Faculty member’s student experience is inspiration for study abroad program

headshot of Aya Yoshikawa

July 19, 2023 — DENTON — When Aya Yoshikawa was 19, she had the quintessential experience of going away to college,  living in a residence hall, attending large lectures and enduring late-night study sessions. 

Yoshikawa, who grew up in Japan, had these experiences when she was a study abroad student at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

It was life changing. 

Yoshikawa later earned a bachelor’s, master’s and PhD from multiple schools in the United States, and now is an assistant professor at Texas Woman’s, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on health and aging topics in the School of Health Promotion and Kinesiology. Her experience as a study abroad student combined with her area of expertise inspired her to develop a study abroad program in Japan. 

In July, she was one of nine recipients to receive a two-year Texas International Education Fund (TIEF) study abroad development grant from the The Texas International Education Consortium (TIEC).

“This grant is so important to me because it will help my dream come true,” Yoshikawa said. “I have always been interested in designing a study abroad course with my home country, and  this grant opportunity absolutely helps make my idea a reality.”

Yoshikawa’s goal is to create a transformative experience for students, similar to her own study abroad sojourn. The study-abroad program would start in 2025 and offer a unique opportunity for students of various backgrounds and majors to examine aging issues in Japan and reflect on the health aspects of aging through a U.S. lens. 

“As a young student who grew up in a homogeneous society, being exposed to unfamiliar environments and people was an eye-opening experience that helped me gain a deeper understanding of diversity in the United States,” Yoshikawa said. “I believe that culturally sensitive experiential learning will help students develop ethical, inclusive and compassionate leadership skills that will advance the health and well-being of increasingly diverse older adults.”

Japan is home to the largest percentage of older adults in the world. More than 25% of Japan’s population is older than 65, according to the Population Reference Bureau. In a New York Times article on July 16, 2023 about demographic shifts in the world, it reported that “by 2050, people age 65 and older will make up nearly 40% of the population in some parts of East Asia and Europe.” 

Yoshikawa is collaborating with Dr. Kenshi Nishino, president and CEO of Furate Medical and Welfare Corporations. Yoshikawa and Nishino met when they worked together on a cross-national project at Texas A&M University when Yoshikawa was a doctoral student in public health. They both have a shared vision of promoting healthy aging through cross-national projects in education and research.

“I am so fortunate to work with a supportive and inspiring collaborator,” Yoshikawa said. 

The grant will allow Yoshikawa to make a visit next year to Kitakyushu, Japan, and to Furate Medical and Welfare Corporations, the host site for her program.

“I plan on meeting with local representatives to discuss potential learning activities and cultural sites that would be incorporated into this study abroad program,” Yoshikawa said. “The site visit is a critical component of program development since it allows me not only to identify local cultural resources for student learning but also to obtain local support.”

Currently, Yoshikawa is developing course materials and activities aligned with the program’s learning objectives. She will also meet with TWU’s International Affairs department to determine estimated costs and recruitment. Funds from the grant will cover a part of the students’ costs. 

Prior to traveling to the United States for the first time when she was a teenager, Yoshikawa’s only knowledge of American culture came from the news and movies. Life in America turned out to be vastly different from what she perceived it to be. 

“It made me realize that actually visiting places and meeting people in person are so important for a deeper understanding of culture and aging issues.”

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Amy Ruggini
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Page last updated 1:31 PM, July 26, 2023