Things You Should Do Sooner Than I Did: A Pre-Departure Post

Lauren Fellows
April 1, 2013

Although right now I’m in Japan; I really should’ve written this post sooner (though there were some things I wouldn’t have known if I’d written this before I left)

My experience preparing for this trip is not a stellar example of what someone should do if they too are preparing to study abroad in Tokyo. So I will write this post not about what I did do, but about what I did not do, in the hopes that future generations will learn from my mistakes.

Here’s what I didn’t do, but you should:

  • Read the IES Tokyo handbook the day you get it. Highlight everything remotely important. Read it again weekly. Memorize it. Be the IES handbook. Put all important dates on your calendar, and make sure your family knows what they are too. This way you will know absolutely everything you need to do, and when. The handbook contains important information such as how many bags to pack and what to do about a cell phone. Read it early and often. Don’t just read it the week before you have to leave.
  • Take care of your visa as soon as IES mails you the COE. Seriously. Do it. And if you don’t live reasonable driving distance from your consulate, scan all your important documents before mailing off the real ones. Now I happened to get mine done on time and it wasn’t hugely stressful but since I live a good hour away from the consulate and can’t drive myself it was kind of an ordeal to get there and back.
  • If your cell phone/smartphone model is compatible with international networks (like mine is) and you decide that’s the phone you wanna use, find out what to do to make it work over there months in advance. Don’t just expect that the manufacturer will unlock your phone at the drop of a hat three days before you leave. It could take weeks to get them to do it for you, if at all.
  • But I’ve heard that getting a Japanese sim card is difficult and you can easily rent a phone here for free through IES so really why bother
  • Though if you’re thinking about an international plan for your phone, that’s also a way to go; just get working on that months in advance
  • If you start or are thinking of taking any new medications, for any reason, make sure they do what you started taking them for, or at least start taking them well enough in advance that your body isn’t completely thrown off by them for the first two months of the program. I am referring in particular to birth control but I’m sure there are other medications with unpleasant initial side effects.
  • Make sure you will be all right financially over there. If you start a separate “travel” debit card to prevent fraud or whatever try not to do that four days before you leave because your new debit card might not reach you in time. Make sure your bank works in Japan or that you at least have some way to get cash over there. Travelers’ Checks are an excellent invention that I completely forgot to get. Whoops. (though they’re not widely used in Japan apparently)
  • Get any necessary plug adapters. Japanese outlets are pretty similar to the US’s in terms of structure and voltage, but if any of your male plugs have three prongs you will be unhappy.
  • Don’t decide to change your entire wardrobe the week before you leave. If you usually dress like a schmuck and you want to try dressing a little neater for Japan, youuuu should start working on that the January before you leave, not the week before you leave
  • Pack as light as possible; there are a lot of things (like shampoo and notebooks) you can probably just buy while you’re there. Your back will thank me later
  • Spend time with the people you want to spend time with. Make plans with them early. Don’t just assume you’ll get around to it sometime because you have three glorious months of freedom before the program starts.
  • If an International Student ID card is something that appeals to you (you could use it to get discounts, potentially) then apply for one as early as you can. That’s another thing that didn’t occur to me to do until 3PM the day before
  • Practice numbers!! You would not believe how often you actually need to use them in daily conversation. Numbers are something I never bothered really learning and now it’s biting me in the butt
  • Keep practicing Japanese too seriously it’s kind of scary how rusty you get during a three-month break. If you don’t have anyone to practice with/on, watching anime or Japanese dramas is also a good way to practice, at least for listening. Challenge mode: turn off the subtitles!


Here are some things I *did* do which I think you should do too:

  • Buy gifts for your host family, if you have one. You my not know your housing situation until just weeks before you leave, so make a list of what you would potentially get if you stay with a host family. Souvenirs representing your town or state make great gifts.
  • Also making a scrapbook about yourself makes a great host family gift, and it can be a good way to practice your Japanese before you leave
  • Leave room in your suitcase(s), or pack an empty one. IES suggests packing two bags, one for orientation week and one to be sent to your housing. If you plan on buying a lot of things while you’re here, be sure you’ll have the space to take it all back
  • Get a japanese phrasebook, even if you’ve studied Japanese for years. A lot of it may be things you know already but sometimes it has useful things like what to say in an emergency, how to talk about health issues, and a menu decoder. Mine also has a teeny dictionary in the back which is great for times when you don’t know the word for some simple, everyday thing.

Lauren Fellows

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Lauren Fellows is a Japanese major, geology minor studying at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. She hails from Boulder, Colorado, and is glad to be going to school in a place with both mountains and a water feature (the weather, however, leaves something to be desired). Lauren is a huge dork who loves drawing, watching anime, writing stories, and taking pictures of toys when she isn&rsquo;t spending long hours training to beat the Elite Four in the latest Pokémon game. She&rsquo;s ventured to a few places outside the United States, most notably France and Israel, but this is her first time in Japan and she is SUPER EXCITED. While in Japan she plans to make friends from near and far, experience anime culture in its natural habitat, and explore an urban jungle unlike anywhere she&#39;s ever been before. The adventure of a lifetime is just over the horizon!</span></p>

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