Occupational therapy students experience Japanese culture

CSU Students in JapanStory by Emily Browder-Bohall

With weekly travel meetings wrapped up, last minute passports received and gift bags packed full of Colorado goodies, occupational therapy students and Department Head Anita Bundy rose early to embark on a 15-hour flight to Japan. Bundy, along with occupational therapy students Allison Kimura, Laura Grimm, Chris Wrzesien, Elise Bowlby, Erika Cooley and Tricia Grady served as representatives for the department on their trip last fall.

Since 2002 the occupational therapy program at Colorado State University has relished a partnership with the Yamagata Prefectural University of Health Sciences in Yamagata, Japan. “Both programs highly value our mutual collaboration which includes learning about the two cultures through home stays and opportunities to experience meals and traditions,” said Bundy.

Japanese culture

While in Japan CSU students got the chance to experience the daily activities of YPUHS students and their culture. They were able to witness a special ceremony between the second- and fourth-year YPUHS students, tour the university, play games in the town arcade and have a BBQ by the river among other exciting adventures.

Laura Grimm and Erika Cooley

CSU students remarked that the Japanese students were incredibly kind and hospitable. “The fourth-year students’ full time job was having fun with us. I was overwhelmingly grateful,” said Cooley, a second-year student.

Also, Cooley and Bowlby noted how different the YPUHS occupational therapy program was from their own. For example, students are in class from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and then do not have any homework.

In addition to observing classes and students’ lives outside of school, CSU students were able to experience occupational therapy in different settings. Students were particularly interested in the cultural differences in a skilled nursing facility and a children’s rehabilitation hospital as compared to occupational therapy in the United States.

Art work fills walls in skilled nursing facility

In Japan working with the older adult population is such an honor and many Japanese students talked about working in a skilled nursing facility as a career goal. “I feel like we have so much to learn from the skilled nursing facilities in Japan,” said Bowlby.

Elise Bowlby at skilled nursing facility

CSU students were impressed by the quality of care and dedication to promoting health and happiness of elderly clients in the skilled nursing facility. Students noted the numerous activities in which residents engaged.  Some of the things the residents enjoyed were calligraphy, cooking and gardening. “There was wall art from the residents,” said Cooley. “They had done so many activities that they had filled the walls!”

Much preparation went into the CSU students’ arrival. The residents practiced their arts and craft skills and even made a special banner and U.S. flags for the CSU students. “It gave them a lot of purpose, excitement and motivation,” said Bowlby. “The skilled nursing facility was open to the public so members of the community were integrated with residents. I was amazed at seeing it all; the residents were healthy and really happy.”

After enthusiastically discussing differences in pay structures, treatment methods and goals between Japanese and U.S. skilled nursing facilities, students left with a fresh view of occupational therapy and its possibilities.

Children’s rehabilitation provides new perspectives

Next CSU students visited a children’s rehabilitation hospital. CSU students noticed that children in Japan with special needs often live in rehabilitation centers and are not integrated into general education schools.

Coming from the United States, a culture that emphasizes integration of children of all abilities into schools and the community at large, CSU students were surprised by the separation.  They observed that the children in the rehabilitation hospital were well cared for and had access to many resources.  However, these differences also sparked lively debate and dialogue offering both YPUHS and CSU students new perspectives and ideas.

Ongoing academic exchange

“This year, in addition to traveling to Yamagata, we were lucky enough to welcome Kayoko Yokoi, YPUHS faculty, to spend this fall semester with us learning about our occupational therapy education and teaching us the Japanese perspective,” Bundy said. “We are really looking forward to the return of YPUHS faculty and students in March.”

Students and faculty at CSU value the exchange of knowledge this partnership provides.  The relationship will only continue to grow as both parties expand perspectives and cultivate a deeper cultural understanding through this long standing academic exchange.