Experiencing cultural diversity: Occupational therapy students travel to Japan

YPUHS and CSU school flags

Story by Maggie Grayson

The relationship between Colorado State University’s occupational therapy department and their sister school, Yamagata Prefectural University of Health Sciences continues to thrive. The exchange that began in 2002 has not only provided many academic and recreational opportunities but friendships have been built as well.  As the department anxiously awaits their friends visiting in March, they look back on what great experiences they had during their visit to Japan last year.

In August, Aaron Eakman, Natalie Rolle, Adam Kinney, Maggie Grayson, Tim Hunt, J.J. Bailey, Lindsay Kallman and Garrett Eakman traveled overseas to the Land of the Rising Sun. In Japan they traveled north of Tokyo to the Yamagata Prefecture. Famous for its cherry trees, local cuisine and breathtaking mountains, Yamagata, Japan is a place not soon forgotten.

Upon arriving at the local airport they were greeted with smiling faces and open arms by their hosts for the week. The week that followed was one in which each member of the group will never forget.

A day in the life of an occupational therapy student in Japan

YPUHS and CSU student high five over making Japanese food

While in Japan students had the opportunity to experience the everyday lives of YPUHS students and participate alongside them in the activities they love and enjoy. They were taught a traditional Japanese dance, learned how to make yummy Japanese foods and sang lots and lots of karaoke.

“What surprised me the most was how even though we didn’t speak much Japanese and they didn’t speak too much English, we found a way to communicate and bond. It was truly something special,” said one of the students.

Also, CSU students remarked that the relationships they developed over their week in Yamagata were something unexpected and amazing. Adam Kinney, Ph.D. student, shared, “The most impactful experiences were the personal interactions I had with students and faculty from Japan.”

Exploring cultural differences in occupational therapy

A cornerstone of the visit was the opportunity to learn more about the differences between occupational therapy in Japan compared to the United States. The group was able to visit a skilled nursing facility, a hospital and the school itself to observe and learn about how occupational therapy is taught and practiced in Japan.

Group holding Japanese fans at nursing homeAt the skilled nursing facility they were greeted by residents waving the American flag in one hand and the Japanese flag in the other. After receiving a tour of the building and learning about the unique role of occupational therapists, they participated in a group occupational therapy session alongside the residents. For many of the students, this experience was a major highlight of the trip.

J.J. Bailey, a second-year student shared, “They were so welcoming and excited to see us. We got to engage in activities with the elderly, including designing a fan using leaf impressions. It was so cool!”

Forever grateful

After experiencing a culture so different from their own and spending each day immersed in the lives of the wonderful students and faculty at YPUHS, students felt changed in a way that they believe will have a lasting impact.

“I feel driven to adopt the aspects of their culture that had the biggest impact on me: their hospitality, kindness and commitment to the betterment of their society,” said Kinney.

Also, students reported feeling better equipped to work with individuals of the Japanese culture because they were able to participate in some of their traditions. They reported feeling forever changed by what they learned, not only relating to their chosen profession of occupational therapy, but also by getting to know such wonderful people.

“Students at Yamagata are some of the sweetest, most caring individuals that I have ever met. I will feel forever grateful for the experience they gave us,” said Bailey.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Group photo after presentation on occupational therapy