Monday, March 14, 2011

My Heart Goes Out to Japan

As a student studying abroad, and as a student who has made a conscious effort to make herself a global citizen, I find it absolutely heart wrenching when a country is devastated. Even though watching videos from earthquakes, mudslides, fires, tsunamis and hurricanes is upsetting... I find that I can't not inform myself when something happens in another part of the world, or even to my own country.

This past Friday Japan was hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, as I'm sure all of you know. And then it was hit by a tsunami that has killed thousands of people, and thousands more are missing.

Although my first thoughts when I heard were about the well-being of the people whose lives were taken, their families, their homes and now broken lives I also began to think about something else...


Every semester, students from all over the world go abroad to study to other countries. There has been word about the safety of many students who were abroad in Japan for the semester, but some families are still waiting to hear about the safety of their students.

I could not imagine being in Japan during this time. But this natural disaster has really made me think long and hard about being in such a situation.

It was just this past May and June that I was in Costa Rica when Guatemala was hit by Hurricane Agatha, suffered a lot of damage, including an enormous sinkhole (technically a "piping feature" which is much more dangerous than a sinkhole) in Guatemala City that was 100 feet deep and 66 feet in diameter, and then had Volcano Pacaya erupt. In Guatemala alone, 153 people died and almost 180 died if you factor in Honduras and Nicaragua.

The difference between me being in Costa Rice instead of Guatemala during this natural disaster?
$10 in a plane ticket.
Thankfully, I was in Costa Rica and not in Guatemala (or Nicaragua or Honduras where they were hit). But regardless, it was a close call nonetheless.

I've thought the same thing several times now this semester: "Thankfully, I'm in Italy and not ________." (Take your pick as to what to fill in the blank with... the answers include but are not limited to Egypt, Japan, Tunisia, Morocco....)
So, thankfully I'm in Italy.
But it was just over a year ago that there were problems economically in countries like Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal, and while these are not as devastating as natural disasters or political unrest like that of Japan or Haiti or Egypt or Tunisia, they are still problems that can possibly affect students while abroad (not to mention student citizens of these countries).

It's a lot to think about when traveling. Things happen that are out of our control, and while it should not stop you from traveling, it is something to take into consideration and prepare for nonetheless.

Have you been keeping up with the news about Japan? What have your thoughts been? What has made you the most worried? Just as one of my first concerns was about students studying abroad because I can relate closely to them, what was one of your first concerns? And have you ever found yourself saying, "Thankfully I chose to travel to 'A' and not 'B' country"?

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