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Crisis Halts Study Abroad Programs in Japan

Affected students can opt for spring semester at Dartmouth


A view of Keio University campus taken from the Tokyo Tower. Photo courtesy of Chris 73

The devastation in northern Japan wrought by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the still-unfolding nuclear power plant crisis, has forced the University to cancel its participation in study abroad programs in that country.

Ben DeWinter, associate provost for International Programs at BU, has recommended that the six students who were to begin a semester at Keio University in Tokyo later this month not travel to Japan, and that the nine students already in Kyoto as part of a consortium program return to the States. The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning urging U.S. citizens to avoid Japan at this time. Many of the Keio-bound students were already in the region on their way to campus.

“We regret the circumstances leading to this recommendation, but believe that it is in the best interests of the students and the most prudent course of action,” DeWinter writes in a letter to students and their parents posted on the International Programs website. “Moreover, Keio University has postponed the start of the spring semester until April, but may postpone it again or cancel it completely.”

The 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan has already killed as many as 9,000 people, with more than 12,700 listed as missing. Some 434,000 people are homeless and living in shelters.

The natural disasters sparked a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant after reactors were stricken, with several in severe distress or damage. On March 18, Japan’s nuclear safety agency raised its severity assessment to 5 on a 7-level international scale. The world’s worst nuclear disaster, in Ukraine’s Chernobyl in 1986, was rated a 7. The U.S. Embassy last week recommended that Americans within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactors evacuate. Tokyo is 140 miles south of the plant.

“Everyone at International Programs expresses the deepest sympathy for the people of Japan and are doing everything they can to support their efforts for a successful recovery from this disaster,” DeWinter says. “Of course, we are aware of the potential difficulties for students and are trying to do everything we can to support their semester so they can complete it with a minimum of disruption.”

DeWinter says that Boston University will refund program tuition to the affected students and work with Keio University to recover any other student fees paid. Because the terms at Keio University start later, these students will not be able to join the spring semester already under way at BU. University officials, however, have come up with an alternative to keep the students’ progress toward their degrees intact.

“I am pleased to inform you that Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H, has agreed to accept Boston University students currently enrolled in the Keio Exchange Program as visiting students for the spring quarter, which begins on March 28, 2011,” DeWinter writes.

Dartmouth offers a range of Japanese language and other related courses that can be applied to a Boston University degree. As another option, students are urged to pursue summer studies at BU or elsewhere. The deadline to sign up for Dartmouth enrollment is Wednesday, March 23. (See details below.)

Also affected are BU students enrolled in the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies, a consortium of 11 U.S. universities administered by Columbia University in Kyoto. Related classes will be suspended this week, but because the students had already been studying, arrangements have been made for them to finish their semester remotely online, with the support of their Kyoto and BU faculties.

In January, the University was forced to suspend its popular Niger program after two Westerners were abducted from a crowded restaurant in the capital.

To reserve a place at Dartmouth College for the spring semester, beginning there March 28, contact Debra Terzian, BU International Programs director of program management and summer programs, at 617-353-9888 or dterzian@bu.edu as soon as possible—but no later than Wednesday, March 23. Terzian can also assist in finding appropriate programs if a student prefers another option.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

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