By Mary Keister
Japan was rocked March 11 by an earthquake that hit 9.0 on the Richter scale and sparked massive tsunami waves and damage to several nuclear power plants after explosions in nuclear reactors. The trifecta of catastrophic events caused extensive structural damage to the country and left tens of thousands dead, injured or missing. The extent of the disaster has even reached some students of Beloit College.
Caitlin Karvonen ’12 is currently studying at Kansai Gaidai University. She’s been staying in Osaka, away from the main areas affected by the disaster. Though one student’s study-abroad plans were put on hold due to the disaster, Beloit has supported Karvonen’s decision to stay in Japan for the time being. Karvonen wrote through an e-mail interview that about half of the exchange students on her program have, at least temporarily, left Japan. Classes have been held as usual, but because they have been so empty, her exams were pushed back a week and group assignments have been changed to individual assignments.
Karvonen wrote that though the region she is in is not devastated, the rest of the country has mobilized to help the affected areas.
“What has been most impressive to me is the positivity with which the Japanese people are handling the situation,” Karvonen wrote. “Right now there are a lot of non-monetary campaigns to send hopeful, positive letters to victims living in shelters. Everyone in Japan wants the survivors to know that they are not alone in dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.”
Though Karvonen is not in the area directly affected by the disaster, she wrote that just watching the events on TV and seeing its impact on the country has been hard.
“Footage of the tsunamis has been especially difficult for me to watch, because a lot of the clips were taken in suburbs that aren’t dissimilar to the one I am living in with my host family right now,” Karvonen wrote. “My host mom cries a lot when we watch the news, even now, because it’s just so heartbreaking to see the survivors with tears in their eyes talk about how half of their family is missing.”
At least one Beloit student’s study abroad plans have been interrupted by the disaster. Aaron Tiesling-Rusch ’12 had a flight to Japan and scholarships in line, but his flight was canceled due to the nuclear plant situation in Fukushima. Instead of studying abroad this semester, he wrote in an e-mail interview, he’s taking a vacation term and probably graduating a semester late.
Japan Club has been actively involved in raising funds for Japan and the relief effort. The club’s goal is to raise at least $1,300 — roughly $1 for every student at Beloit — and they are well on their way, with about $800 raised so far and fundraising efforts still going strong.
The club has been tabling for donations at DKs and Commons. Monday night they collaborated with SPIEL, made green tea milkshakes, and solicited funds through a donation jar. The club will be raising money at the international dinner Sunday. And according to Japan Club President Rachel Smith ’13, plans to do a yard sale are also in the works.
“Even though Japan is a well-off country, they really need all the help we can give,” Smith said. “They helped us during Hurricane Katrina, and I believe that we should most definitely return the favor.”
The club, which has about 12 regular members, has been interviewed by the Beloit Daily News and a local news program in Rockford, Ill. Some alumni have also contacted the club to help with the effort and show support. Additionally, Smith said, because the fundraising efforts are a joint project between the club and the Japanese exchange students, their work has helped the relationship between the two groups grow stronger.
Both Karvonen and Smith warn that some news reports are not entirely accurate about what is going on in the country. According to Smith, the Japanese government hasn’t been completely clear about what’s going on, and that has affected reports. Karvonen wrote that because of the nuclear plant situation in Fukushima, there’s been some hysteria and exaggerations about what is occurring. According to Karvonen, good sources to refer to for news about the disaster are Japanese sources that are published in English, such as The Japan Times.