The Collegian
Saturday, August 08, 2020

Richmond students feel the effects of natural disaster

When news hit of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that recently devastated Japan's northeastern coast, the University of Richmond's Office of International Education took action.

Michele Cox, Richmond's director of study abroad, immediately emailed the five Japanese students studying at Richmond, the two Westhampton students studying in Osaka, Japan, and their families and notified the study abroad office in Osaka.

The Westhampton women, juniors Shirley Leung and Maria Sebastian, and the families of the Japanese exchange students are safe and not in areas of great risk.

Cox said it was imperative not only to get in contact with the women via phone, but also to physically locate them. Leung emailed Cox right away, and Cox eventually contacted Sebastian through Skype.

When the earthquake hit, Leung said she felt the shake in Osaka, a 10-hour drive from the epicenter. "Also, a few days later, we felt an aftershock, which occurred quite far away from the original epicenter," she said.

Leung, who is from Hong Kong, returned home for spring break. Following the quake, Leung said she found herself unable to concentrate after the earthquake because of the stress of checking news.

Sho Iwaki, a 21-year-old exchange student from Osaka, was in Tokyo when the earthquake happened. Although he didn't feel the earthquake, Iwaki said he was scared when the news broke, and he wanted to go help the people.

"I expect things to be different when I return because the people are depressed," Iwaki said. "What I'm concerned about is in terms of the economy--Japan is devastated, and people are evacuating."

Masato Tsuruta, a junior from Tokyo, said his family had recently walked six hours to get home after the train lines were damaged by the earthquake.

Tsuruta said he was not scared, but was shocked when he heard the news. "It just seemed unreal," he said. "You see images like this from Chile, New Zealand and Indonesia -- you just don't think to see something like that in Japan."

Kanae Akai, a sophomore exchange student from Koshigaya, said she didn't believe the news when she heard about the earthquake. "Japan has 1,000 earthquakes a year that we can feel," she said. "I just didn't even take it seriously at first."

Akai said she was thankful that her friends and family were safe, but she worried about oil, radiation and a shortage of supplies.

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Richmond students have been raising money for Japan and the victims of the disaster. Entertainer Lady Gaga designed earthquake relief bracelets that said "We Pray for Japan," which Richmond students have been selling in the Tyler Haynes Commons.

Several of the Japanese exchange students expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of help from Richmond students, professors and worldwide supporters.

In Cox's 20 years of working in the OIE, not a single Richmond student has had to leave a country because of a natural disaster. Cox said the closest incident was during the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Leung and Sebastian have not been advised to leave the country, but are staying in constant contact with Richmond to ensure their safety, Cox said.

Contact staff writer Markie Martin at

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