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Japan Disaster Hits Home for Two Local Educators

William Jassey was busy preparing for the arrival in Norwalk of 14 middle school students from Chiba, Japan, Thursday morning.  At the same time, his wife, Ikuko, was on the phone with her family, who live not far from the stricken area. “I speak to them very often, three times a day.”

The Jasseys, both professors at the University of Bridgeport, have extensive experience teaching Japanese language and culture. Bill was a founding member of the Center for Global Studies and the foreign language specialist for the Norwalk schools.

For these veteran educators, the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have hit home, both professionally and personally. “We have to bear it, and be calm and patient,” says Bill, who coordinates the Japanese exchange program at the Roton and Ponus middle schools.

Over the last week, he has been on the phone back and forth with the trip coordinators in Japan making sure last-minute details have been attended to.

“We are going to take good care of the kids and make them forget about what is happening back home,” says Bill.  “We are going to love them and show them the time of their lives.” The Japanese students have a full itinerary while in Norwalk, including an ice-skating party, a bowling night, potluck dinner  and rock-climbing.  At its Tuesday meeting, the Common Council will recognize the students from Chiba, which is near Tokyo.

Every year, a dozen or so students from Roton and Ponus participate in an exchange program with students from Chiba.  For two weeks, the Japanese students stay with Norwalk families. The hospitality is reciprocated in May when the Norwalk students stay with Japanese families.

Bill Jassey says the trip coordinators in Japan decided the children would come Norwalk despite the situation there, although two students opted not to come.  Bill says the  Norwalk students May trip to Chiba is a “question mark” and that he has been in touch with Assistant School  Superintendent Anthony Daddona about it.

Ikuko Jassey’s greatest fear is a nuclear disaster in Japan. “I worry that this will be another Chernobyl.”

“My family stays inside most of the time,” says Ikuko.  “When they have to go out they wear special jackets, masks, caps, glasses.  After they come home they put all their clothes in a vinyl bag and then take a shower to make sure they don’t have any radioactive particles on them.”

She says despite the seriousness of situation the Japanese people have been calm and orderly. “There is a feeling that everyone is suffering, so everyone has to help each other.”

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