TRANSYLVANIANS IN NEW ZEALAND: Safe, Despite Catastrophe

by Jake Hawkins
Staff

Though the epicenter was over 8,000 miles away, Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, was felt very close to the Transylvania bubble.

One current student, junior Victoria Poindexter, is studying abroad in the country, according to Kathy Simon, director of study abroad and special programs. The alumni office also reports that some alumni are in the area as well.

Poindexter is currently studying at the University of Otago located in Dunedin, about 225 miles south of Christchurch.

“I did feel some aftershocks of the 6.3 (magnitude) earthquake in Christchurch,” said Poindexter in an e-mail to The Rambler.

Leah Wilson ’07 is, according to the alumni office’s records, in the Christchurch region. Mason Benjamin ’67 is thought to be in New Zealand as well, though in a different area.

E-mails sent to Wilson were not immediately returned, and the alumni office did not have contact information for Benjamin on file.

The Rambler learned that Erik Johnson ’09 was also in Christchurch when the earthquake hit. Johnson had been in the area for six months and was hours away from boarding a flight home when the natural disaster occurred, according to his brother Dayne Johnson, also a Transy graduate (2007), who spoke on behalf of the family.

“Thanks for thinking of us; we are fine, the city is not. Flights are not at all certain. We were lucky enough to escape the Cathedral Square,” said Johnson in a Facebook status posted on Tuesday.

Cathedral Square is the center of Christchurch daily living. It is in the area where more than 300 people are believed to be missing, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Not only was Johnson able to escape but, according to his brother, he is in transit back to the United States, where he is expected sometime today. He was originally scheduled to be home on Wednesday.

When asked about the immediate response to the disaster, Poindexter discussed a cultural difference between New Zealand and the United States.

“Volunteering is not common here in New Zealand as it is in America,” she said. “This is a cultural difference that fascinates me, but now they are depending on volunteers more than ever, and I can’t wait to lend a hand wherever it is needed.”

There are multiple organizations already organizing relief efforts and trying to assist in the situation. Google, through a Google.org project, is pooling resources to track Tweets within 50 miles of the Christchurch area and is serving as a source to report and search for information on missing persons.

Poindexter, who is just starting her study abroad experience, does plan to continue the program, though she said some peers have made the decision to return home.

“New Zealand is a beautiful place and my time spent here has been amazing,” Poindexter said. “All I can do now is be as respectful as possible to the situation at hand and represent America in the best possible way.”

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