- Arts & Life
On the morning of March 11, Aya Porte woke up early in preparation for her last midterm exam. She looked at her phone and had several missed calls from her mother. Porte’s mother informed her of the magnitude 8.9 offshore earthquake and massive tsunami that struck Japan–her home.
Porte turned on the television to see images of flooded towns with the death toll climbing every minute. She broke down and cried.
“It’s just something I didn’t expect to see that day,” Porte said.
Despite the news, Porte still took her exam that morning, then called her family and friends. Everyone in Porte’s immediate family was in the United States except her older brother, who was at the family home in Tokyo. Living 100 miles away from the disaster point, their area experienced the tremble of the earthquake and subsequent minor damages.
Porte got on the phone with her mother, who told her it was OK to cry.
“It was definitely an emotional roller coaster that day,” she said. “Fortunately that Friday was the beginning of spring break, so I already made plans with my family. My mom was talking to me to stay strong because I was going to see her very soon.”
Porte was born in London and her family moved to Tokyo when she was three. She lived there until she came to Quinnipiac in 2008. Porte attended the American School in Japan, which followed an American curriculum and conducted all classes in English. The only difference meant taking Japanese as opposed to the traditional foreign languages studied in the United States.
“I was very much well integrated in two different cultures,” Porte said. “When I was at my house, it was just a little Japanese neighborhood, and you have your neighbors, who are Japanese. So I felt like I kind of lived in two different worlds.”
In terms of her nationality, Porte has citizenship in the United States, Japan and France. As a child, Porte spoke English and Japanese fluently. Her father speaks English and French, so the two only communicate in English. Meanwhile, she speaks Japanese and English with her mother.
Porte studies occupational therapy at Quinnipiac. Having lived in Tokyo for most of her life, she wanted a drastic change of pace when choosing a college to attend. Porte sought a suburban environment, and Quinnipiac fit all of her criteria.
Porte hopes to travel one day, but realizes the difficulty of her profession will limit just how far she can go.
“It’s going to be easiest to find a job within the tri-state area,” she said. “Everything I’ve learned here, that’s all in English, I can barely translate back to Japanese. Realistically, it would make the most sense to work here for a little bit.”
Classmate and friend Theresa Wagner admires Porte’s work ethic.
“Working with her as a classmate is a dream,” Wagner said. “It’s great working on projects with her because you know she’ll pull her end and some.”
Wagner finds Porte “affectionate” and “very straightforward.” She respects Porte’s determination to do her part in helping Japan.
“She’s not sitting back and is an activist,” Wagner said. “She’s trying to keep it in the forefront, so the situation is not forgotten.”
Last Sunday, the Asian Pacific Islanders Association and the International Club sponsored Dragonfest, an event which raised money for the Global Relief Fund. Dragonfest showcased Asian culture, food and talent, as well as a variety of performances. As a member of APIA, Porte feels strongly about the organization’s efforts to help the cause.
She believes Japan needs more help than ever before.
“In Tokyo, they are experiencing blackouts and food rations because people are in a panic and frenzy. The effects are so much more massive and yet there hasn’t been much help,” she said. “I think people have this misconception that Japan is a relatively wealthy country and they will be able to bounce back. But the area that was hit is a much more rural area and still many, many people are displaced right now.”
Instead of receiving presents for her birthday next week, Porte is asking friends and family to donate money to Japan. Porte is turning 21 and wishes to raise at least $210 for relief efforts.
Porte has two jobs lined up in Japan for the summer. However, the ultimate decision to go back is up to her mother, who may choose to keep the family in the U.S.
“I think one of the hardest things about being here is that I’m not in Japan and that’s what hurts the most,” Porte said. “Japan is such a big part of my life. It’s where I consider where I’m from. It’s just really hard to be so far away.”
Photo credit: Ilya Spektor