Raleigh students return after Japan quake

Posted March 17, 2011
Updated March 18, 2011

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— Gloria Young wrapped her arms around her 14-year-old daughter at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Friday, a week after the teen and her classmates narrowly avoided an earthquake and tsunami in Japan. 

"I'm just relieved to have her home and know that she's safe. I'm just emotional 'cause it's over I guess," Young said. 

Young's daughter, Samantha, was among eight students from Exploris Middle School in Raleigh who, along with teacher Devon Banks and Principal Kevin Piacenza, traveled to Japan for a planned three-week exchange program.

The  program was cut short due to the disaster. Most of the group arrived home Friday evening.

Samantha Young was the first Exploris student to return home. Her parents were worried so they arranged for her to return earlier than the rest of the group.

samantha young Raleigh students return home from Japan

"It wasn't that she wasn't safe in Hiroshima. It's just that once things got a little crazy with travel (and) it would be very difficult to get her out, (we felt it would) just be prudent to fly her out early," Samantha Young's father, Todd Young, said. 

Piacenza said the earthquake struck Japan last Friday as their plane was making its descent to Tokyo's airport. 

"We were about to land in Tokyo and the captain came on (and said), 'No, I'm sorry there was a sudden earthquake,'" Samantha Young said. "We were like, 'Oh it must happen all the time,' because he was very calm about it." 

Hunter Hair, father of Trevor, said, "We were terrified when we woke up that morning and they were supposed to be landing 30 minutes before the earthquake happened."

The group was diverted to Osaka, then made its way to Hiroshima, where students were paired with host families.

Despite the disaster elsewhere, Tara Boldrin said the experience was more than worthwhile.

"Hiroshima is such a great place," Boldrin said. "I would recommend going there. It's a beautiful city.

"It was totally a new experience," she said. "Everything is different about the culture, all the people and everything, so I loved it." 

During their journey, they witnessed relief efforts starting up, Piacenza wrote in an email to WRAL News.

"The highway was lined with defense force caravans on the road to Tokyo. Troop carriers, heavy equipment (and) generators were headed north, one after another," he stated.

The students were welcomed by their host school, but the natural disaster rightly consumed all the attention and energy, Piacenza said.

"My host family, they were great," Samantha Young said. "This entire experience, I'm going to remember for a while, but my host family, they were amazing." 

She said she felt bad leaving Japan. 

"What about them, and what's going to happen to them? It's scary. Our soldiers are going over there to help out so that's a good thing. I just hope there's a way I can help out too," she said. 


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  • ambidextrous cat Mar 21, 2011

    I can tell you for a fact that tax payers do not pay for Exploris Middle School's trips to Japan. I never had the opportunity to go because my parents couldn't come up with more than a few grand! I'd like to hear about students who aren't the children of yuppies having the opportunity to travel to other countries. If the program was funded properly more students would be able to go to countries like Japan.

  • geosol Mar 18, 2011

    Glad they're back and safe.

  • 37 Mar 18, 2011

    So nothing happened? Got it.

  • computer trainer Mar 18, 2011

    Prayers for these children, that nothing will come of their adventure, other than the memories that they will have for life. I know if my child were there, I would have been a little anxious.

  • thewayitis Mar 18, 2011

    So this is headline news?

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Mar 18, 2011

    If we have to explain the benefits of traveling to other countries and experiencing other cultures first're probably beyond having a rational & thoughtful conversation with.

  • BrindAmourFan Mar 18, 2011

    Thumbs up to impatientgirl and BigTenFan. I am the parent of an Exploris graduate and eternally grateful for the education and training my son received there. He emerged from that experience able to THINK and REASON and ADAPT, not simply to memorize facts for test purposes. I sincerely wish ALL of WCPSS parents could say the same about their own children!

  • Cricket at the lake Mar 18, 2011

    I would not send my child to Japan with out me.

  • BigTenFan Mar 18, 2011

    2alegal - There was no reason to abort the trip. The kids trip was to Hiroshima (appx 600 miles south) and they had a fully planned itinerary. There was no food or energies spent or wasted on these kids, they had host families, went to school, had a normal week. As a parent of one of the children that went; until yesterday there really wasn't anything to really be that concerned over. These kids planned this for close to a year, if we had changed the itinerary we would have been teaching them to not think critically, make rash decisions without all the information, and that it is okay to just panic. As parents (and the one paying for the trip), once we had all of the information we made the right decisions for our child based on the information at hand.

  • LovemyPirates Mar 18, 2011

    Those who think this trip was a waste of money are the same who fail to understand the world is now a global economy and will never go back. We need to understand other cultures societies and people so we can better cooperate and compete. These lessons start early - even before middle school.