endorsement which is on its way to SDSU. I’ll be writing about that portion of the journey in the next entry.

If you’re applying to Ritsumeikan APU, one of the steps which caused me issues was paying for lodging at the school. I was hoping to pay it with a credit card and be done with it, but the school required a wire transfer of all things. This is common in Japan for large transactions. I needed to go to my bank and ended up with a clerk who also never did a wire transfer to Japan before, so we had an adventure together and finally managed to send it. Once they confirmed the transaction a few days later, they put in for my Certificate of Endorsement mentioned in the previous paragraph. I was told it’d take approximately 5-7 weeks for the certificate. My application was sent in around December 13th, and I received confirmation that Ritsumeikan got my certificate on January 22nd, so it indeed took about 6 weeks to get my certificate.

I was finally able to arrange a voyage to the Japanese Consulate on the 7th of February to complete the Visa process. I’ll write about this process and more in the next entry.

Here are the main issues I had during this phase of the process.

  • Finding the program I can apply to.

There is a lot of information to process when you use the Aztecs Abroad database to search for a program. One thing that helps is searching for the actual main webpage of your school. In my case the Fowler School of Business has a tab for their Study Abroad opportunities.

If you’re also a fellow Business student, check it out here:

At first I just used the database and found the Sophia University in Tokyo and thought about applying to that. When I went to the Study Abroad office I found out that the program was only available for the International Business Major and was directed to the Ritsumeikan program instead.

  • The “SDSU Study Abroad Academic Approval” form

This form is also a part of the requirements of doing a study abroad. You look at the classes that SDSU and the host university went over and agreed would be transferable as credits to SDSU. You need to maintain at least full time status by SDSU standards (12 credits), but your school may have stricter requirements in which case the stricter one applies! Ritsumeikan APU requires all students to take 14 credits of classes, and their classes are 2 credits each so I’m diving into 7 classes!

The Fowler College of Business side of the house was wonderful in regards to this form. They had a few dedicated time slots set aside for study abroad students so I could actually make an appointment to go over the form. The business school is willing to accept the 2 credit classes as SDSU classes and adjust the total amount of business credits I need to graduate as a result.

On the other hand, the general advising at SDSU was not as wonderful as I’d hoped it’d be. It’s walk-in only, and they only had one advisor available that day for the students who need to get this form signed to move on in their study abroad process. You don’t even draw a number, and hand a slip to a TA who stacks it on a desk as they manually call out the students and fumble through the list. The first day I went at around 2pm, which was three hours prior to my 5 p.m. evening class. They were no longer taking walk ins, and there were no appointments available. Okay, so the next day I went around 1 pm., six hours prior to my 7 p.m. night class. That still turned out to be too late, so I spent time in the library until my class. The third day I went at 9am when they opened, a full 9 hours prior to my 6pm class. Only then was I able to get my name in the queue, and unfortunately, there’s no digital queue management. If you step out of the office to try to get something done and have a wrong guess about how long it takes to get to you, you might have to try again. In fear of that I sat in the office for about 6 hours when I was finally able to speak to the advisor at 3pm. When I finally was able to speak to the advisor she let me know that unlike the Fowler School of Business SDSU itself would not take the 2 credit class and wanted 4 credits done in the elective category. So I would have to take 2 electives in the same “category” so that I’d have a total of 4 credits so that it’d count as a single SDSU class in the category. So remember that if you’re a transfer student looking to do Study Abroad and are doing night classes because you have something during the day, you’ll likely need to take the day off to get this form signed.

Now what could be done to improve that experience? In my opinion…

1. Automated queue at general advising.
There are plenty of applications the school could get their hands on. Something similar to the Yelp check in would help greatly. Be able to see how far you on in the queue as you step out and get stuff done on campus. Open your phone and see that you’re 5th on the queue and now you can start making your way back to the office.

2. Limited appointment slots for study abroad general advising.
If the last hour of the day could be four 15 minute blocks for study abroad advising I would have booked a time and it would have been that much easier.

3. Ditch the form.
The list of approved classes are already published per school. Just add an extra step to the Study Abroad application where students can digitally sign a waiver claiming that we know which classes are approved, and change the form to an optional request form for classes that aren’t yet approved but they want to take.

Hopefully that process will be smoother when it’s your turn to go study abroad.

Up next, getting the visa, preparing for and conducting my travel. Thanks for reading!

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