Eighteen American university students planned to spend some time in Christchurch along with associate professor Jay Roberts, his wife, Marcie, their two young daughters, and programme assistant Liz Yoder.
Those plans changed on February 22 when an earthquake ripped apart the Garden City.
The group from Earlham College in the US state of Indiana arrived in Wanganui on Sunday, where they are staying at the Quaker Settlement until homestays are found.
The Roberts said they have been touched by the support and assistance offered by Wanganui locals.
They had found nine placements through the Quaker and Sustainable Whanganui networks and were looking for homes for the remaining nine students.
As part of their environmental studies programme, the group is spending a semester travelling in New Zealand and had already stayed in Wanganui before heading to the South Island. They had gone on a trip up the Whanganui River with Michael Poa of OneRiver.
They were half-way through the Earlham College New Zealand field-based environmental studies in Christchurch when the quake struck.
On that eventful Tuesday the Roberts said a hillside above their rented apartment in Sumner slid to the ground outside their kitchen window. That slide claimed two lives.
As programme leaders, the Roberts not only had to think about their child in a Sumner school but the Earlham students who were spread throughout Christchurch and Lyttelton.
After the quake and a dash to Ellie's school, the couple said they scrambled to find their students.
Two students who were on work placement in Lyttelton walked over the Port Hills to Sumner, and after three hours the Roberts were able to contact the remaining students.
The Lyttelton building the students were in had just been strengthened after the September 4 earthquake last year, and was the only building left intact in the street.
The Roberts family stayed in their apartment with three students and Ms Yoder, with no water or power, and used a nearby swimming pool for drinking water for a couple of days.
"Blessed to be in Wanganui", but still reeling from their experience, the group said there was guilt as they boarded a plane to leave Christchurch.
But they were comforted by a woman who told them: "You should go ... we have enough to worry about."
"That made us feel a little better about leaving but we are all still gutted about it and plan to return in late April to help out for a week in whatever ways we can before we leave the country."
The Roberts said they were amazed at the Civil Defence and overall emergency services that swung into action within hours of the quake, calling on homes and spray painting where the holes in the roads were.
In the meantime, the group will reconstruct their programme in Wanganui.
The students who are studying an interdisciplinary programme are also looking for "shadow" work placements on every Tuesday and Thursday and hope to hold classes at Whanganui UCOL on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Daughter Ellie is at St John's Hill School and Arden is at Aramoho Kindergarten.
If you have accommodation close to the central city and can take a student for six weeks, please email: email@example.com
The Earlham College (Indiana) New Zealand programme is offered each northern hemisphere spring to majors in any discipline as an off-campus semester experience in environmental studies. The liberal arts college in Indiana is based on the principles and values of respect for people, integrity, a commitment to peace and justice, simplicity, and community decision-making, reflecting Earlham's strong Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) tradition.