Spotlight Iowa City: Journey covers Hawaii, Japan


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UI senior Christopher Schafer didn’t have an average trip back to the UI after winter break.

Coming home from Japan, the 24-year-old had a long haul to hometown Bettendorf made even worse when the plane suffered mechanical error over the ocean and a delay caused by Midwest fog.

Schafer was one of the 10 students who traveled to Hawaii and Japan in the UI’s “From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima” winterim program. After three weeks of visiting museums and memorials of Pearl Harbor, he said he now has a better understanding of what happened on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.

“Being there made me realize how destructive the bombs were,” he said, describing the experience a real “eye opener.”

With his avid curiosity about all things Japanese, he said, a trip such as this was vital.

“I’ve been interested in the Japanese culture since before I remember,” he said.

Starting in Hawaii for a week, Schafer took classes, reading about the history of the Pearl Harbor attacks. The group members departed Hawaii on Jan. 3 and left for Japan, where they heard survivors’ stories and visited such sites as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

History Professor Stephen Vlastos and Maryann Rasmussen, a lecturer in English, led the trip. Both have taught Schafer about Japanese history.

Rasmussen and Vlastos say they noticed his special interest in the Pacific War.

“Chris had a lot of background and had a real advantage,” said Rasmussen, who taught Schafer in a Japanese literature class.

Rasmussen said that for all the students it was an overall “great experience.”

Vlastos also noted that Schafer was very tuned in to the opportunities the trip had to offer.

“Chris maybe had the strongest background academically,” Vlastos said.

The journey was such a success, officials will plan another trip next year but may change the time to the spring, Vlastos said.

In addition to learning and eating sushi, the students encountered some problems on the way home.

The group had to unexpectedly land in San Francisco after a mechanical error over the Pacific Ocean, and members taking connecting flights after landing in Chicago missed those connections.

Schafer jokes that part of the experience was “long, tiring, and very boring” — certainly not as fun as when he wandered in a Buddhist temple, soaking in the smell of incense and soothing chants.

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