How to apply to the Vulcanus in Japan program

Is it this season again? It seems to happen earlier every year… People end up on my blog after googling « vulcanus in Japan ». Hello! Would you like to read about my Japanese adventure? It’s all archived, starting in September 2007. Would you like to read my thoughts on the application process? Well here we go. I applied twice, in 2006 and in 2007, got in the second time. Keep in mind that this is based on my personal experience – refer to the official website for the actual procedure.

Tell me about the application process

Applying to Vulcanus in Japan is very much like applying for a job. Figure out what the goals of the program are, see if you answer some of these goals and make it very explicit in your file. Inversely, know what your goals are, see if the program answers them (I hope it does, or why would you be applying in the first place?!) and make it clear. Don’t be ashamed of your reasons to want to join, or even assume that they’re obvious. You’d be amazed at the diversity of motivations behind each application. (Personally, I was in it to marry a rich engineer, duh. I failed, though – I did find a man but I’m his sugar mama now).

Minutiae changes yearly, so read the website instructions carefully.
Don’t forget that you are, of course, allowed to add extra documents that might be relevant. In my case, I added 2 unrequested recommendation letters: one from my Japanese professor, and one from a former boss, at a job that involved heavy international duties. This way I had all 4 important aspects of my application covered: academics, language skills, corporate skills and international experience.

But OMG, what should I put in my application letter??

It's good that you're asking this question, as the application letter is probably the keystone to your file. It's also the document for which you have the greatest flexibility, so take advantage of that! Do it just the way you would for a job application! Ah, right, you’re a student and maybe you haven’t done too many of those yet. There is plenty of advice on the web and at your local library, but here are my personal tips. Your application letter, your whole file actually, should reflect three things:
- You fit the program requirements;
- You stand out from all the other applicants that fit the program requirements;
- It shows who you are in a truthful yet flattering manner. Don’t lie, invent or copy-paste some ideal letter – there is no such thing. If an application is not about you, it will show. If it’s all you, it will be coherent.

For me, the big thing was the international aspect – if you’ve read my blog a bit further this should be no surprise! This is what I was skilled at and this is what I wanted more of. And I showed it with all the tools I had. I got a recommendation letter from a previous job I held in Asia. I got a transcript from my semester in an American university. I demonstrated over and over in my application letter how it fitted my five year plan (disclaimer: I don’t have a five year plan.) When it came to listing my previous trips, I had to add extra pages.

Whatever you do, proofread! If you are not a native English speaker, have an English professor read it for you. I’ve seen some shameful application letters – how credible will you be if you can’t even be bothered to get an external opinion on your one and only chance to get in? More importantly, how will you ever get around in Japanese if English is hard for you?

Yeah, ok, but what did your file look like? Like, can you put your application letter online?

Honey, I won’t show it to you because I don’t want to break your heart. My application file was a little jewel. My transcripts were straight As and from prestigious schools. I had more international experience at 21 than many engineers ever will get. My resume was perfectly cut for the program, with all the right key words after all the right bullet points. When I put the final dot to my application letter, the earth shook, the angels wept, marketers worldwide cheered. Who ever said a double major in business was useless?

What kind of people are selected?

All kinds of people, actually. This is why there is no jackpot application letter. I was surprised by the diversity of profiles. I imagined meeting many more like-minded people – seasoned travelers who highly value international cooperation and adventure. This was true of some, but in fact, other participants had never left their country before. Some were Japan fanatics, others had no special affinities with the country. Some are total geeks and gurus of their field, others are total dilettantes (yeah ok that's mostly just me). Ages ranged from barely 21 (me) to late 20s. Level of studies ranged from bachelor to PhD. I believe that being too young and too low in your studies will work against you. For one thing, if you are under 20 when you start the program, you are a minor by Japanese law… The center and the host company have enough to worry about without having to check that you won’t drink alcohol or whether you’ll need parental authorizations in case of medical emergency.

What will happen once I send my file?

