NWU Exchange Students Asked to Return Home From Japan: Japanese Students Reflect on Disaster

On Thursday, March 3, Nebraska Wesleyan University junior Alex Munger flew home to Lincoln from Japan for a short semester break.

Twenty-four hours prior, he and his twin brother Nicholas were in Osaka, Japan, where they are both studying at Nebraska Wesleyan’s sister school, Kwansei Gakuin University.

Even though the private university is located more than 300 miles away from the epicenter of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, Munger immediately contacted his host family and friends who confirmed that they felt the earthquake but were safe.

“I was shocked,” said Munger, who returned to Lincoln just 24 hours before the disaster.

Five Nebraska Wesleyan University students are studying in Japan this semester: four at Kwansei Gakuin University and one at Chukyo University in Nagoya.

“I was washing dishes and I began to feel sick, like I was dizzy,” said NWU junior Matthew Hegstrom, who is studying in Nagoya, located 150 miles south of Tokyo. “The earthquake here lasted for about three minutes, stopped for about five minutes, and resumed again for another two.”

“It felt like the building was rocking back and forth and we lost our balance a bit, but it was small here compared to what it was in Sendai,” he said.

Most college students in Japan are now on semester break. Nebraska Wesleyan students are waiting to hear if they will be able to return for the spring semester, which starts in early April.

On March 16, Nebraska Wesleyan and its insurance company determined it was necessary for the NWU students to leave Japan immediately due to the uncertainty about nuclear radiation. The U.S. Department of State also issued a travel warning for the country.

“Hopefully I will be able to get back into the country and finish my schooling,” said Munger.

On April 1, Nebraska Wesleyan recommended the five students remain in the U.S., however students who wished to return to Japan to finish their studies could do so. Nebraska Wesleyan is providing assistance to all five students as they complete their studies this semester. 

For the eight Japanese students studying this year at NWU, the images portrayed in the media are heart-wrenching. All eight said their families are safe.

Student Hitomi Kotoge has communicated with her parents via email but has yet to reach them by phone. While her family home was damaged by floodwaters, her relatives’ losses are more significant.

“The tsunami reached the center of town and my relatives’ houses were washed away,” said Kotoge, who hopes to return to her homeland in May. “They’re in shelters now.”

Kotoge said she’s staying updated with media reports and is reading stories on the internet.

“I always wonder if the numbers of the sufferers are correct or not,” she said. “Too much information sometimes confuses me.”

For now she’s relying on support from her friends at Nebraska Wesleyan.

“The other Japanese students are from safer cities in Japan so they are concerned about me and my hometown,” she said. “They are supporting me with encouraging words and smiles.”

Kotoge is joining Nebraska Wesleyan’s efforts to collect donations for the American Red Cross, which will then be distributed to victims in Japan. Collection points are set up throughout campus including Old Main, Prairie Wolves Bookstore, the library, and the Weary Center. On the first day of accepting donations, NWU faculty, staff and students raised $759.

Nebraska Wesleyan held a candlelight vigil for the Japanese victims and a meal and silent auction to help raise funds.

Post new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
Students, faculty and staff gather March 16 for a candlelight vigil honoring victims in Japan.