A group of Japanese exchange students may have a stay in Kelowna extended due to the massive earthquake that struck Japan on Thursday.
Thirty university students from Japan are scheduled to fly from Kelowna to Japan today (Sunday), although their departure plans remained up in the air as of late Friday afternoon because major airlines cancelled some flights to Japan in the wake of the devastating quake.
The students are among a fairly large contingent of Japan exchange students that are currently studying in Kelowna as either short-term exchange students or as full-time students at either Okanagan College or UBC Okanagan.
“The good news is that the vast majority of our students have been able to make contact with friends and family,” said Steven Robinson, Okanagan College’s director of international education.
“We haven’t heard anyone who has suffered a tragedy and we’re certainly hoping that is the case once we talk to all of our students.”
Kelowna currently has more than 40 short-term exchange students from Japan as well as 18 full-time students studying at its Kelowna campus.
There are more at OC campuses in Vernon and Salmon Arm while UBCO has 19 students at its campus on a study permit from Japan.
As reports of damage and fatalities continued to come in from Japan on Friday, staff at OC and UBCO were busy touching base with its exchange students.
At OC, cultural liaison Kyoko Jones, a native of Japan currently living in Kelowna, had met with most of the Japanese students attending the college.
“Friday morning, we decided to speak to all of the students here,” said Jones.
“We went to their classrooms and checked with everybody to see if they were able to contact their families. Most of them are okay.”
Jones says she has been in contact with her family, noting the country has long been warned that a big earthquake would hit.
Still the images and the repercussions of the earthquake and resulting tsunami were hard to watch, she acknowledged.
“Japan has always suffered so many earthquakes,” she said.
“They have been talking about it for years that it would hit quite hard.
“This is bigger than they expected. Being away (from Japan) and just watching the tsunami and watching the news was indescribable.”
With information coming in quickly and changing rapidly, staff at OC will continue to try and help its exchange students in whatever way they can.
‘We’re trying to make sure they have all the resources they need to get information from home and make sure they are in touch with what’s happening,” said Christine Ulmer, promotions manager at Okanagan College.
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan was the largest one ever recorded in that country.
The resulting tsunami killed hundreds.