Barring anything unexpected, nine students from Japan’s Iwate University will return to their country Saturday after studying for a month at the Kalamalka campus of Okanagan College.
And they will do so with mixed emotions.
The nine are returning home to a country that has changed greatly while they’ve been away, the result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed a portion of their homeland, killed thousands and left many without homes.
“We want to see our families, very much,” said Mio Fukuchi, joined by Misaki Takahashi in talking with a reporter at the Kalamalka campus Thursday morning.
For the two young women, students at the university located in Morioka, 170 kilometres north of Sendai, a city struck hardest by the 8.9 magnitude quake, watching the news of the horror in their homeland came as quite a shock.
“I had panic. I couldn’t contact my family. The weekend was very stressful and emotional,” said Takahashi.
“I heard Monday night that they are OK.”
Same for Fukuchi, who received a call from her mother. Both students’ homes also survived both the quake and tsunami.
“My home is 500 metres from where the tsunami hit,” said Takahashi. “It is located between a hill and where the tsunami was.”
The nine students are scheduled to fly to Tokyo from Saturday. From there, they go their separate ways.
But they will take with them memories of a community that has shown its support for them and all Japanese residents affected by the disaster.
The Kalamalka campus hosted a bake sale Thursday, spearheaded by a mother who hosted one of the students during their month-long stay in the North Okanagan. The funds raised from Thursday’s sales of baked goods will go to Iwate University.
“The university was damaged and the student housing there is full,” said Jodi Kokonis, Okanagan College home stay co-ordinator.
“Student housing is being used as an emergency shelter for those that lost their homes and their families. So any money we raised we’re donating to the university.”
The student body at the Kalamalka campus has also rallied behind the Japanese visitors.
“Everybody was hurt by what happened and the student association is in a position to be very involved to do whatever we can to help,” said Paul English, a second-year psychology student who serves as the human rights co-ordinator for the student association, and who praised the work done by association head Eric Riest.
“The students and professors want to get involved, people want to help.”
Kokonis said the community has also chipped in to help the students.
Surplus Herby’s donated backpacks filled with emergency kits for the nine students. Canadian Tire also donated products for the packs, and the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners provided some of their dried soup mix to the students, so each student is going home with one full bag of dried soup mix and one bag of dried apples.
“We want to say thank you so much to everybody,” said Fukuchi.
“We are so happy with all of the donations.”