Natural disasters affect students studying in Japan

By Katherine Schotz

Contributing Writer

All of the University students who were in Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit on Friday, March 21 are safe. The crisis management team and the mechanisms in place worked to contact the students immediately after being impacted by the disaster that hit Japan. Due to good communication, University officials were able to contact students and provide aid to them when necessary.

“We were very well prepared,” said Stephen Appiah-Padi, Director of International Education. “In every situation things might come up for the first time, but as far as humanly possible we have been very much together.”

There were two University students studying abroad in Kyoto, Japan and one student who is home in Sendai, Japan which is 65 miles away from the nuclear reactor that melted down. In addition, there is one student currently on campus who is from Japan along with many other Japanese-American students who were either directly or indirectly affected by the disaster.

“We want to make sure students are feeling supported by the University even though we are so far away,” said Paula Myers, Assistant Dean of Students in the International Student Services department. With 11 years of experience, Myers felt that the University was very prepared. Myers believes that a large part of her job is to be tuned in to the international news constantly, so she was aware of the earthquake very quickly.

To help raise money for the Red Cross relief effort, the Japan Society is going to have tables in the Elaine Langone Center Mall today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. “I think it’s important for each person to keep themselves informed of what is going on in this world as everything is linked together on a global level,” Anna Uehara ’12 said. “This doesn’t apply just to what occurred in Japan but to what is happening around the world constantly. What happens in one country and how everyone else responds to it can, in the long run, directly or indirectly influence you.”

The first step Myers took was to contact the students who would be in the area by phone, e-mail, Facebook or any other means of communication. Once contact is made, the school reaches out through the crisis management team to make sure that the student’s needs are met and that they are aware of the resources available to them. This includes financial assistance if necessary, talking to professors so that students do not fall behind and psychological services.

Similarly, International Education reaches out to the provider that students in an affected area are studying with if that organization has not already been contacted by the school. In this instance, the two students in Kyoto, Japan were on the same provider program. That program, according to Appiah-Padi, notified the University that the students were safe and accounted for. These students will remain in classes despite the tragedy.

“Beyond that, we wrote directly to our students to verify and confirm that they were alright,” Appiah-Padi said. If communication could not be made initially, the crisis team, which includes the Dean, the Provost, Public Safety and any other officials who need to be involved, would then take more aggressive steps to make contact with the students.

Due to the State Department travel warning, students will not be able to study abroad in Tokyo, Japan. The University does not allow a student to study abroad in a location where the State Department has a travel warning and in countries where there is a travel advisory. “Students are strongly encouraged to reconsider or have a back-up choice,” Appiah-Padi said.

The crisis management team and the protocols were in place to handle the situation at hand. “Crisis intervention is not stagnant, so it needs to be a fluid process to be able to reach out and help students,” Myers said.

While the University is prepared to handle a crisis to the best of its abilities and has done well so far, Appiah-Padi urged that some changes be made on the part of the students. “Very soon the pre-departure orientations are coming up; this is the time where students are given very important information about what to do. We all need to be very much alert and attend all meetings and cannot be as lax about it.”

One of the other concerns is for Japanese-American students who have family and close ties to Japan. “Thankfully, the majority of my family lives around Tokyo or slightly north of Tokyo, so there was no major devastation there,” said Uehara, who is the president of the Japanese Society. “I do have a couple of friends from northern Japan including a fellow Bucknell student who is currently in Sendai. I’m glad that he and his family are OK, but the destruction that I have seen through media and photos is heart-breaking and devastating.”

There are resources available to students who either need help or want to take action. “Any Bucknell alumni with a Japan address was contacted by someone from Alumni Relations,” Myers said.

The University does not stop until it is clear that the students are safe. There is an effort “to continue to make it a personal process to reach out and inform students about what is available to them,” Myers said. This includes the greater University community.

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