Since 2002, the ongoing relationship between Yamagata Prefectural University of Health Sciences (YPUHS) located in Yamagata, Japan has provided enriching learning opportunities for faculty and students. The relationship was established in an effort to pave the way for visits between the two schools and to mutually enhance the understanding of each other's culture while promoting the practice of occupational therapy.
In August 2016, Marla Roll, Director of the Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC) was the invited guest at YPUHS. To join in on the positive cultural and knowledge exchange, she brought with her five occupational therapy students: Jake Sunder, Andrew Flint, Emily Clemmons, Nicole Pielage, and Melissa Callaghan. Also present for the cultural experience was Roll's 13-year old son.
The journey was action packed with most of the days planned out with presentations and cultural activities. Students were housed by Japanese students immersing them in the culture and enhancing the experience. Pielage, a second-year occupational therapy student described it as "an amazing experience full of warm hospitality and connections made even across the language barrier." She added, "From the minute we arrived they had everything figured out of where we were staying, eating, and social activities. The time they took out of their normal routine to be with us was incredible." Cultural activities included cooking stations where they made and ate different traditional Japanese foods, an origami lesson, and a hike to Yama-dera, a Buddhist temple where the CSU visitors were introduced to the local rituals.
Each student journeying to Yamagata was responsible for contributing to the educational experience of the trip. Roll and her students delivered eight lectures as well as a panel presentation that focused on assistive technology. The YPUHS faculty and students were particularly interested in the presentation, "Technology for Aging in Place" and "Universal Design of Environments, Technology and Information." Traditionally in Japan, two or three generations live together and the younger generation is able to support their aging parents and grandparents. However, there is currently a cultural shift taking place and the younger generation is leaving the home to live in the city creating a need for ways to support a growing older adult population. They were intrigued by the opportunities assistive technology and universal design provided to support aging in place. YPUHS thesis students also presented their research for the benefit of their visitors. Callaghan, a second-year student stated, "The lectures highlighted the similarities and differences between our cultures and how that influences us as students and therapists."
For Roll, this trip was a career highlight. She enjoyed personal connections with the faculty and left with a greater understanding of occupational therapy practice, and particularly occupational therapy practice that considers assistive technology and how it may or may not occur in Japan. A bonus for her was that her son returned from the trip with a better understanding of his mom's work in both occupational therapy and assistive technology, as well as an appreciation for a culture very different from his own.
As eager as the Japanese students and faculty were to learn about the practice of occupational therapy and assistive technology here in the United States, Roll believes the education relationship is reciprocal. Pielage agreed, "As much as they wanted to learn from us we wanted to learn from them."