UAB Dentistry hosts Japanese students as part of cross-cultural experience

The UAB School of Dentistry hosted 10 dental students from Japan this summer as part of an annual exchange program.

Japanese Dentistry students visit UABFrom left: Caroline Spruill, Natsumi Koyama, Takahito Satake and Will Bates were part of this year's exchange program.Every year, the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry hosts dental students from Japan as part of an active student exchange program. UAB pairs 10 of its students with 10 students from Asahi and Meikai universities in Japan for an unforgettable experience.

This summer, 10 Japanese students spent 10 days at UAB.

As part of the program, Japanese students shadow UAB fourth-year students to learn how procedures and other clinical operations are conducted in the United States. Japanese students are often surprised by some differences in the way dentistry training is done in Japan.

“In Japan, we as students do not treat patients,” Takahito Satake, a fifth-year dental student, said. “Seeing UAB students treat patients here surprised me the most.”  

In the third and fourth years of dental school at UAB, fourth-year students treat patients under faculty supervision. In Japan, students do not treat patients until after they graduate. Satake was able to witness tooth extractions and denture procedures, and visit with patients receiving veneers. 

In addition to seeing patients, the Japanese students were able to perform procedures, like filling teeth with amalgam, using models, just as the students at UAB do.

The experience is not just about dentistry training. The Japanese group was given a tour of UAB’s campus and visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, as well as many sights in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

They also experienced Southern culture and cuisine.

“We have been able to try a lot of different food here in America,” Natsumi Koyama, a fifth-year dental student, said. “My favorite things were macaroni and cheese and also pickles.”

Because of the language barrier, students who do not have much experience with the English language communicated with UAB students using translation applications like Google Translate on their cellphones.

Will Bates and Caroline Spruill, both fourth-year dental students, are two of the 10 UAB students who were partnered with a Japanese student.

Spruill says she never thought she would learn so much from someone she could not communicate well with, let alone get to know someone from thousands of miles away.

“I loved seeing their reactions this week,” Spruill said. “It has been so rewarding because they have the best attitudes even with the language barrier. I feel like we’re such close friends now even though we just met.”

Bates says that, while there are many differences between American and Japanese cultures, he believes this program is a great way to see different cultures working together.

“This has been eye-opening just because our cultures are very different,” Bates said. "Takashito is real fun to be around. He just wants to experience everything, and it has been rewarding for me to see that and experience this with him.”

The program does not end in Birmingham. The 10 UAB students will have the opportunity to visit their counterparts in Japan in the spring. Satake and Koyama are looking forward to seeing their new friends again soon.

“During my time here, I have been surrounded by different cultures,” