Japanese disaster leaves UAA grad student missing

UAA’s relationship with Japan extends beyond the Pacific plate boundary. According to Theodore Kassier, Director of the Office of International Affairs (OIA), UAA has four students currently studying in Japan. Three are at Hokkaido University of Education, and one is in Nagoyo.

As of March 18, UAA has not recommended that students leave Japan. OIA has kept in contact with all four students since the March 11 earthquake, and all are safe. Kassier said that he felt comfortable with the current situation because both locations are more than a hundred miles from the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima.

UAA graduate student Monty Dickson, 26, has been missing since March 12. Dickson is one of two students missing that are part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). He currently teaches English at Yonesaki elementary and junior high school.

“Friends in Japan have been unable to locate him, but it’s very difficult seeing as it’s hard to get into the town he was at, with phone lines also being down. He was last known to be evacuating to or from City Hall, possibly in Sendai, when the tsunami hit. Unfortunately, that’s the gist of what’s known about his whereabouts,” Teresa Combs, a friend of Dickinson, said.

Dickson is one of ten thousands people missing listed on Google People Finder, a site formed in response to the 8.9 earthquake. Google also implemented a Missing Person Finder channel on Youtube.

Several people have posted on People Finder: Japan Earthquake 2011 looking for Dickinson. Dickson’s girlfriend Naomi Musashi has looked for him since March 12.

“I was able to talk to him on his cell phone right after the earthquake. He was taking shelter at the city hall but I think that was before the tsunami. After that I haven’t been able to contact him. If there is anyone who knows something, anything at all, please let me know,” Musashi wrote.

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Unlike UAA, many universities with study abroad programs have encouraged or forced their students to leave Japan. The California State University system, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University have all withdrawn their students. At printing time, all their students had been returned to the U.S.

Some students believe these evacuations are quite unnecessary. Anchorage community member Toncey Jackson is currently studying at Temple University in Tokyo. She said the following when asked via e-mail how she felt about the situation in Japan.

“I’m irritated, I feel helpless, I’m mad at my school for not helping us and leaving us twisting in the wind when the earthquake hit, people are overreacting about the radiation, people in Tokyo need to stop panic-buying, I want to finish my classes for the semester, I want to be able to use the trains and vending machines in Tokyo normally, Alaska will not die from radiation coming from Fukushima, a power plant cannot explode the same as a bomb, I wish my mother would calm down. I’m not leaving unless I have NO choice because I worked too hard and sacrificed too much to get here. My boyfriend has been calm and taking care of me and translating the news, I miss my friends, I’m worried about my friends and friends’ families in the Tohoku region. The list goes on and on.”

A day after this conversation on March 17, Temple University decided to evacuate all Americans from its Tokyo campus. Jackson is one of 70 students out of a total enrollment of 200 that chose to remain on campus until Temple University’s decision.

Many businesses have been quick to financially assist Japan. On Mar. 18, Forever 21 donated 100 percent of online sales to the Red Cross. Starbucks donated 1.2 million to the Japan Red Cross and to the American Red Cross. Apple made a “Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief” donation button.

Susan Seymour, an Administrative Assistant at Student Health and Counseling Center, said that several UAA students have benefitted from a GCI deal: from March 15 to April 10th, GCI customers can call Japan for free.

This followed about a day after other major phone companies also offered the service. Until March 31st, AT&T and T-Mobile will offer free service to Japan. Verizon and Sprint through April 10.

At UAA, there are several fundraising efforts underway. The International Student Association (ISA) is planning several fundraisers for Japan. ISA most recently encouraged UAA students to see “Inlaws & Outlaws,” an award-winning documentary by Seattle based filmmaker Drew Emery.

50 percent of all DVD sales went to ISA’s fundraising efforts.

The screening—an idea of Alaska Airlines—took place at Rasmuson Hall, and detailed the story of various gay, lesbian, and straight couples. The film considered the overtone of a political landscape that does not recognize certain relationships, but focused mostly on the love common to each relationship, and how that love could preserve through difficult times.