The selection process happens in two steps. First, you send your big file to Brussels, where it is reviewed, along with its 999 competitors, by the EU Japan Center staff and an independent consulting firm. They select both on absolute criteria (we want students who have good academic backgrounds, who can adapt to a foreign environment…) and relative ones (we want applicants that can fulfill the positions we have this year!) An average of 4 files are kept for each position, and if you are among the lucky few, you receive an e-mail. You have a few days to write another cover letter for your target company, and then a few months to wait in anguish. The second step is left entirely to the host companies. They receive all preselected files and their cover letters, and decide to keep one (or sometimes, zero). How they decide is a complete mystery. Maybe they compare the candidates’ skills with what their position requires them to do. Maybe they play darts on the applicants’ pictures. As I was really intrigued with this selection process that sounded a bit like a giant lottery, I asked my boss when I had the chance to meet him. His answer: “we were not impressed by your skills in mechanics, but we thought you looked friendly”. Gee, thanks…

Where can I read more about the whole thing?

Every year, the geekier applicants open a forum to gather the troops. These boards tend to die within days of their arrival in Japan, though. But they are still online and full with information.
Check out the 2007 boards and the 2009 ones. Check out the former participants' blogs - plenty of them are still up and runnin. Good luck!

Related posts:
Vulcanus in Japan, the blogroll
Japan for beginners
Funky adventures of the VinJ acceptance process[fr]
Back from the pre-departure meeting[fr] Continue



Don't thank me, thank Hovering Dog. Continue

Why do you make me cry, September sky?

English version after the jump

Ca ne fait même pas une semaine entière que l'automne est arrivé et pourtant déja: le ciel est sombre quand je me réveille (aaaargg), le raisin est moche au lieu d'être sucré, le fond de l'air est frais (d'aucun prétendent que j'ai trop d'imagination mais je jure que je soufflais de la fumée blanche, l'autre matin en arrivant au boulot). Mais pourquoi l'été a-t-il besoin de s'en aller si vite? J'aime l'automne quand il est là mais la transition est horrible. Vite, conjurons de quoi avoir envie d'être en Octobre:

Des litres de Lapsang Souchong - qui a besoin d'une cheminée quand on peut boire un thé qui sent le feu de bois?

Echarpes et pashminas.

Citrouilles, potimarron, courges et gâteaux qui sentent la noix et la canelle. Et de la soupe!

Une sieste dans un lit chauffé par quelqu'un d'autre. S'il te plait.

Des soirées dans un bar au nom elfique (qui celui là a effectivement une cheminée. Je pourrai enfin boire de la bière plutôt que du thé!)

Et, tout de même, un déménagement dans un endroit plus ensoleillé.

It hasn't even been autumn for a week, and still: the sky is dark when I wake up, it's harder to find good grapes and the air is getting chilly (people say I'm imagining things but I swear I blew the faintest of white clouds the other morning on my way to work). Argh! Why does the summer have to go away so fast!? I'm grasping at straws to find things I like about this change of season. I like autumn once it's fully here, but leaving summer is hard! So, quick, let's summon things to look forward to in October:

Lapsang Souchong by the litre - because tea that smells like wood fire is an excellent substitute for a fireplace.

Scarves and pashmina.

Pumpkin, pear, squash, walnuts and cakes that smell of cinnamon. And soup!

Naps in a bed warmed up by someone else, please!

Evenings with friends in bars with elvic names (that one has a fireplace, I'll switch tea for beer!)

And, yes, moving to a place with more sun.



Le dernier picnic de l'été

English version after the jump

Il y avait des choses à célébrer ce weekend.

Les premiers cours de fac de Xetra, qui se passionne pour les sciences du language, la neuroscience et le calcul matriciel (il parait qu'il y a un thème à sa licence!)

La lettre de l'école arrivée vendredi qui confirme validation de mon stage et de tous mes examens de dernière année, aelle MSc. La cérémonie de remise de diplômes est dans un mois. J'attends toujours des nouvelles du traiteur, saura-t-il cette année préparer un repas végétalien (remise des diplômes 2008=fail) ou devrai-je boire mon Champagne à jeun - ce qui est toujours une excellente chose à faire devant ses profs?!

L'école de Wally, qui elle est avec son temps, a mis en ligne les résultats de ses derniers examens: réussis. Joie!

Et puis il fallait aussi fêter le dernier beau weekend de l'été (le dernier tout court aussi). Parce que j'aime le soleil et que je dépéris entre 2 équinoxes, je profite de toute la lumière que je peux avoir. Lézard.

