The TU Japan study abroad program saw a decrease in enrollment.
The natural disaster and subsequent events that unfolded in Japan last March haven’t stopped Sydney Daviston-Atkins from wanting to study abroad at Temple Unversity Japan. If anything, she said, they made her want to go more.
The sophomore theater major, who recently transferred to Temple from Fordham University, where she began formally learning the Japanese language, said she’s been interested in Japan’s culture since her early teens.
“I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was a teenager,” Daviston-Atkins said. “The desire is still there…[the disaster] didn’t really deter me from wanting to go.”
However, this semester, the number of students studying abroad at TU Japan has dropped to 33 from 69 last spring.
Kyle Cleveland, study abroad coordinator at TU Japan, said a number of factors could have affected the decrease, apart from the disaster, known as the Great East Japan Earthquake.
While Cleveland noted the disaster could have played a role in the recent decrease, he listed a number of other things that may have offset some of the program’s enrollment.
“Whatever trends that we’re seeing are also impacted by what was happening a couple of years ago,” Cleveland said, citing the U.S. recession and economic downturn. He noted that decisions to study abroad are typically made a few years before actually going.
Cleveland also said the deadline to apply for the program, close to the time of the disaster, could have affected decisions to study abroad at TU Japan this fall.
“I think that if people had the ability to decide today, opposed to three months ago, you’d have a different number,” Cleveland said.
Between the Fall 2005 and Spring 2010 semesters, the number of students studying abroad at TU Japan fluctuated between 73 and 97. Last year, the number dropped to 63 and 69 in the fall and spring semesters, respectively.
The approximate 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northeast coast of the region on March 11, with a deadly tsunami following. Aftershocks, a nuclear power crisis and radiation leaks were among the concerns spawned by the disaster.
Recent reports estimate that close to 15,700 people have been confirmed dead and more than 4,000 people are still missing.
The general sentiment in Tokyo, where TU Japan is located, is starkly different than northern areas such as Fukushima, Cleveland said. Fukushima is home to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the largest nuclear accident – that resulted from the disaster.
“Up there, you can hardly overstate how bad it was and how it affected those people, but down here in Tokyo it’s a very different situation,” Cleveland said.
He said signs of the disaster are hardly visible in Tokyo and that the campus’ surrounding area is safe for students to travel to.
Although the Japan campus reported no damages, the Spring 2010 Japan study abroad program was cut short after a travel advisory in Japan was issued by the United States Department of State. A chartered flight on March 20 from Tokyo to Hong Kong assisted students in leaving the TU Japan campus.
The voluntary authorized departure from Japan ended April 15, when the U.S. declared that the safety and health risks outside of the 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were very low.
Cleveland said he expects enrollment to rise again in the near future.
“Students don’t randomly come to Japan. It’s expensive, it’s a long ways away, there’s the language issue,” Cleveland said. “I don’t think they’re likely to be deterred.”
In fact, Cleveland said students traveling to Japan now will have a unique experience.
“If you’re a person who is interested in Japan, this is one of the most interesting times to be in Japan that you’ll ever experience,” Cleveland said, noting the disaster’s affect on the culture. “I think some kids…want a front seat to history.”
Daviston-Atkins said she hopes that Japan’s society can rebuild itself to the point it was at before the disaster. If she doesn’t get to study abroad at TU Japan this spring, she said she’ll go next year.
“It’s not a matter of if I’m going to go, it’s a matter of when,” Daviston-Atkins said.
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.