My Japan Experience

My STEP signature project was a public health education abroad program in Japan. The two-and a-half week program focused on basic global public health through a Japanese perspective while comparing it to the American approach. We toured through all of Japan and visited historical cities like Hiroshima to develop a better understanding of the preparations and preventative measures Japan has taken to resolve their public health issues.

The STEP signature project was a transformational experience. Traveling to a different country for the first time and seeing life through a different cultural perspective changed my outlook on life. Learning about Japan’s approach to many public health related issues also opened my eyes to the potential possibilities for America.

One huge transformation or realization I experienced was how important diversity is for a country—especially one that inhabits as many different ethnic groups as America. Japan’s culture is much more focused on conformity. From the food they eat, to the eating utensils, to the clothes they wear, a day in Japan was unlike any I’ve ever had in America. I would attribute this juxtaposition to the prevalence of tradition in Japanese culture. They actively maintain traditions to preserve old perspectives, while American culture stresses efficiency and innovation. These differences gave me a newfound appreciation for not only the places I visited, but for countries and cities all over the world. The culture I was fortunate to experience in less than three weeks is just one of thousands all over the world, that most of us know almost nothing about. I now have a better understanding of our world as one unit, a world where each country can learn from the others and adopt some of these differences to create a unique culture of their own.

One thing in Japan that really stood out to me as different than America was the lack of diversity among the population. America is a melting pot of all cultures and ethnicities. Entering a country where immigration is not as welcomed by natives was shocking, but I saw some parallels in their concerns and those that are being raised in the U.S. It was crazy to go from being surrounded by people of all nationalities in America, to then be surrounded by only Japanese people in Japan. The diversity I’ve taken for granted my whole life was no longer there. It opened my eyes to the privilege citizens have in America to be accepted into a mashup of cultures and to express their own variation on the norms. Japan’s lack of diversity is interesting, it reflects the way many countries in Europe and Asia operate, but it feels strange to walk around and be the only person set apart from a crowd. In New York City, people of every race, religion, culture, and belief walk around everyday, and coming home I realized how much I missed that.

Conformity is valued above all in Japan. Everyone dresses the same, has the same haircut, carries the same designer bags, and wears the same designer clothing. This was apparent to me, coming from what I thought was a material-focused world (America). As I looked around, it was as if there was an unspoken uniform. The matching freaked me out, and I saw this as an oppressive force on their society, instead of a positive. I was wrong, the conformity and lack of deviation from the social norms works for Japan. They have lower crime rates and less violence than that of America, but I don’t know how they would react if any radical activists began protesting, or if groups began to deviate from the status quo. America does better in this regard; we are equipped to handle social problems between different groups. We focus on inclusion rather than exclusion. I think each country has something to take away from the other.

Experiencing a society so set in their ways gave me a new appreciation for America and the diversity it embraces. Prior to this trip I thought the grass would be greener on the other side. I thought that maybe other countries do a better job making citizens feel included and valued. What I learned was that there is no country as free, as open, and appreciative for differences than America.

As you can see, there was not a specific event that occurred where a light bulb flashed in my mind to pinpoint a transformation upon completion of this project. It had not occurred to me until I took the time to sit down and reflect. The journey was my transformation. From flying alone for the first time to a different country, to dressing in a kimono and walking the streets of Kyoto, to the 12-hour plane ride back; transformations were made along the way. I came back feeling like a new person. I came back with a better understanding of the world and of people and of myself.

I plan on using this rejuvenated “me” to apply what I learned to my future aspiration to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. In the healthcare field you see a lot of diversity. Every patient is different, with a complex medical or cultural background. Each patient should be treated with respect to their culture, values, and ideals. The patient population is very diverse, and instead of seeing these differences as annoyances or inconveniences, I will see them as a gift. This STEP signature project taught me to see diversity as an advantage, and one that I will cherish forever.

A life-changing experience

Maya Wagner
Education Abroad Public Health Perspectives: Japan

1. My STEP Signature Project was a two and half week journey throughout the country of Japan, learning the culture, through a public health perspective. The program explored all aspects of Japanese public health care which included nursing homes, hospitals, and daycares just to name a few. We also learned about how Japan has handled natural disasters, manmade disasters (bombing of Hiroshima), and large quantity of an elderly population.

2. Learning about Japanese public health was an amazing experience, but my biggest takeaway was the personal transformation I had experienced. My perspective on life through the exploration of such a unique culture, customs, and healthcare has fully changed for the better.

3. I am half-Japanese, and prior to this trip, I had never met my Japanese family. Due to a divorce my Japanese heritage was ripped from me at a very young age. This was my first time to Japan, as well as my first time meeting my biological father and the rest of my family. Along with this, it was my first time experiencing and engulfing myself in my other culture. I learned so much about myself and life through this adventure, which was a priceless experience that I owe to the STEP program for making this happen.

a. The STEP signature project helped me dive deeper into my culture. Learning the healthcare, hearing testimonies, and first-hand experiences of such a different country, developed connections in myself in a field that I am so passionate about. I plan on opening my own practice as a nurse practitioner and I will apply what I learned in Japan, for a better patient experience and overall practice.

b. Learning the facts and visiting the sites in Japan was life changing, but I benefitted most from the personal interactions with the Japanese college students. This was how I really became to understand the culture through these interactions. Conversing with Japanese students in such a similar place in our lives was an awesome connection to relate and compare our lives. We ate dinner together, laughed together, and learned so much from these experiences. I learned about the individuals but also so much about this world. We may be so different on the outside, but within we are all the same, and I think that is an awesome perspective many need to experience. We were all just college students, still learning about ourselves, what we want to do in this world, while having fun throughout the process. This shared aspect made many conversations easy because we have had a similar experience at this time in our lives.

c. Lastly, the relationships that I formed with the OSU students are ones that I will cherish forever. Experiencing a different culture with the amazing group of students as I was with, will always hold a lasting bond between us. This trip not only made this world feel a little bit smaller, but it also made OSU feel smaller as well. It’s important to get involved in a college that may seem overwhelmingly big at times, but through the two years I have been at OSU, I can say that it feels smaller and smaller everyday. Seeing familiar faces around campuses is a daily encounter that becomes more prevalent every year.
4. I already mentioned how this experience has changed my future plans but I will like to elaborate on it. Learning about the Japanese healthcare and actually being apart of it are two totally different things. I can definitely see myself working in a Japanese hospital for a few years, to gain more knowledge and expertise to bring back to the US. This is a dream but I would love to make it a reality and I would have never known I would have wanted to do this without STEP and without this life changing journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, STEP!

I documented my trip on Instagram! Check out #OSUSTEP to see my pictures @mayawagner1. I also documented my foodie experience on @foodies.gone.wild!