First-Person Account: Arrival in Ofunato

Note: Representatives from the International and Multicultural Student Services Office and the English Language Institute at Arkansas Tech University have traveled with Dr. John Watson, vice president for academic affairs, to Ofunato, Japan to conduct an English language camp for one week. Ofunato was devastated by a tsunami in March 2011. EducationUSA, a program of the U.S. State Department, asked Arkansas Tech to hold an English language camp in Ofunato so that school children can improve their English skills and for to establish ties with the community. Below is part one of a first-person account of the Arkansas Tech delegation’s trip to Japan written and filed from Ofunato by Brent Hogan, instructor in the Arkansas Tech English Language Institute. We traveled by train from Tokyo to Ofunato, switching between several lines until the train tracks stopped because they had been washed away. In our passenger car on the second leg, several boys and girls rode along. They have to travel by train for well over an hour each day to attend classes because their school buildings were destroyed and have not been rebuilt. Our last leg of the journey was by bus. The winding route showed us the major construction along the coast line. Gigantic dirt movers were removing dirt from the mountainsides and adding them to the harbor areas below. In other cases, it appeared as if the dirt was being taken away from the lowlands, perhaps moving the mud and silt and other material left over after the water receded two years ago. These sites appeared throughout the last half of our journey north. We were met in Ofunato by a local school organizer. After allowing us to buy food at the local grocery store, the organizers drove us to the school area which is now located on a hillside camping facility. It was past nightfall, so we could not see the temporary school set up on the grounds, much less the gravel road that we walked down to our very rustic accommodations. We are split up between two one-room housing facilities, male and female, with bunk beds along the walls. For our first full day, we met the mayor of Ofunato, Kimiaki Toda, who explained the current circumstances of the recovery effort in the area. While roads, businesses and the harbor are being rebuilt, housing and education revitalization is yet to come. A nearby elementary school we visited has temporary housing on the playgrounds and ball fields, a perfect illustration of how the children do not have the full benefit of their school because people still do not have a home to live in. Beginning on Monday, we will be holding our English language camp in the temporary junior high school. It is a two story pre-fab building that houses several classes and offices. We will set up our classrooms in the early morning with a 9 a.m. start time. We have almost 100 students, a huge number for an academic camp, so we know that the community is excited about this opportunity. We are also excited by this opportunity, and we hope that we can learn from our students as much as they will learn from us.]]>