In a briefing to the campus community last Friday, the Eastern Michigan University study abroad program announced its decision to call its ten students studying abroad in Japan back to the United States.
According to Stephen Burwood, Director of International Programs at EMU, all 10 students are safe.
“This is one of those situations where we have students who are having wonderful education opportunities overseas,” Burwood said. “As it periodically happens, there are circumstances when we have to think very carefully about continuing that experience and when that happens, usually the rest of the campus knows very little or next to nothing about that.”
“It seemed like this was a good opportunity to give the campus some sort of a briefing on where we are at this moment,” he said.
EMU’s study abroad program works with three Japanese schools: Tokyo Gakugei, Kansai Gaidai and the Japan Center for Michigan Universities.
One student, studying abroad at Tokyo Gakugei, was back in the U.S. at the time of the quake and tsunami.
According to Burwood, the Japan Center for Michigan Universities lays about 300 miles from the worst part of the damage.
“All of those students are safe, they have met regularly with the site staff there and as of yesterday evening, JCMU decided it would suspend the rest of the semester and ask people to return home,” he said.
Students of Kansai Gaidai have also been called back to the country, Burwood said.
“They are, at the moment, getting over tremendous disappointment because this morning Eastern Michigan University decided that that program too should be suspended for the rest of this semester,” he said.
Burwood said the program is doing everything it can to help returning students.
“We have been making sure we have contact with our students and their families and we’re in the process now of working with those parents to make sure that they’re making the appropriate arrangements and what those arrangements are,” he said.
It is still being decided whether or not students who had previously planned to study abroad will be able to do so in upcoming semesters.
Ann Barthel, the Study Abroad’s Program Coordinator for semester and year programs said the decision to suspend the programs is not one ‘taken lightly.’
“We understand that the students have dedicated much of their college career if not most of their lives to having this experience,” she said.
According to Barthel, plans are still being made as to how students being called back will receive credit.
“Both JMCU and Kansai Gaidai are working on study programs to help students finish the credits for their term,” Barthel said. “We do not want any student to feel like their academic experience is being compromised by this tragedy.”
Though many of the abroad students wish to remain in Japan, parents of the students desire for their children to be brought back.
“The parents and families have more mixed reactions,” Barthel said. “Obviously, they want to support their students, but sometimes you just want your kid home safe.”
Motoko Tabuse, Professor of Japanese World Languages and Honors College Faculty Associate, said all of the immediate family members of the Japanese teaching staff in the study abroad program are fine. In addition, immediate family members of the 35 students from Japan studying abroad at Eastern are reported to be fine as well.
Tabuse said the program has continued to receive much encouragement from people.
“We are showered with kind words, email messages and encouraging telephone calls,” she said.
Tabuse encouraged students who might be experiencing difficulty with coping to seek help from the university.
“We are planning long-term relief effort and it’s time for us now to change our thought into action, action into offering, what the people at evacuation shelters need,” Tabuse said.
Burwood said “Cleary, this is a tragedy of unprecedented scope for Japan since World War II and so there are some things that we on this campus can do to assist the people of Japan.”
The Japanese Student Association will be collecting donations in front of the TCF Bank located in the Student Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., March 21-24. Donations in the form of cash and checks are being accepted, and ribbons will be given out to people who donate. Volunteers are also being sought to help collect donations.