In the Midst of Tragedy

Two students from Japan’s tsunami disaster zone continue their studies at UAFS

Abe and Mana Miura“My experiences at this university will definitely help me move forward,” said Misato Abe, speaking to the more than 300 scholars and donors who attended the 2011 Scholarship Banquet at UAFS. “I have made good friends and learned a lot of new things from this experience. I am so grateful to the people who gave me such a wonderful opportunity.”


Thanks to two Japanese Student Disaster Relief Scholarships awarded in summer 2011, Abe and Mana Miura, another Japanese student from the area devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, are spending this academic year studying at UAFS. The two scholars were selected based on a variety of criteria, including their English language skills and an essay about their reasons for wanting to study in the U.S. In order to apply, Japanese students had to be currently enrolled in a university within the disaster zone.


“We wanted to offer a tangible way to not only meet the immediate needs of two individuals who have lost everything,” said Chancellor Paul B. Beran of the decision to create the two full-tuition scholarships, “but we wanted to help them in the midst of this terrible tragedy to focus on the future and building lives beyond this time.”


In addition to tuition, Abe and Miura receive a living-expenses stipend given by Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas, Inc., which is building a plant in Fort Smith, and also benefit from nearly $10,000 in private gifts made by members of the Fort Smith community to support their studies.


Both are taking full course loads, including Freshmen English and American National Government, and both are excited to further improve their language skills, which they believe will make them even more valuable when they return to the disaster zone to lend their hands to the reconstruction effort.


At the banquet, Abe spoke briefly about her hometown of Minami Sanriku, where nearly 10,000 people are believed to have lost their lives in the disaster. Her father, a city building official, and her mother, a nurse, were among the survivors, and they now live in a temporary apartment while they work to salvage something of the devastated town they have called home their entire lives.


“The earthquake took many things from me,” she said. “Good friends, houses, memories. But what I learned is also significant. I realize being alive is miraculous, important, and wonderful.”