Disaster in Japan prompts campus outreach


While University officials confirmed earlier this week that all seven Georgetown students studying abroad in Tokyo are safe, those on campus have also been affected by the largest recorded earthquake ever to hit Japan.

Chirei Chang (SFS ’13), was visiting her family and friends in her native Tokyo at the time of the disaster. Since returning to the United States on Sunday, Chang has hosted her younger brother and a friend from high school in her Village B apartment, where they will stay until they feel it is safe to return to Japan.

“In Tokyo there was always shaking on and off,” Chang said. “There were literally hundreds of aftershocks. It’s nice to know that things won’t shake here. It’s nice to be here, but my parents and friends and grandparents are back in Japan, so I’m glued to the news. I find myself worrying a lot.”

Chang’s brother, Yupang, explained that technology played a big role in the crisis.

“The Internet was the only source of information,” he said. “Smart phones were helpful in that respect. But Facebook and Twitter caused a lot of panic, too. There was so much information, no one knew what was real and what wasn’t.”

Michael Goulet (COL ’12) planned to begin his spring semester at Sophia University in Toyko on Apr. 1, but expects to change his academic plans in the wake of the disaster.

“As of now, Georgetown is recalling all students currently in Japan,” he wrote in an email. “Also, for those of us who were scheduled to start in April, we were told to expect not being allowed to go. However, Georgetown will be revisiting this decision in a week after events have had more time to cool down, as it has been less than a week since the first earthquake even struck.”

The Office of International Programs, which evacuated students from Cairo earlier this semester in the midst of mass protests, is carefully monitoring the situation in Japan.

“We are working with our partner institutions and other authorities following the recent events in Japan,” OIP overseas studies advisor Annette Kuroda Russell wrote in an email.

Japan Network, a student group on campus, has spearheaded efforts to raise funds for tsunami and earthquake relief. As a result of interest from non-members and graduate students, Japan Network is planning to create a separate relief commitee to work on continuous aid for Japan this weekend. Club members and other volunteers have also tabled in the Leavey Center and Red Square all week. They handed out paper cranes, a Japanese symbol of hope, to those who donated.

In response to the tragedy, Georgetown Campus Ministry organized an interfaith prayer service on Tuesday afternoon that featured a Buddhist chanter, a Shinto priest, and a Jesuit priest. At the service, University President John DeGioia spoke of the connections between Japan and Georgetown, noting that the University has dozens of Japanese students and hundreds of alumni currently in Japan.

Rebecca Saldivar (COL ’12), a student who has studied at Tokyo’s Keio University since last September, was in her Yokohama residence southeast of Tokyo when the earthquake struck.

“When it first hit, the quake didn’t seem like it was that major of a disaster,” she wrote in an email. “I wasn’t even sure right away if it was an earthquake, but I went to brace myself in the doorframe of my room until it was over. It lasted at least a full minute, and the thing I remember most were the power lines outside my window swinging so hard I was afraid they would snap.”

According to Saldivar, all utilities, including gas, water, and electricity, stopped functioning after the earthquake. Thousands of people gathered in a nearby train station, she wrote, confused and stranded. Shortly after, concerns about provisions emerged.

“I had to buy myself food in a convenience store with a line of people snapping up all the merchandise, the whole store lit by two emergency candles,” she wrote. “It wasn’t until very late that night, around nine hours after the quake I think, that we got power back and I was able to look up the real extent of the damage in northern Japan. I hadn’t even known about the tsunami until I saw the pictures online.”

According to CNN, citizens of Tokyo had utilities soon after the quake, but continue to suffer from sporadic blackouts and shortages of food and supplies in grocery stores.

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Jeffrey Niedermaier

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