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Stark News Details

Kent State Team Headed to Japan as Part of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange Program

Posted Apr. 30, 2012

A team from Kent State University was selected to attend Rotary International Foundation’s prestigious Group Study Exchange (GSE) program. Those making up the team include  Assistant Professor of Geography Sarah Smiley, Ph.D., who teaches at Kent State University at Salem, along with senior nursing students Christie Golden-Kugler, who attends Kent State Salem, and Michele Stinchcomb, who attends Kent State University at Stark. The trio was selected by Rotary International District 6650, which covers the southern half of Northeast Ohio.

The group will visit the prefectures of Mie and Gifu in central Japan as part of the month-long event, which runs from May 6 to June 3. While in Japan, the group will stay in the homes of local Rotarians. The Kent State group is part of a four-person team that will be looking at rehabilitation, dementia care and Alzheimer’s care.

Smiley says the exchange program would be a good experience to bring back to her classes.

“A major theme in my geography courses is the political, economic and cultural effects of population change. I applied for the Rotary Group Study Exchange in order to better understand how Japan deals with its rapidly aging population and low birth rate,” she says. “While in Japan, we will visit nursing homes, and I hope to learn how these facilities adequately staff their positions and provide care to their growing elderly population.  I am excited to bring personal experiences, stories and photographs back to my students to help them better understand Japan's population pressures.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Golden-Kugler says she plans to receive a master’s degree as an adult nurse practitioner from Kent State University and then open an assisted-living facility. Golden-Kugler notes that the aged population is an area of lifespan development that has been researched the least, yet is rapidly becoming the majority of our population.  As a part of this experience, she wants to investigate how the Japanese are coping with their large aging population and what consequential health care issues may arise. Golden-Kugler feels that the opportunity to study elder-care in Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

“This experience will better my nursing career and help me to better relate to patients,” Golden-Kugler says. “Cultural awareness is a quintessential quality that all nurses must have in order to provide superior care by individualizing people instead of categorizing them, and this program will help me understand my patients better.”  

Stinchcomb, who decided to return to school after earning a bachelor's in psychology, says she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing with the intent of becoming a traveling nurse practitioner.

“This unique experience will enhance multicultural collaboration, allowing diverse individuals to discuss alternative methods of delivering quality health care,” Stinchcomb says. “Until now I've simply read about transcultural nursing. Soon I can anticipate empirically practicing its methodology.”

In addition to learning about health care and aging, the local Rotary Clubs will arrange for the team to learn about Japanese culture.  They will develop personal and professional relationships and participate in club presentations, formal visits and social events where the exchange of ideas will be of primary focus. While in Japan, the team will blog about their experiences at

The Rotary Foundation’s Group Study Exchange is a cultural and professional exchange program that gives business men and women an opportunity to be immersed in another culture for four to six weeks. Participants must be between the ages of 25 and 40 and in the early stages of their careers. Travel grants are provided by the foundation. During the time abroad, the team members visit cultural and vocational sites and develop professional relationships. For more information about the GSE program, visit