Watching our two cats stalk a fly throughout the house is like a scene out of a low-budget Jurassic Park remake, down to the sudden jumps on furniture, jerking head motion and small guttural coordinating noises.

A lot less efficient, though.

If there was a modern retelling of the Sisyphean myth, it should involve folding large bedsheets with two overactive cats in the house.

They thought it defeated.

Its hideous shapeless mass: buried and gone forever. Its death the prelude to an everlasting era of warm happiness and sunny days.

But the beast was merely bidding its time and has finally returned.

Stronger than ever, steeped in the blood and hopes of the thousand brave men it has devoured whole, its bone-shivering ululating howls fill the space…

From the deepest, darkest, recesses of the Winter storage closet, the kotatsu is calling.

Out: laptop, dress shirts, research papers…

In: BBQ, swimsuit, sunscreen…

So long Sapporo, Hello Okinawa!

Vermont Academy

I spent most of last week in the heart of Vermont, speaking at a small highly-targeted bio conference, tangentially related to some long-forgotten PhD research of mine. The conference took place on the campus of some remote boarding school, empty of students during the Summer break.

Overall, the manageable number of attendees, circumscribed topic and complete absence of alternative for entertainment within a 30 mile radius, made for a convivial atmosphere and stimulating discussions.

Nevertheless, I spent a good deal of my time there feeling like the unfortunate hero of some weird time-travel story, living in secret fear that I might not be allowed to go home at the end of the week.

The overall Overlook Hotel meet The Prisoner vibe of the place may have helped. Jetlag may also have played a role. But mainly, it had to do with serious flashback to my own boarding school days, down to some spooky architectural similarities (not so surprising considering those were typically the type of Old World schools that a posh US “academy” would try to emulate). I had opted for the on-campus lodging option and was assigned a very typical dormitory room, complete with communal sinks and showers at the end of the hallway. Having to share the floor (though not my room) with other grown men long past their boarding school days and finding the bed made every afternoon when I’d get back to the room, only added a weird twist to the whole déjà vu experience.

I only started freaking out for real toward the second day: when, waking up from a sleep-dephased nap at 8 in the evening, I realised that, not only was the cafeteria hall the only option for food in a walkable radius, but the campus may have been the last square mile of US territory without a single vending machine on it. Missing the 6pm-to-7pm dinner service in that place meant going hungry until breakfast. If you’ve never known that feeling, you’ve probably never been to boarding school.

I carefully observed dinner times thereafter and, truth be told, had some lovely evenings sipping beers with colleagues in the school’s rec room (temporarily refurbished for use by legal-drinking adults)… But was still pretty relieved when they let me leave the grounds at the end of the week without special parental permission.

I am not sure what is the proper Summer equivalent term to ‘hibernation’, but I am fairly certain that is what our cats are currently attempting.

A long overdue primer on applying for a Monbusho. Hopefully just in time for this year’s application deadline.

What is a Monbusho scholarship?

Monbushō, short for Monbukagakushō (文部科学省), is the Japanese name of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It is also the metonymic name of the grad school scholarship distributed by said ministry to international students. In practice, unspecified mentions of “monbushō” will nearly always refer to the scholarship ((“MEXT” is the favoured English abbreviation when talking about the ministry)).

In a nutshell, the main qualities of Monbushō scholarships are:

  • You get to study and live in Japan for up to 3-4 years (5-6, if you apply for a Master).
  • You have a free-meal ticket to practically any faculty in any university in Japan: both prestigious national ones (Todai, Kyodai…) or expensive private ones (Keio, Waseda…).
  • In addition to your (potentially costly) tuition fees, the grant includes a stipend for living expenses ((constantly decreasing over the years, but still pretty decent for a scholarship)).
  • Beside a few conditions (being a foreigner and having a bachelor degree, mostly) and a lengthy application process, these scholarship come with very few strings attached: you are free to study anything you’d like, wherever you’d like (and can leave a lot of the decisions to after the application gets approved).

For more technical details, Google, Wikipedia and your nearest Japanese embassy are your friends.

What do you know about Monbushō scholarships?

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