Kate Wray Chettri, left, advisor and outreach assessment coordinator, and Candace Chenoweth, director of Education Abroad and the Office of International Students and Scholars. (Photo by Hope Belli Tinney, International Programs)
Helping international students
contact home is important too
When Candace Chenoweth heard about the 9.0 earthquake in Sendai, Japan, in March, her first thought was about the safety of the four WSU students studying in that country.
As director of the WSU Education Abroad program, that’s part of her job. But she’s also director of the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS); so her next thought was about the nearly 70 students from Japan studying at WSU.
While several hundred WSU students travel overseas for study or service each year, WSU Pullman is the temporary home to more than 1,600 international students annually.
Garnette Roberts, an international student advisor for OISS, said major disasters like the Japanese earthquake or the uprising in Libya shine a light on the issue. But international students, like all students, sometimes are affected by smaller scale, but major, life events at home.
“It happens all the time,” Roberts said. OISS will refer students to WSU Counseling Services when that is appropriate, he said, but sometimes a student just needs to get home.
The situation is complicated when home is half a world away. Domestic students from Seattle, for instance, can head home for a weekend if they desperately need to see loved ones, but it’s not so easy if those loved ones are in India.
Ideally students talk with OISS advisors about their options before leaving for home, Roberts said, so that if students intend to return to WSU they have a plan in place.
Roberts said he knows of one student from Japan who lost a brother during the earthquake and tsunami and went home to be with family. She has since returned to WSU and is working with faculty and staff so she can finish the semester.
Kelsey Hawthorne, director of the International Center, said she wasn’t able to talk with any Japanese students until nearly 10 days after the earthquake. At that point, she said, students were matter-of-fact about the crisis and moving forward.
PULLMAN, Wash. – When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the WSU Education Abroad office is immediately on alert.
With several hundred WSU students studying around the world, they have to be.
“We are always, constantly paying attention to anything happening around the world,” said Laurie Quiring, supervisor of faculty-led programs. When a crisis occurs, she said, “We all just come together as a group and troubleshoot any situation that arises.”
Confirming the safety of WSU students in the region becomes the immediate priority, said Holly Lengacher, program support supervisor for WSU Education Abroad: “It’s put to the top of the list.”
Lengacher typically is the one who heads to the WSU database, immediately running reports to figure out whether any students are at ground zero of the disaster and then moving out in concentric circles.
In some cases, as when the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan in March, staff knew immediately that there were WSU students in country who had to be accounted for. But, Lengacher said, even if she is fairly sure there are no WSU students in harm’s way, she still checks the database just to make sure.
Candace Chenoweth, director of the WSU Education Abroad program, said she was awakened early on March 11 by a call from former WSU colleague Allegra Johnson, who is study abroad coordinator at the University of North Carolina.
“Are any WSU students in Japan?” Johnson asked.
At about the same moment, Chenoweth said, she was getting text messages from her staff, also alerting her to the crisis. She immediately checked her emails and discovered that her counterpart at Kansai Gaidai University where the WSU students were enrolled had already written to say the students were safe.
That wasn’t the end of the story. There were parents to call, updates to monitor and decisions to make. But in the critical hours immediately following the disaster, knowing the students were safe and accounted for was a huge relief.
“For me, the earthquake in Japan was one of the hardest because of the uncertainties with the nuclear reactor,” Chenoweth said.
In the days following the disaster she remained in contact with colleagues in Japan, continued to monitor air quality reports and watched for U.S. travel advisories. She eventually made the recommendation that the students be allowed to complete the semester in Japan. With the provost’s approval, all of the students elected to stay in Japan through the end of their programs.
“Every single crisis is slightly different,” Chenoweth said. “You have your emergency protocols, and then you have to adjust.”
Successful study abroad experiences depend on a partnership between WSU, the host university and, often, third-party study abroad providers. In an emergency situation, Chenoweth said, that relationship is even more important.
“We have a very wide network,” she said. Depending on what the emergency is, she might be in contact with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. State Department or any number of other international organizations.
“You tap into every resource you have,” she said.