Ohio Wesleyan University senior Hiroki Suzuki of Ibaraki, Japan, was on campus March 11 chatting online, when his friend suddenly shouted and their transcontinental Skype transmission ended.
OWU instructor Jun Kawabe and OWU seniors Beth Robb of Hinckley, Ohio; Yan Dong of Beijing; and Kevin Crabb-Nishimoto of San Antonio, Texas, were on a bullet train near Hiroshima when the train stopped—marking the first time in history that all of Japan’s train service shut down simultaneously. The resulting disruption in public transportation, largely related to power outages, curtailed the research planned for their travel-learning trip.
OWU junior Cassandra Easter, taking part in an exchange program at Tokyo’s Waseda University, was visiting friends in Osaka when she felt the devastating earthquake—even though the Glenview, Illinois, resident was nowhere near the danger zone.
Shortly after the disastrous event, OWU’s Director of International and Off-Campus Programs Darrell Albon started gathering information and communicating to various others on campus. Within a few hours, he had confirmed that Easter and Kawabe’s group were safe.
Like Suzuki, sophomore Eri Takeuchi of Osaka was on campus over spring break. She learned of the disaster when a professor called and recommended that she contact her parents in Japan.
First-year student Mana Fujita of Takaoka was visiting Niagara Falls, New York, with relatives when her father sent a text message to let her know their family was safe. Fujita and her relatives quickly hit the Internet for more details.
OWU senior Aki Sato of Tokyo was visiting Chicago with friends when she heard about the earthquake and tsunami. One friend was unable to reach family members right away, but was relieved to find out later that they were all right—although they lost their home.
Fortunately, the families of OWU’s four Japanese students all were safe. (And Suzuki’s Skype friend was OK, too.)
Instructor Kawabe says she and her three travel-learning students had to adjust their plans, but feel fortunate to have encountered only minor problems.
“After the earthquake and tsunami, there was no cell phone service, and it was very hard to get anywhere,” Kawabe says.
Because many of the people she and her students had planned to meet were unable to keep their appointments, the group stayed with a friend of Kawabe’s until they could get a flight back to the United States. Kawabe also contacted Easter at Waseda University to ensure that the OWU study-abroad student was safe.
Like Kawabe, Easter says travel became difficult after the disaster. She was not able to return to Tokyo for several days. “Train service was severely limited, and people were being asked to use cars or bikes for travel,” she says. Easter also experienced rolling electrical blackouts.
She returned to Ohio on the flight with Kawabe’s travel-learning group, but Easter hopes to return Waseda University when it reopens for classes May 6.
Takeuchi says the tragedy has created a stronger national unity in Japan. “I hear from my parents that so many countries from all over the world are helping our nation,” she says. “It provides us strength and makes us feel like we are not alone.”
“When I talk to the Japanese people now,” Hiroki adds, “I think they have more hope.” He says he appreciates that so many OWU students, faculty, and staff have expressed concern and support.
Sato says, “I appreciate the media coverage about the events in Japan. I am also happy that so many countries are willing to help our country.”
In May, OWU Assistant Professor of Humanities-Classics Anne Sokolsky plans to visit Japan and Hawaii with students for another travel-learning course. The trip will occur as scheduled, although recent events could result in some itinerary changes.
In addition to all of these ties, Ohio Wesleyan also has student-exchange agreements with Kwassui Women’s College in Nagasaki and Kansai Gaidai University near Osaka, as well as a close relationship with Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. No OWU students are studying at these schools at present.