Senior Nikoli Falenschek has been looking forward to an international experience for his entire student career at Concordia. He had originally planned to travel to Greece for a Credo May Seminar, but it was canceled because it was two participants short. He could have graduated in three years because he came into college with credits, but he decided to stay one more year to go to Japan with band. When the announcement came last Monday that the Japan trip was cancelled, he knew his dream of traveling during college had ended.
“I’ve always had traveling abroad in my mind,” Falenschek said. “I’ve thought about traveling on my own now that the trip is canceled, but because I’m going to school in California next year, I think I will just save my money right now. Greece and Japan will always be there.”
The aftermath of the earthquake in Japan March 11 and again April 7 has hit closer to home. The Concordia Band has canceled their international trip this May and rescheduled it for next year. Many band members grieve for the loss of their international tour this year, but their loss is considered in context with the bigger situation.
“One of the real gifts of a place like Concordia is that students have the quick ability to juxtapose a decision like this to the tragedy of Japan,” Concordia Band director Dr. Scott Jones said. “They realize this is not as big of a deal in comparison.”
Since the news of the first earthquake reached Concordia, the band has been nervous and hopeful that Japan would recover and that the tour would still be possible. However, the United States Department of Travel placed travel warnings over some of the areas that the band would be traveling through, including Tokyo, where the band would be flying in and out of. This made travel plans difficult. According to Per Anderson, dean of Global Education, it is Concordia’s practice and policy to not send students to regions or countries where there is a travel warning in place.
“For all of us who were aware of the inner-workings of deciding what to do about the trip, there was a gradual paradigm shift in our minds,” Jones said. “We knew there was a good possibility we wouldn’t be going, and we were all looking for comfort despite our anxiety for an eventual decision to be made.”
The decision, after weeks of research and communication with the tour companies and various members of administration at Concordia, was made and announced during band rehearsal Mon., April 4.
“To give everyone time to make good decisions, we needed to make a call at this moment,” Anderson said. “Travel warnings that are currently in force indicate that US citizens should defer nonessential travel, and we have to consider the scope of this trip.”
The tour company in charge of all travel and lodging has ensured that the students will have a full refund, and leaders are still working with Delta Airlines to ensure that the money invested in their flights will be returned to them.
The Japan trip planning began soon after the band’s return from Norway four years ago. Jones had the opportunity to travel to Japan in 1987 as he was working on his undergraduate degree at Ohio State University, and he knew that the Japanese experience was one that would be enlightening to his students.
“The country is remarkable in every way,” Jones said. “Its beauty is so striking. The Japanese have a sense of wholeness and completeness in their culture that is so far outside of what we typically know. I thought that if we were going to do an international trip, let’s do something unfamiliar with them to broaden their worlds.”
To prepare for such a different culture, associate art professor Susan Lee was working on providing six installments of Japanese culture sessions for the group. Because no member of the band, besides Jones, had traveled to Asia before, he thought it would be beneficial to get some experience beforehand. The lessons would have included culture and customs, history of the country and how the history influences interactions and stereotypes.
“It really made tangible the fact that it was actually happening,” Jones said. “It heightened the anticipation for the trip.”
In addition, Jones and multiple band members were taking online Japanese classes or learning some of the language through CD language courses.
After the initial trip was planned, the band received an invitation to play at the Japan Band Clinic, a prestigious international gathering for bands and directors. The Concordia Band was the 14th American band to be invited in the clinic’s 43 year history. Jones’s college band was one of the prior 13 bands.
“It was a real joy and surprise to get an invitation when they found out we’d be in the country,” Jones said.
Since the trip’s cancellation, band leaders have been communicating with the clinic’s board, explaining that they are apologetic to cancel, but that they would be interested in playing in 2012 if another invitation were extended.
The band hopes to take the trip next May, and many members still hope to gain the Japanese experience.
“The nature of playing in Japan will be so much more different now than before the tsunami,” junior Stefan Olson said. “They have so much grief, and we can provide a time of reflection and release through music. It’s a source of comfort.”
While Olson had hoped that the trip would be able to happen this year so the band’s music could make a difference, he is understanding of the decision and plans to make the best of the year.
“We will just keep going like any other year and do the best we can in our last few weeks,” Olson said.
The trip is being postponed to May 2012, but there are 16 seniors in band this year that will no longer get to travel internationally with band. The last international trip was in May 2007 to Norway, three months before this year’s seniors would have arrived as freshmen on campus.
“All of us have those seniors in our mind and heart’s eye,” Jones said.
Even though this year ended in an unconventional way for Falenschek, he is understanding of the situation.
“I don’t think my band experience is any less amazing than it would have been going to Japan,” Falenschek said. “Japan would have been the icing on the cake, but I’ve had a great experience. [Band] has been my spiritual go-to and my emotional release for the past few years, and [the trip’s cancellation] doesn’t change anything.”
Position at the Concordian: PULSE writer; Year in School: Sophomore; Hometown: West Fargo, North Dakota; Favorite Newspaper: The Washington Times; Favorite Magazine: Vanity Fair; Favorite Writer: Jodi Picoult