After some uncertainly, Ursinus College this summer welcomed eight students from Tohoku Gakuin University (TGU) in Sendai, Japan, an area which suffered a devastating tsunami and earthquake last March.
“In February, there were 10 students and two leaders coming,” recalls Professor Emerita Judith Fryer 1965, director of the summer program. “After the earthquake, we heard the program would be cancelled, and we were getting conflicting responses about students coming here. The more news we heard, the more pessimistic we became. But in mid-May, we learned that eight students and two leaders were coming.”
TGU was directly affected and damaged by the natural disasters. During last spring semester, the Ursinus community banded together to offer comfort to its sister school, and raised disaster relief funds.
During the welcome program last month, Ursinus President Bobby Fong spoke compassionately, and presented the international visitors with the traditional 1,000 paper cranes, which were created by the Ursinus Japan Club. He met with the two leaders, Ikuko Sasaski, Dean of International Affairs at TGU, and a TGU staff member. The cranes from Ursinus, plus cranes sent by Franklin & Marshall College, which joins in the summer program, will be displayed at the Sendai campus as a symbol of friendship.
There were moments during the week when some “TGU students were emotional, but learned it was ok to have some fun,” Fryer said. “I told the group. ‘If you want to talk about what happened, we want to listen, but we won’t ask you questions,’” she said. The Ursinus campus staff included assistants Noelle Romero 2009, Collin Commiskey and Sean Rosenberg, both 2011, and Mai Guss 2012.
The summer program used to include a home stay, so many Ursinus alumni and community residents are familiar with it. Now, the students come for a week to live as American college students in the residence halls. Although there are few Ursinus students on the campus at that time, “we have a fantastic student staff, and we run conversation class, American history and culture, and days trips and games,” said Fryer. The group toured Philadelphia and Valley Forge. At the end of the week they stayed with families near Franklin & Marshall College, which also has an historic relationship with TGU, and from there tour New York City and Washington, D.C. . The program was supported by both colleges.
After the earthquake, said Dean Sasaki during the closing ceremony, more than 400 TGU students and staff, including herself, spent a snowy night in a cold gymnasium. The school lost five students (and one is missing) and the campus damage could run to $10 million. But the desire to recover resulted in the new semester starting only one month late.
But several students who were supposed to participate in the summer program were wary because of financial losses. “Both colleges (Ursinus and F & M) immediately offered not only financial support, but emotional support,” she said. “We will never forget the two weeks and your kindness.” – W.G.