Since it’s just about that time of year again(!), I’d like to talk for a little bit about the application process. Actually, I’d *like* to talk for hours about it, because the whole ordeal was so head-against-wall-bangingly frustrating, I don’t want to downplay its effect on my life.
Maybe the worst part of it was that I couldn’t complain about it on here. I was under the impression that if I breathed a word of my plan to anyone who wasn’t absolutely necessary, I would automatically jinx myself and not get in. Unfortunately, my mother is the opposite of this, and was practically already sending packages addressed only to “Lauren, Japan.” She told everyone at school. She won an award for her years of volunteer work, and she talked about me going to Japan in her interview. Looking back, I’m of course flattered by how proud she was of me, but at the time, I was pulling hair out by the fistfuls. (fists full?)
“Do you have any idea how random this process is?! The Japanese government just flings a pile of applications in the air, and whoever’s app they skewer with a katana blade gets in. How am I going to break it to Doc Jenkins and elderly Mrs. Wetherbee if I don’t make the cut? I’LL BE THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SCHOOL!”
Actually, the application process awoke a dozing obsessive-compulsive disorder that was seldom discernible from my other psychoses. By the end of it, I actually requested Justin to come to FedEx with me so that he could verify for me for the next week that, yes, I had written the address correctly and, yes, I had put all the papers in the envelope. And I still didn’t believe him.
The application process consists of a few steps.
The paper application is 10 or so pages of hard facts (address, age, etc.) and terrifyingly-easy-to-mess-up free answer questions.
For example, “Is anyone going to accompany you to Japan? Yes/No/Not applicable.” Okay, so I *think* it’s no. But maybe it’s not applicable. But maybe if I put not applicable, they’ll think I have no friends, and who wants to have someone with no friends teach English in Japan? No one, that’s who.
Okay, next question. “Are your children going to accompany you? Yes/No.” Hey, wait! Where’s not applicable now? I don’t even have a space to write that I don’t have children. If I check “no,” it looks like I’m having children and abandoning them. This is not going well.
Then there’s your placement preferences. Everyone asks for Tokyo and no one gets it. But should I try for Osaka or Kyoto just to show I want a biggish city? Or should I put “no preference,” so I look flexible? Or is “no preference” flaky? And on the off-chance that I make it in, I’ll sure wish I put a preference if I get placed out in a rice paddy.
There’s an essay section, which I didn’t really mind too much. I likey the pretty words, so I wasn’t too put off by that part. I had Melissa look it over, and she wowed me with her English Mastery by mapping out complex flow charts and equations to prove how by eliminating the word “that” or “which,” I make myself sound 74% smarter. And here I just thought she went to NYU because she liked Keri Russell.
Probably the most frustrating part was the personal recommendations. One was my illustrious film professor who, although he changed my life, taught me half of what I know about writing, and who gave me the confidence to make the move to LA, I hadn’t spoken to him in five years. Luckily, he’s just one of those characters who put my guilt to rest and assured me that cold-calling someone for a huge favor years after parting ways “is how everyone does it.”
My other recommendation was from my friend and director from Theater Camp. I found it highly amusing, too, that the program required the recommendation to be on “Company Stationery,” and although Camp is too small to have its own stationery, the person in charge of designing it for anyone else would be…me! So I quickly whipped up an awesome design and sent it to her to return to me.
The ordeal was frustrating, though, because the directions to the recommenders were so circuitous and unclear, *I* was having trouble understanding them. Make three copies of your recommendation on the stationery, sign a printed pdf and make 2 copies of that. Sign the bottom of your recommendations. Collate your 2 piles of 3 copies each. Whatever you do, DON’T use staples.
Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound that hard to YOU, but I don’t feel comfortable with my fate in others’ hands. No offense to them, of course. At least I tried not to offend them…until I sent them each a super condescending checklist including everything they should do, every fact about me ever, and what to do after they send it (“Have a beer/ice tea”).
When I had it all in my hands, I checked, double checked, and had three other people check over it for me. No one found a mistake. You think I was overly cautious? One week after I sent it, I found a mistake.
It was a small typo, and it’s technically corrected by a paper I had attached, but I was so mad at myself for letting it slip past me. I guess the attached paper answered any questions anyone had, but the program is notorious for chucking papers with the smallest error just due to the sheer number of applicants. I guess I got lucky.
It was such a relief to have those papers out of my hands, though. But keep in mind that I mailed them out in mid/late October and found out about my acceptance in (wait for it) April! So the relief was slight, and I spent the next six months walking on eggshells and keeping a secret I so badly wanted to talk about and prepare for.

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