(CNN) -- It was Taylor Anderson's dream come true to be living in Japan. Then, the March 11 earthquake hit.
The 24-year-old American had been teaching English to elementary and middle school students in Ishinomaki, a coastal city of about 160,000 in Miyagi Prefecture for more than two years. But her passion for the Japanese culture was ignited long before she arrived in the country.
She began studying the language in middle school, her parents said. As a student at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, she constantly sought ways to share all things Japan with the community. She led book readings of Japanese literature and organized trips to photography exhibits, friends say. She often showed up at the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house with Japanese snacks to share with her housemates.
"She was never afraid to have such a love of another culture. Some people would hold it back... but she shared it with us; I felt like we were a part of it," Katie Garin Langley said.
"When she found out she was going to Japan, it was such a blessing for her. It was just her dream come true."
Anderson, the oldest of Andy and Jeanne Anderson's three children, joined the Japan Exchange and Teaching program shortly after graduation in August 2008 and was scheduled to return in August.
Her parents last heard from her two days before the March 11 earthquake, which triggered a massive tsunami that devastated parts of northeast Japan, including the town where Anderson lived. Her parents said she was last seen after the earthquake riding her bike away from an elementary school after making sure parents picked up their children.
Her family spread the word of her disappearance on Facebook; her high school, St. Catherine's School, held a prayer vigil in her honor last Thursday. On Monday, her family announced that the wait had ended.
"It is with deep regret that we inform you that earlier this morning we received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Japan that they had found our beloved Taylor's body," her family said in a statement. "We would like to thank all those whose prayers and support have carried us through this crisis. Please continue to pray for all who remain missing and for the people of Japan. We ask that you respect our privacy during this hard time."
Her death sent shockwaves through her hometown of Chesterfield, Virginia, as well as her college community.
"There's a great lesson in the fact that Taylor followed her passion, went to Japan and taught youngsters and did exactly what she wanted to do and loved doing it and did very well," Robert Lindgren, president of Randolph-Macon College said in a statement.
Her exuberance for Japan permeated all aspects of her, her friends said.
"She was just so happy to be alive. She took each day as it was and she was just so thrilled to be here and be alive and to make someone happy. She was just infectious. If you were in a bad mood and you saw Taylor, you couldn't help but be in a good mood," Langley said.
"She always put people first. She always cared about other people more than herself. It showed how genuine of a person she was and how nice she really was," friend and fellow sorority sister Mary Anne Dalle Valle said.
She leaves behind a legacy of kindness -- and the memory of a bright smile -- that her friends say will stick with them.
"She was just absolutely lovely and she was completely genuine and so much fun and easy going and a friend to everyone," friend and sorority sister Virginia Seatherton said. "We may have lost her as a person but she'll live on in everything she did and in each of us. She'll always be with us."
CNN's Eric Fiegel contributed to this report.