For Scott Ruddello, a Japanese major, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan not only devastated a country he loved, but also set back a year’s worth of plans.
The California State University has issued a 90-day travel ban on Japan, prohibiting study abroad until at least June, leaving many prospective study abroad students discouraged.
“I was just angry and frustrated because I knew it couldn’t be helped,” Ruddello said in reference to an email sent by the study abroad office March 15 about the ban. “I felt like I was left with so many unanswered questions.”
The continuation of the fall study abroad program in Japan will be determined based on the status of the national travel warning and Japan’s progress with the disaster.
“Right now there are risks and the situation poses danger,” said Yenbo Wu, director of international education at SF State. “When things get back in shape, we will re-open the program, but right now it just depends.”
Japan’s northeast coast, which was hit with a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami on March 11, is currently combating a nuclear crisis amid the destruction. The severity level reached a maximum level of seven last Tuesday, putting it on par with the Chernobyl disaster.
“Our concern is students being exposed to radiation and getting sick,” Wu said. “It’s a health risk and we want to keep them safe.”
As a result, the 12 SF State students who were studying abroad in Japan at the time of the disaster were sent home four days after.
Wu is optimistic that the program will be open for students at least by spring, but he is hoping to have students back in Japan by fall at the latest.
“We still have students applying,” he said. “The CSU is already planning for the fall, though it’s not been clearly announced.”
While applicants are disappointed by the change of plans, they are still anticipating a future of studying abroad in Japan.
“At first it was really upsetting,” said Japanese major Clifford Phan. “The thing about the program I applied to was that I still got an acceptance letter that said they were looking to let people apply again in spring, so I’m hopeful.”
Phan, who did not have to make significant financial changes prior to his departure, said he feels luckier than most.
“I know people who had to go as far as selling their cars and got an email days later saying they weren’t going anymore,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse for me, so I can’t complain.”
Wu suggested that students who applied to study abroad visit a study abroad counselor to establish a back-up plan for their academic year.
“Right now we’re facing an unknown, so no one can really say for sure what students should do,” Wu said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. There could be another earthquake tomorrow and we’d have to deal with that, too.”
Though Ruddello still does not know what his future entails, he knows he will apply again to study abroad in spring.
“I’m not really sure what my plans are now,” he said. “My hope is to apply again and that those who could not go because of the travel warning will get priority over those who newly applied.”