Japanese international students reflect on earthquake, plan events

Torey Robinson

Powerless is how Shun Yoshida describes the way he feels.

Yoshida, senior in aerospace engineering, is one of 12 ISU Japanese international students watching the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in his home country from more than 7,000 miles away.

I can’t really give them any help being so far away,” Yoshida said. “I can’t be part of the activities over there that are helping … I can’t really be a part of the national movement going on over there. It’s frustrating.”

Yoshida, originally from Chiba in western Japan, has received the bulk of his information regarding the disaster from American news sources.

He first heard of an earthquake in Japan late March 10, and contacted his parents via e-mail to confirm their safety before he went to sleep. Yoshida did not know the magnitude of the earthquake devastation until he woke up Friday morning.

“I was kind of shaken up,” Yoshida said. “I tried to reach my friends. I couldn’t reach one of my friends in the northern part [of Japan] that got hit by the earthquake and tsunami, so I was really worried for awhile.”

“His mom posted on my [Facebook wall] saying he was OK. That’s the point where I felt really safe. All my friends and my parents and my family were safe.”

Internet connections such as e-mail and social media has been the primary mode of communication between ISU students and friends and family in Japan.

Citizens are asked to minimize phone usage to free the phone lines for emergency use, Yoshida said. This can make it difficult for Japanese students to know exactly what is going on in their country.

“We could only see the fire burning around cities [on the news March 11],” said Yuki Kojima, graduate in agronomy and international student from Nagoya, Japan. “The TV said still there were some aftershocks and tsunamis, but we could not see anything except the fire.”

“I couldn’t believe it was the sight in Japan. I couldn’t concentrate on studying and working that day since I had been worried about Japan and the people living there.”

Like Yoshida, Kojima’s friends and family confirmed they were safe. But that doesn’t take away from his concern for Japan.

“The most concerning thing is the nuclear plant,” Kojima said. “It is still under crisis, and nobody knows what will happen next.”

“Also it is not a current problem, but I worry about Japan’s economy after this disaster. I hope it won’t be so bad and will be restored as soon as possible.”

But the students have not been dealing with their concerns alone.

“[The Japanese in Ames] have communicated with each other, had a dinner together, and talked a lot to relax,” Kojima said. “Also my supervisor, members of my research group and many friends have been caring for me.”

The university has also reached out to the affected students. The International Students and Scholars’ Office, which is the primary point of contact between international students and professionals once on campus, sent out communication following the tsunami to ensure the students were aware of available resources, said James Dorsett, director of International Students and Scholars.

Following an unforeseen situation, the office will work to ensure each international student’s individual needs are addressed, whether it be mentally, financially or academically.

“There are a variety of things that can be done to help the students,” Dorsett said. “Not every student will need the same set of services, and we try and meet the needs of each individual. What we try and do from the very beginning is let them know from the very beginning there are some resources available.”

This support is important for the students’ well-being, Dorsett said.

“If you have this crushing burden on your mind, you’re not going to be able to think very well and do your studies and concentrate,” Dorsett said.

“I really appreciate them caring for us,” Kojima said.

Yoshida, president of the ISU Japanese Association, said he has received words of encouragement and support from other student organization leaders.

“They’ve also asked if they can help in a fundraising opportunity,” he said.

The Japanese Association does not know what its plan to help Japan will be yet, but a project is in the works.

“We’ve been gathering information,” Yoshida said. “It’s up to all the members for us to decide what we’re going to do … our plan is to hold a fundraising activity, which is primarily for raising awareness.

International Student Council is planning on holding a candlelight vigil at the end of March for Japan, Yoshida said. The ISU Japanese Association also hopes to plan an event for April.

But the effort is not just among the ISU Japanese population.

“I have some Japanese friends studying at other universities in the U.S.,” Kojima said. “They have already started discussing what they can do for Japan at each university. And I heard some of them have already started charity events and fundraising.”

Kojima said ISU support doesn’t solely have to be directed toward Japan.

“There are also some countries having severe earthquakes such as China and New Zealand,” he said. “I would like students to be concerned about these disasters and the people who have suffered from disasters.”

Money isn’t the only way members of the ISU community can aid those abroad.

“It doesn’t have to be a donation,” Kojima said. “There are other things they can do for these people. They can send words of encouragement. Or they can join some charity events.”

“We have different people from different cultures and different races [on campus], and there are things going on that need our help,” Yoshida said. “You can be a part of the help.”