by Ward Mullens, Published March 21, 2011
YPSILANTI - In response to growing concerns in Japan, Eastern Michigan University suspended it study abroad program for 11 students and is helping them to return to the United States. The decision came March 18.
"Given the heightened safety concerns in Japan, the mobilization of the Department of State to assist U.S. citizens who wish to leave Japan on a voluntary basis, and the decision of the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) to end the current semester of classes, we are suspending our study abroad programs involving our 10 students in Japan," said Jack Kay, provost and executive vice president for EMU. "We are strongly encouraging the students to leave Japan and return to the U.S. Although Kansai Gaidai is continuing its program as of today, we have notified their leadership that EMU students have been encouraged to leave the program and Japan.
Kay said that the students and their families had been electronically notified and that EMU would assist the students in securing commercial or State Department arranged flights. EMU also will work with academic departments to help students complete the semester and earn academic credit.
EMU students are divided between two different universities in Japan. There are students in the JCMU program in Hikone, Japan, while the other EMU students are at Kansai Gaidai University. None of the EMU students was injured during the earthquake or subsequent tsunami.
"We are deeply, deeply aware of the human tragedy that has engulfed the nation of Japan," said Stephen Burwood, director of international programs at EMU. "This is an ongoing challenge that is testing and will continue to test the entire nation. While our primary concern is for the safety of our students, we also do not want to hinder in any way efforts to face and cope with the current situation."
Approximately 30 students had previously signed up to go to Japan for summer and fall courses. Burwood said no decision has been made on whether those courses will be available.
The decision to suspend the programs has been met with mixed reaction from the students in Japan, Burwood said. While both of the schools are not in the affected area, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the situation, especially surrounding the nuclear power plants.
"We have mixed emotions," said Tammy Kessler, the mother of EMU student Jason Kessler of Clarkston, who attended an informational session Friday about the University's action and next steps.
"We are disappointed for him, but you want to get your kid home safe," said Ed Kessler, Jason's father. "We were supposed to go visit him this week, but canceled our trip. Now we are focused on just getting him home."
For those faculty and students at EMU who are from Japan, the news has been positive about relatives in Japan.
"We have been showered with encouraging emails and phone calls," Professor Motoko Tabuse told the audience of the informational session. The relatives of the Japanese teaching staff and the approximately 35 Japanese students at EMU are safe, Tabuse said. However, some relatives did lose their homes.
"We are just dealing with disappointment (of the trip being cancelled). The people of Japan are dealing with so much more. It is sad," said Tammy Kessler.
"We need to keep moving forward with hope," said Tabuse. "There is hope left. We are planning long term relief efforts."
Part of that EMU relief effort will take place March 21-24 as members of the Japanese Student Organization begin to collect money for the American Red Cross relief effort. Donations will be taken Monday-Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in front of TCF Bank in the EMU Student Center. Checks should be made out to the American Red Cross.
"We have to turn our thoughts into action and our actions into offerings of relief,"