Although the earthquake was about 200 miles from where Andrew Ream, a junior majoring in psychology and East Asian languages and cultures, was studying, he still felt the tremors at the Tokyo International University where he was studying abroad.
“We were in the middle of our Japanese Society class, during one of the break periods,” Ream said. “When the shaking began, many of us didn’t think it was that serious; the shaking started out weak and many of the students were from areas that experience small scales earthquakes on a regular basis.”
Ream and his classmates soon found this particular earthquake was not like the small-scale earthquakes that frequently affect Japan.
“The shaking grew more intense and our coordinator came out of his office and told everyone to get under the tables,” Ream said. “We did, and there was some screaming, but no one panicked and everyone stayed put.”
Ream noticed the native Japanese citizens could sense something had gone wrong, while the study abroad students didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation.
“The [Japanese students and teachers] were huddled around in circles, trying to comfort each other; one student was crying and there was tangible fear in the air,” Ream said. “As foreign students, we didn’t fully grasp the severity of the situation, but the native students understood the consequences of an earthquake that strong.”
The 9.0-magnitude quake was about 200 miles away from Tokyo and about 80 miles away from Sendai, Japan.
Eight out of the 17 USC students studying in Japan this semester have already returned to the United States. The others were on breaks in different countries and have not decided on a course of action, according to Michael L. Jackson, vice president of Student Affairs.
Ream was studying at Tokyo International University in Kawagoe, which is to the northwest of Tokyo during the earthquake, for 16 days. Matt Lindley, the TIU abroad program coordinator, informed the students a bus from TIU would be taking them to the airport Friday, March 18, seven days after the earthquake occurred.
Ream was in a store equivalent to a Best Buy when he discovered the shocking news that he was going to have to return to the United States.
“I saw an iPad on display and started fiddling with it, toying with apps, checking my email,” Ream said. “I read that I had to leave by the end of the week.”
Ream said he was disappointed to leave because he was just getting used to his environment and had developed a bond with his host family.
“I felt like I was about to throw up … I was just getting used to everything, I loved my host family to pieces, I was really getting into my classes. There was no way I would have to up and leave all that behind so soon,” Ream said. “I looked out the bus window and watched Kawagoe move past me while I just sat and watched … I just had to watch it all speed past through a pane of glass.”
Ream spoke to his host family, who also shared his sadness that he would have to leave so soon. Ream, reminded himself that he’d be able to come back during the fall semester to continue his studies.
“This realization set my cognitive gears in motion and I started to look at things in a different light,” he said.
Despite the catastrophe, Ream had no idea his time in Japan was going to end so abruptly.
Ream’s graduation date will be pushed back because he originally wanted to study in Japan for a full year, but needed to be in the United States for his last fall semester.