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U.S. victim in Japan fulfilled dream in Asia

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    In this July 17, 2010 photo provided the Anderson family, Taylor Anderson, right, poses with one of her students in Ishinomaki, Japan, where she taught English. Anderson's family said in a statement that the U.S. Embassy in Japan on Monday, March 21, 2011 informed them by telephone of the discovery of their 24-year-old daughter's body. (AP Photo/Anderson Family) NO SALES

RICHMOND, Va. >> Taylor Anderson spent more than two years overseas, fulfilling her longtime dream to live in Japan, immerse herself in Asian culture and befriend new people.

Anderson’s body was found 10 days after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the coastal city where she taught English. The 24-year-old woman was last seen riding her bike away from an elementary school after making sure students were safe following the earthquake.

Anderson’s death was the first confirmed American fatality in the Japan disaster, the U.S. State Department said Tuesday as authorities continue to find and identify thousands of people believed to be missing. It’s not clear how many Americans might be missing.

"Given the ever-evolving situation, we are unable to give an accurate count of U.S. citizens in the region," State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson said in an email. "U.S. citizens are not required to sign up with the department when they go abroad."

Those who knew Anderson and her family remembered her as someone who had the confidence and curiosity to experience the world. They were heartened by her achievements and hoped her life would be an example for others to follow.

"What we can do to honor Taylor’s memory is by doing what she gave her life for, that is, reaching out to the Japanese people, in tangible ways," said the Rev. Dorothy White, director of religious studies at St. Catherine’s School. Anderson graduated from its high school in 2004.

The school was planning a Japan-relief service project in her honor, White said.

Others said they missed her down-to-earth personality and smile. She liked the band Barenaked Ladies, J.R.R. Tolkien’s "Lord of the Rings," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Anderson was a "low-key, easygoing, sometimes bubbly, always warm young woman with a lively mind and a generous heart," said English teacher Derek Kannemeyer, who was her adviser when she was co-editor of the St. Catherine’s literary magazine.

Kannemeyer stayed in touch with Anderson after she graduated and said she possessed intellectual curiosity and a bright, lively mind. "That she took these strengths and went out into the broader world to live a life of engagement and caring about other people, and of exploration, of discovery — is just what teachers hope their students will do."

Anderson earned a spot with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program and moved overseas after graduating from Randolph-Macon College in 2008. She taught English at eight schools in Ishinomaki, a city about 240 miles north of Tokyo, and was set to return to Virginia in August. She enjoyed traveling around the island nation and developed great affection for her students and the Japanese people, her mother said.

Friends and family had used Facebook and other social networks to put the word out — in English and Japanese — about the search for Anderson after the tsunami. Two fellow teachers with the program were found safe last week, but officials notified Anderson’s family Monday that her body was found in Ishinomaki.

Anderson’s father, Andy, was in Japan, and arrangements for memorial services were pending.

Randolph-Macon President Robert R. Lindgren marked Anderson’s death in an email to the school community, asking people to reflect "both on the fragility of life and on the significant impact on so many, most recently the children in Japan who benefited from her caring and gifted teaching."

Some of Anderson’s Alpha Gamma Delta sorority sisters, friends and other alumni went to the Ashland, Va., campus to visit a brick inscribed with her name on the alumni walkway, school spokeswoman Pam Harris Cox said. The college dedicates a brick on the walkway for each student after he or she graduates, she said.

The Alpha Gamma Delta house displayed red ribbons around its columns. Cox said the college, which currently is on spring break, plans a memorial service in the near future.

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