Despite disaster, Japanese campus remains safe
BY CARLOS RESTREPO
(Webster Groves, March 15, 2011) Webster University’s study abroad partner institution in Japan, the Kensai institute, located in the city of Osaka, was not affected by last Friday’s earthquake, said Kim McGrath, assistant director of
the study abroad office.
“My first reaction was to make sure that the Kansai region was unaffected,” said McGrath, who serves as the advisor for students wishing to go to Japan. “I first looked at the maps of the earthquake and tsunami and where it had hit and learned that the city of Osaka and the region of Kansai were unaffected. They were in fact outside of the moderately affected zone.”
McGrath said there are currently three students attending the institute in Japan. The students, whos McGrath could not reveal, were enjoying a long winter break in accordance to the Japanese academic schedule. McGrath said she immediately tried to get in touch with them.
“One of them was in St. Louis, so I knew he was fine,” McGrath said. “I had two other students who I wasn’t sure what the travel plans were for the break.”
Eventually she was able to get in touch with the rest of the students who were not in any danger.
McGrath said it is too soon to determine the full effects of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which, according to the U.S. Geological Service, is the most powerfuL to ever hit Japan.
The next group of students leaving to study in Japan will not arrive in the country until September. McGrath said the country should see some recovery by then.
As with any disaster or political unrest in a foreign country, McGrath said she advises students to remain aware and informed.
“Although there is no danger to students traveling, they should be aware that people they meet and students they are in class with may have someone who is really traumatically affected by this,” McGrath said.
Cory Schmidt, senior management major and Japanese minor, will be going to Japan this summer.
Thanks to a project-grant Schmidt and five other students were awarded, he will be able to travel to Kansai.
The grant pays for Schmidt and his partners to research Japanese culture. Since the earthquake and tsunami happened, however, Schmidt said there may be a different approach to the study.
“I am personally thinking, ‘How would I feel going over there, doing this research and acting like nothing happened?” Schmidt said. “I would much rather somehow contact the grant firm and say, ‘Hey, can we take the money that we used for this grant to help people out? Could we go for those three weeks and help instead of doing our research?”
McGrath said even tragedies like these can sometimes provide a learning opportunity for students studying overseas.
“It’s an expected part of the study abroad experience,” Schmidt said. “Every piece of studying abroad is a learning experience. With any kind of trauma and any kind of tragedy there is always something that can be learned from that.”
Schmidt is not the only one at Webster wanting to help those in need in Japan.
Suzuyo Rust, adjunct Japanese professor, said her students have been asking her how they can help those in need in Japan.
“The students are worried because some of them went to Japan and lived there,” said Rust, who is originally from Kyushu, about 600 miles from Tokyo. “They have friends over there they cannot reach. Students want to go there this summer and help.”
Rust said her family was OK, and she too will return to Japan this summer. She said she had been in Japan when other earthquakes happened, but she had never seen such destruction.
“This is much bigger,” Rust said. “It’s like a war zone.”
Teacher assistant Azusa Kojima, from Shizuoka, Japan, said she got in contact with her family and they were OK, but she had no idea of the fate of her friends in Tokyo.
“I just couldn’t believe what happened in Japan. It was very shocking,” Kojima said. “I didn’t accept it when it happened. I have some friends in Tokyo who were affected by the earthquake and I am not very sure how they are.”