Alors nous avons ressorti la grande couverture en fausse peau de zèbre, quelques bols de mezze libanais (plus un guacamole intrus), une bouteille de champagne et de la lecture. Et nous avons trouvé un parc, et bu, et mangé, et lu, et mangé encore et pué l'ail. Au soleil!

Pourquoi pendrait-on des résolutions le 1er janvier plutôt que le 20 Septembre? Je promets de remplir l'année à venir de picnis, de soleil et de bulles.

Recettes en cliquant sur la suite!

We had some celebrating to do this weekend, in no specific order:

In mid September, Xetra had her first days as a university student – and discovered an immediate passion for language sciences, neuroscience and matrix calculus (she swears there’s a focus to her studies!)

A letter from school that came in the mail on Friday, confirming that I did pass all my exams, and that my last internship is considered valid – not a surprise, but good to know! I’m on my way to officially being an engineer, aelle, MSc. The MSc.² is for next year. The graduation ceremony will be held on October 17th and I’m still waiting to hear from the caterer. Can I get a vegan dinner or will I have to drink champagne on an empty stomach, which is always a good thing to do in from of your professors?

Wally’s university, being more up to date with modern technology, displayed his exam results online – and he too passed everything he needed. Hurray for my boyfriend the rocket scientist!

Last but not least, we needed to celebrate the last really nice weekend of this summer! You know how much I love the sun and how morose I can get between 2 equinoxes, so I get all the light I can as long as it’s possible.

So we packed the big zebra blanket, a bunch of homemade Lebanese mezzes (plus guacamole), a bottle of champagne and books. And we sat in a park, and drank, and ate, and read to each others, and ate some more and stank of garlic. In the sun.
I guess autumn equinox is as good a time as any for resolutions, so here we go: I want more picnics, sun and bubbles in my life.

Lebanese carrot salad:
5 big carrots, shredded,
The juice of a lemon,
The juice of an orange,
A tablespoon of orange blossom water,
A tablespoon of olive oil,
A garlic clove, crushed.

Lebanese tabouli:
A cup of semolina, cooked
2 big tomatoes, diced
2 cups of fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup of fresh mint, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
Juice of a lemon,
2 tablespoons of olive oil




Comme vous l'aurez judicieusement remarqué, je poste peu et toujours en France. Mon projet de départ pour la Corée a pris un sérieux coup dans l'aile.

As you may have noticed, I am still in France. My departure for Korea has been held back...

Acte 1, fin de l'année scolaire 2008-2009.
First act, end of the school year 2008-2009

Une boîte française qui exporte en Asie a l'intention d'ouvrir des comptoirs dans les pays concernés, et en priorité en Corée. Pour ce faire elle a besoin de quelqu'un exactement comme moi. So far so good. Je signe juste à temps pour rentrer bien comme il faut dans les cases de stage de fin d'études qui m'accorderont mon diplôme sans problèmes.

A French company that exports to Asia plans to open subsidiaries in a few relevant countries, including Korea. To do so, they need someone exactly like me. So far so good! I sign the contract just in time to fit nicely the school requirements and not face any troubles obtaining my diploma.

Acte 2. Eté 2009
Second act. Summer 2009

La demande de VIE d'une part et de visa d'autre part prend du temps. Pour l'un, parce que c'est l'administration française. Pour l'autre, parce que c'est l'administration coréenne couplée à notre partenaire local (appelons-le... Lee, c'est un bon nom coréen ça) qui traîne des pieds et aime bien trouver des excuses pour ne pas trop se fatiguer (oui il y a une bonne raison pour que la Corée soit une priorité stratégique hein.) Je passe l'été à attendre, téléphoner à l'aube, faire du secrétaire-jumping (tu sais, quand tu te fais promener de standard en standard avec les petites musiques d'attente qui vont bien et en mettant des heures à atteindre le bureau du mec que tu cherches pour enfin apprendre qu'il est sorti déjeuner et te faire raccrocher au nez avant d'avoir eu le temps d'obtenir le numéro de sa ligne directe), enchainer les emails et travailler depuis le bureau français. Je pars même en voyage d'affaires en Indonésie pour meubler un peu.

