Earthquake relocates study abroad programs

by Gavin Huang | 4/13/11 10:00pm

Unable to attend their foreign study programs after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, six students from Brown University and one student from Boston University traded in downtown Tokyo for Main Street, Hanover, and immersion classes for morning drill sessions this term.

The six students from Brown James Almony, John Boeglin, Yea Eun Kwak, Ashley O'Neale, Jennifer Tanaka and Nicholas Varone and Boston University junior John Wolff have spent the last two weeks adjusting to Dartmouth after the March 11 earthquake caused a nuclear hazard near Tokyo, disrupting their plans to attend Keio University, Waseda University and Sophia University.

Wolff said he was only given three days to make the decision to alter his study abroad trip and come to Dartmouth, and had to leave home almost immediately with only enough time to pack one suitcase.

International affairs officers at Brown and Boston University contacted their counterparts at the College on March 11 about the possibility of taking in students from their schools for Spring term because Dartmouth's quarter system corresponded with the students' schedules, according to Lindsay Whaley, associate dean for international and interdisciplinary programs.

Representatives from the Office of Residential Life, the Dean of the College's Office and the Off-Campus Programs Office met to determine the logistics of an arrangement with the two universities. Provost Carol Folt and College President Jim Yong Kim approved the plan on March 14, marking the first time Dartmouth has hosted students from other schools who were unable to attend a study abroad program, according to Whaley.

"We began interacting with our counterparts at [Boston University] and Brown later that week," he said. "The students there became aware of the possibility of studying at Dartmouth probably around the 16th or 17th of March and had to make a very quick decision about whether or not to come."

Students from Brown said their other options would have been to take summer courses at Brown or delay their graduation by one semester. Wolff said his alternative was to defer his study abroad program at Keio to the Fall semester a choice he said he was not willing to make as a rising senior.

"I didn't want to be away from my friends during senior year," Wolff said.

Wolff said that had he gone to Tokyo, he would have taken courses in Japanese and international relations while working via Skype with a video game company he founded in Boston. He said being at Dartmouth has allowed him to work in person with his peers in Boston, connect with digital humanities faculty on his video game projects and take a few of the courses he initially wanted to take in Japan.

"I helped my family more by not going because everyone would be worried day in and day out," Wolff said.

Boeglin, a junior at Brown, originally planned to study at Keio. His transition to Dartmouth was easy because he was familiar with the campus after attending the Dimensions at Dartmouth program three years ago, he said.

For Kwak, a senior at Brown, coming to the College was not as smooth. Kwak said she was in South Korea at the time of the earthquake and was prepared to study at Keio when she received notice a week before the program's orientation that Brown had withdrawn from the program.

Kwak said she quickly made the decision to study at Dartmouth, but a surgery in Korea delayed her arrival. After her surgery, she boarded a 20-hour flight for the United States and arrived in Hanover two days into the Spring term.

"The class sizes here are a lot smaller than at Brown and because of the enrollment cap, we weren't able to enroll in the courses that we wanted to take," Kwak said.

Although students interviewed by The Dartmouth said they were disappointed that their programs in Japan were cancelled, they acknowledged their unusual circumstances and said they understood the stresses and problems inherent in the fast-paced transition.

"It's unfortunate that we're here, but it's not something I'm going to complain about," Tanaka, a junior at Brown, said. "In a way, it has presented a lot of other opportunities for us to learn and grow in other ways."

Tanaka said Dartmouth and Brown administrators eased the transition process by helping them contact professors about open courses and guiding them through the credit-transfer process. Their orientation meeting lasted only 30 minutes, but Tanaka said she understood that adjusting to the new environment is a day-to-day process.

Dartmouth has twice hosted displaced students from other universities, once after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and a second time after the Haiti earthquake, according to Whaley.