“I felt dizzy and sick, as if everything was swaying,” wrote Sharon Li ’12, who was studying in a computer lab when an earthquake hit Osaka, Japan, in an email to The Argus. “I didn’t know it was an earthquake, so my first thought was that I was passing out. Then, some of my Japanese friends sitting next to me started checking their cell phones and saying ‘Jishin! Jishin!’, which means earthquake in Japanese. All the other international students seemed to have no clue of what was going on. I asked some of them later, some did not feel anything at all, others felt the same as I did, dizzy and sick.”
Li is one of two Wesleyan students studying abroad in Japan at Kansai Gaidai University. As a series of earthquakes and tsunamis devastated the Northeast region of Tohoku, Li, who lives over 350 miles away from the most affected areas, hoped that her dizzy spell would be the worst of her experience—until the situation deteriorated further.
“Everything was just as usual except everything on TV was about the earthquake,” she wrote. “But as soon as the nuclear issues started, people in Osaka started to panic too.
International students in Kansai Gaidai started going back to their home country, either because their families were concerned, or because their home universities asked them to. Last week, when my host family went to grocery shopping, they told me that all the instant noodles, cookies, bottled water, napkins, etc. were sold out in the supermarkets. People were hoarding food and necessities in fear of another earthquake or nuclear explosion.”
Li has since flown home to Shanghai at the request of her family, and is unsure of whether she will return after her spring break ends next week. According to Director of the Office of International Studies (OIS) Carolyn Sorkin, although the University cannot require students to return home from a non-Wesleyan program that continues to run, the OIS has consulted with both students in Japan and will continue to do so as needed.
On campus, the Japan Society and other students on campus are planning awareness and fundraising events for the victims of the numerous disasters. The first of their fundraisers, an origami folding event at the Usdan University Center, began at lunch yesterday and is planned to continue through the end of April.
“What we’re trying to do here is sell one piece of origami paper in exchange for one dollar in order to make 1000 paper cranes,” said Japan Society co-chair Yuki Ohmori ’13. “There’s a tradition in Japan that if you make 1,000 paper cranes, you can make a wish, and it will come true. 1,000 cranes isn’t the maximum, but we wanted to start with this project so that people know the story behind it, and understand that our thoughts are going out to the people in Japan that are suffering right now.”
The paper cranes made through this project will be sent to DoSomething.org’s “Paper Cranes for Japan” campaign, which will match each crane with a $2 donation for the victims of the disasters. Japan Society will also be collecting separate donations all month for the Japanese Red Cross.
According to Ohmori, since returning from spring break, the campus community has reached out to express their support and interest in fundraising for the cause.
“There have been a lot of people who have shown interest in helping,” she said. “People from Alpha Delt have approached us saying that they wanted to host a concert and donate to the relief effort, professors have been asking us how they can help, and I’ve heard from house managers and RAs who want to start sessions to aid the relief effort. We want them to do as much as they can, come up with their own ideas, and start their own events to contribute and give support.”
Japan Society co-chair Ka-Ya Lee ’13 suggested that it may be best to field fundraising ideas through Japan Society to ensure unity and organization.
“We really would appreciate it if those people who are eager to help contact us first because I think it’s important to have consistency so students don’t get confused,” she said.
Japan Society has formed an informal committee to organize fundraising efforts, which include students not involved in the Society, but who have expressed interest in forming new initiatives. In addition to the 1,000 cranes project, the committee is co-sponsoring a dance party at Eclectic with the Korean Student Association (KSA) on April 1 and a Japanese Culture Show on April 2.
According to Lee, some future events may include bake sales, a concert held by the students from the Ethnomusicology department, a fundraising dinner, and a calligraphy event.
“We are planning to make April a ‘Japan Student Relief Group Month,’” she said. “I really, really hope that a lot of students take interest in our events and actually participate. That’s all we can hope for.”
In addition, students involved in fundraising efforts have recently set up wesleyanforjapan.tumblr.com, a website that will inform students of upcoming events and allow them to post their own information that could be useful to people in Japan and abroad.
“We’re encouraging everyone to upload photos or information, like a Wesleying-type space where you can post,” said Liz Ling ’11, who studied in Japan last year and is involved in fundraising efforts. “That’ll help get firsthand information for people in Japan.”
According to Lee, the rise in technology and social networking has been an important factor in helping the Japanese people to cope with the disasters.
“I thought that technology helped us a lot,” she said. “There was a Ustream about missing people and information on dead bodies so that people abroad or in any areas with Internet could see who’s missing or confirmed as dead, so they could find out about family and friends. I thought it was significant.”
Ohmori also hopes to spread awareness beyond campus in order to maximize fundraising efforts.
“I’m part of an outreach program through the East Asian Studies Department which meets every Friday, where we meet with students from the Middletown area and teach them about East Asian culture,” she said. “This week we’ll be teaching them how to fold origami cranes to tell them what’s happening. Hopefully that will spread the message not just around Wesleyan, but to the Middletown community and even further out.”
As the people of Japan strive to recover from the devastation of the past several days, students on campus and abroad expressed hope that the community will play a role in disaster relief.
“I want to see more and more people helping out actively and becoming more aware of the situation,” Ohmori said. “It needs to go beyond thinking ‘oh that’s terrible,’ but actually thinking of what can we do to help.”
“Even the smallest gesture matters,” added Colin Moreshead ’11, a member of Japan Society who studied abroad in Japan last year. “Even if you don’t plan to donate, showing up to events means a lot, especially because of social networking. The Japanese people can see pictures of you at these events in big numbers, and it means a lot to them to know that people are thinking of them at this time.”