Signing up for an international french contract thingy on the one hand and for the correct visa on the other hand takes crazy time. Because the first one is handled by French civil servants. And because the second one is handled by Korean civil servant, and because our local partner drags his feet and likes to find plenty of excuses not to get the job done (there's a good reason they want to send someone else there asap). I spend the summer waiting around, calling at dawn, secretary-hopping (you know, when you get thrown from standard to standard with those lovely little hold musics and it takes you hours to reach the office of the right guy and hear that he's out for lunch and get hung up on, without having the chance to ask for his direct number), chain emailing and working from the French office. I even go on a business trip to Indonesia to kill time.

Acte 3, il y a une semaine.
Third act, a week ago

Mon stage approche à grands pas de sa fin. Parce que officiellement, je ne serai diplômée qu'en octobre, et qu'en attendant je suis stagiaire, avec le salaire, pardon la rémunération, je veux dire l'indemnité qui correspond, ahahah.

My internship agreement is getting dangerously close to its end. Yes, officially Iwon't graduate until October, and until then I'm still an intern, with the salary, I mean compensation that comes with it, ah-ah-ah.

Mon contrat, pardon ma convention de stage touche donc à sa fin, culminant par une discussion entre l'école, le boss et moi (système intéressant et beaucoup plus instructif pour tout le monde qu'une bête soutenance d'ailleurs). J'ai rédigé un rapport approximatif dans mon vol Jakarta-Amsterdam, puis dans le train jusqu'à Lille, puis le lendemain dans le train qui va jusqu'à Paris pour assister à la réunion de lancement de la promo de Septembre de tous les VIE. Mon billet est réservé, on y croit toujours. J'ai des listes et des cartons prêts à être remplis.

So my contract, I mean my internship agreement is about to end, and culminates with a discussion between school, the boss and I (interesting system by the way, that teaches a lot more to everyone than a one way presentation or a report someone may or may not read in a few months). I drafted a hasty report on my flight back from Jakarta to Amsterdam, and then on the train to Lille, and then the next day, on the train to Paris to attend the September VIE meetup. My plane ticket for Seoul is booked, fingers crossed, I have boxes ready to get filled.

Le boss arrive le jour de la non-soutenance avec une drôle de tête genre faut qu'on parle, surtout quand la discussion arrive à la fameuse question du plan quinquennal ("Quel est votre projet professionnel pour les cinq années à venir?") Il se trouve que notre brave ami Lee a pété les plombs, est tombé dans une dépression marinée dans le soju, a des dettes et ne se sent plus la force de me voir venir dans ses bureaux, d'ailleurs il a annulé ma demande de visa la semaine dernière. Formidable.

The boss has thsi weird "we should talk" look on his face on the day of the discussion, especially when reaching the 5-year-plan part of the report. It so happens that our friend Lee (not his real name but it could be) went sort of nuts, suffers from a soju infused depression, has tried to deal with debt by gambling and doesn't have the strength to host me in his office anymore, by the way he cancelled my visa application last week. Awesome.

Acte 4, en cours.
Fourth act... still running

Le départ est toujours d'actualité. Mais pas pour Septembre.

D'ailleurs, les billets Air France sont modifiables indéfiniments sans frais, ça tombe bien.

Sans aide locale, il va falloir se montrer un peu plus créatifs. On y travaille. Dans la brume. Wally ne sait plus où chercher une thèse, parce que ce serait franchement idiot qu'il soit à Pusan et moi pas. Woo!

The deal is not off. The job should still. But not riiiight now.

My plane ticket can be modified indefinitely, which is a good thing.

With no local parnter to rely on, we'll need to get creative. We're working on it. Wally has no idea of what to do since I don't know where I'll be. Would be silly for him to find a thesis position in Pusan if I end up at the other end of the country. Fantastic.

And now for someting completely different. Let's watch a cool video about fantastic travels and unfortunate musical remixes !

Found through my wonderful vegan pancake provider Amanda.


August business trip

I swear it was a business trip.

Be jealous, like they say on Myspace. Continue


Ahhhh... That was good

Hours of train. Lots of books shared with my love.

My grandparents' house, where I've spent all my childhood summers.

The best sleep I've gotten in months.

Fresh food, heaps of fresh food. Home grown potatoes. Tomatoes that ripen just under our window. Salads and soups and stews and stir fries and dips, and all with an extra pinch of fancy pepper.

Blue skies.

Bike rides.

Warm pine smell.

My feet in the water.

September started with a wonderful summer break.

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