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Booking a philanthropic journey to Japan

Books collected by USC Dornsife students for Japan libraries.
USC Norman Topping scholars pack the books collected for donation to Japan’s American studies libraries affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Photo/Ambrosia Brody)

For the past few months, 13 students in the Japan Immersion program at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences collected 300 American studies books from schools across campus.

The students carried the books on a plane bound for Japan for a two-week trip in May sponsored by the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund at USC. The books arrived in Sendai in northern Japan at Tohoku University, where they were distributed to libraries being rebuilt after they were destroyed by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that set off a tsunami in 2011.

“I couldn’t imagine not having access to academic thought,” said Shamoiya Washington, a sophomore majoring in political science who was among the seven USC Dornsife students who traveled to Japan. “That is the case for many Japanese students who don’t have books.”

Before the tsunami, American studies libraries were abundant throughout Japan. Japanese people used the books to build on their English-language skills and learn about United States history.

With funding going toward reconstructing destroyed or damaged facilities, scholars have had trouble replacing the books in their newly rebuilt American studies libraries. In northern Japan, many of the libraries were wiped out, said George Sanchez, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, and professor of American studies and ethnicity, and history at USC Dornsife.

“We thought this was a wonderful project for our students,” said Sanchez, who heads the Japan Immersion program. “It connects us to associations near and dear to our hearts in Japan, and it allows our students to connect to faculty here at USC.”

For several of the first-generation college students, meeting professors to ask for the books marked the first visits to their offices. The task forced students to reach out to their professors.

USC Dornsife freshman Rubi Garcia, who is undecided in her major, visited the office of Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs and professor of international relations at USC Dornsife, to pick up a few books. She took the opportunity to discuss her upcoming trip to Japan and research ideas with Lamy.

“Donating books is a great way to give back,” Garcia said. “It allows us to demonstrate that we care not just about the USC community, we care about the global community.”

For more information on the students’ adventures in Japan, visit

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