Yep. Japan. (Heads up – this post is just a wall of text)
I’ve done a lot of moving in my life. Since making my way from Maryland to California 15 years ago, I’ve moved within California 11 times. That’s enough to make moving pretty normal to me now. Of course, this will be the biggest one so far. Not just because it’s a different country, but because I’m moving to…..go back to school! Why? Glad you asked.
Getting off my butt
I never finished college for a bunch of reasons – lack of motivation, disdain for the higher education system, not being able to settle on a career. I decided I’d just try to develop a successful career without a degree. To a point, you could say I accomplished that. I had a low-stress, flexible job in IT that paid well. But as I got older, I found that I was trying to justify to myself more and more why I wasn’t doing something bigger…more challenging…more fulfilling.
I made excuses and used my life circumstances to fend off any reason to try harder. Then last year, a lot of those circumstances went away (read: I got dumped, lol). I realized I’d lost myself in the relationship, and over the next several months the desire to do something different got stronger and stronger. My whole career has been in IT support, but I didn’t want to support anymore. I wanted to do. The next step was figuring out what to do.
Finding a path
So many things interest me, and I’ve never been able to make a conscious career choice. I’ve been in the IT world since I was a teenager and just never left. This time, I was at least able to narrow things down using a simple idea: change the world. That’s simple, right? But seriously, the goal was to find something that would do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.
I let tech philanthropists guide me at the start, mainly reading about the efforts of Bill Gates and Elon Musk to make the world better now and in the future. There was still so much to consider. On one hand, I could work on things that help now – food/water security, disease and sanitation, human rights, access to education. Or I could go with things that help further in the future like space exploration or environmental sustainability.
My personal interests had a strong lean towards space exploration, but I struggled with the desire to have an impact sooner. I wanted the best of both worlds, and at some point in the process, I figured out what ties them together….energy. Whether it was working on new energy technology or improving existing technology, I decided energy was the best way to make an impact both now and later. And if I could eventually start my own company that, say, tied working on accessible energy that also had astronautical applications?! That’s dream city right there.
Choosing a vehicle
At the same time I was figuring out my path, I was trying to figure out the best ways to get there. After many hours of research and seeking advice from others, the bottom line seemed to be: learn to program. It made sense. Software engineers have been in high demand in basically every industry for a while now. And as cool as it would be to specialize in something like chemical, nuclear, or aerospace engineering, they’d be less flexible.
Initially, I considered learning on my own. Luckily, one of my best friends happens to have a Ph.D in Computer Science and was an amazing resource. While I could probably learn to code without too much difficulty, I wouldn’t have the theoretical background of how the code worked. Despite almost choosing CompSci as a major out of high school, I never realized that it’s basically a math degree that focuses on the maths of computing. Getting a CS degree would be the perfect route to learn to code, plus start on the math I’d surely need if I wanted to dive deeper into energy, astronautics, etc.
Uhh, so Japan?
Oh, right. So, I assumed I’d just keep working and get a degree online like most adult learners do these days. But while looking at schools, someone or something sparked me to look at international universities, and I stumbled on the University of Aizu – a college in Japan located in a small city 3 hours north of Tokyo. They have a program taught completely in English that offers a 4 year dual-degree path (bachelors and masters) for just under $25k USD all-in. They also have a space informatics research center that’s worked with JAXA (Japanese NASA), AND an entrepreneurship program. I’ve wanted to experience living abroad for a while now, and paired with my fondness for the country and its culture, plus good friends in Tokyo, the opportunity seemed to scream my name.
I decided to go for it. Applications for the full program required recent SAT or ACT scores, and apparently the practice SAT I took 19 years ago doesn’t count. The pandemic closed all testing centers, but I was able to apply as a non-degree student to start taking classes this Fall. I’ve since taken the ACT (an odd experience in your 30s), and my scores weren’t too shabby, so applying for the full program next year will hopefully just be a formality.
How’s this all gonna work?
Most questions I’ve gotten are about money, Max, and me.
Money – I spent a ton of time figuring out the best way to handle the financial aspect of this whole thing. The university isn’t eligible for US-based student loan programs, and I’m not eligible for Japanese loans. I figured I’d work my way through, but a friend put the idea in my head that if there were any good way to avoid working while in school, it’d do wonders for the process. I took it to heart and eventually made the decision to borrow from future Nicholai. So, yeah, I’m gonna survive off both regular savings and, when the time comes, (fiscally conservative people look away) I’ll pull from retirement. Thankfully, the cost of living where I’ll be is quite inexpensive compared to California, so whatever I end up pulling won’t put that big of a dent in my IRA. And who knows – maybe I find an internship or two along the way.
Max – For dogs to be allowed in Japan from the U.S., they need a clean, 6-month old rabies titer test. There was no way to make that happen in time for him to come with me right away, plus he failed his first test (his body hadn’t generated enough antibodies yet), so that was another time setback. For now, he’s gonna stay with friends in California, and I’ll come get him during one of my school breaks next year.
Me – Alright, so real talk. We all have our shit – my main issue is being codependent. Basically, I rely way too much on others for acceptance and approval, and I judge myself based on how “good“ I think I look through other people’s eyes. It’s at least 50% of the reason my last relationship ended. Realizing and working on this over the the past year, I’ve also been finding out how good being alone is for my psyche. It’s funny – people ask if this move is scary, and I’ve usually responded with something like “A little, but it’s a good scary.” But that’s not even true. It’s not scary at all. I couldn’t be looking forward to this more. I will miss the hell out of my friends and family, but I can’t wait to have nothing to do except bettering and getting to know myself more.
In my 2 extra months in the states, I’d been hopping between coasts, mostly staying with a friend in Santa Monica, but also visiting family in Maryland and New York. I made impromptu hiking trips to the Adirondacks and Tahoe National Forest (with Max!), so I hope to post about those soon, too.
I quit my job at the end of August, thinking that by now I would’ve been swimming in sushi for the past 2 months. What a joke that was. Japan has been on tight lockdown, and new student visa applications ended up being on hold until October 1st. Between jockeying for consulate appointments, having to renew my passport, and other logistical hurdles, the process has been quite the debacle. I finally got it all sorted out and am actually about to publish this article from the plane on my way to Tokyo. 🙂
Wish me luck, and please come visit me in Japan, k thanks.