Back in March, when the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, we spoke to Kana Igarashi. Kana is a Japanese student at Santa Monica College in California, and her family lives in Fukushima, about 80 km from the damaged nuclear plant. At the time we told her we’d look forward to talking to her again in happier circumstances.
A month later, I wish the circumstances were happier than they are, but the worst certainly seems to be over, so we caught up with Kana over email to see how she’s been doing.
First of all, how is your family doing? Are they still in Fukushima Prefecture?
My family is doing okay, thank you. They are still in Fukushima prefecture trying to have a normal life while people in the ocean side are still having difficulties with their livings.
When we last talked, about a week after the earthquake, I don’t think anyone could have imagined this would drag on as long as it has. Are things getting better for the residents of Fukushima Prefecture?
Many people were evacuated to other prefectures. More people who passed away around the nuclear plan were revealed. Aids from other prefectures were arrived. I think the situation has changed a lot in a way that people have to face the reality after this unbelievable disaster.
I cannot really say that things are better for them comparing to before considering the fact that they have to start everything from nothing and that those who were evacuated to other prefectures have been discriminated by other citizens just because they think that they will get the radiation from them. But I am believing in that everything will be okay.
Has the school made any special accommodations for you and other Japanese students who were affected?
Yes, Santa Monica College has been supporting Japanese students a lot.
They, first, sent all of the Japanese students an email about how they are always there for us. They held some meetings for Japanese students and told us how they can help us. They [offered] some Japanese [counselors] to talk to for Japanese students.
They gave us some permissions to perform donation at school and let those students who lost their houses in Japan, lost family, and decided to stay at SMC enroll [in] classes for free for the coming up semester.
With the school year coming to an end, what are your plans for after graduation?
I have talked with my parents and have decided to stay here for another year at least to see how the things go in Fukushima. I am going to get OPT and support myself without my parents’ money.
Since I found out that I need one more class to graduate from SMC, I am too early to apply for the OPT. However, I made an appointment to meet a person who is responsible for OPT at school on May 12th. I am supposed to fill out some document form and prepare a picture by that time.
After meeting her, all I have to do is to send my [application] materials and $340 to the Department of Homeland Security. Then, I am supposed to receive my EAD card [work permit] in 60 to 90 days.
I think it should be very easy to extend my student visa through OPT. And, I do not have to have a job before I apply. It is a great idea to start looking [for] jobs though.
For the perspective of another Japanese student in the U.S., watch this video. Alex Busingye interviewed fellow international student Yusuke Ishimura, who is from Tokyo: