Erik Jacobs returns home following the quake and the cancellation of classes.
When sophomore economics major Erik Jacobs decided to take his studies abroad to Temple’s Japan Campus, he had high hopes for the opportunities Tokyo could offer him in international trade and politics. But when he flew home earlier this month, he walked away with more than just an education.
On March 11, a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake rocked the northeast coast of Japan. Moments later, tsunami waves as high as 77 feet crashed down on the Tohoku region of the country. In the following weeks, several aftershock earthquakes struck the region, with magnitudes reaching 6.2.
“I was in the TU [Japan] computer lab when it all began,” Jacobs said in an email. “We were just sitting there, and it felt like we were sitting in massage chairs, and then the building began to sway, and you could hear the blinds hit the windows and [see] the monitors and computers moving around on the table.”
Jacobs said he and the other foreign students didn’t realize the severity of the situation until after the initial quake, but once the aftershocks hit, they became frightened.
The results have been disastrous: The death toll exceeded 10,000 and is steadily climbing. Authorities estimated total cost of damages from the tsunami at approximately between $197 billion to $309 billion; an estimated 500,000 Japanese citizens have been displaced, many without food or shelter.
To make matters worse, reports of a break in the core of a nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant – located 130 miles north of Tokyo – has set the country on to a path of hysteria over radiation leakages.
Despite the problems the country is facing in light of the worst natural disaster it’s ever experienced, TU Japan has its own slew of problems, especially concerning the safety of its students and the continuation of their studies.
However, at the urging of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Japanese people and foreign students remained calm throughout the disaster.
“After the initial earthquake, everyone was concerned, some scared and others just very worried about what would happen next,” Jacobs said. “It was an orderly and quick exit from the building once the quake happened.”
He added that he was very surprised to see everyone reacting in what appeared to be a calm manner.
The question on many students’ minds now is what will come next.
TU Japan Dean of Students Bruce Stronach issued a letter to students outlining the next possible steps. Students could return to the Japan campus, but were strongly advised not to if they had already left the country. Students may also resume their studies at Main Campus or partake in distance learning or independent studies.
But Jacobs has had the rare opportunity to learn beyond the textbook, before and after the disaster. Before tragedy struck, Jacobs was able to pick up the Japanese culture and language during his stay.
“I was amazed by the power of the human mind to adapt and learn things very quickly,” he said. “Japanese is very difficult, but I was able to learn quickly because of its omnipresence.”
“The tragedy really helped me put things in perspective and helped me realize that as bad as things may be, they could be worse,” Jacobs added. “It was humbling to be at the mercy of Mother Nature.”
“[While] we were lucky … everyone should still be thinking about those still affected in Japan,” he said.
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.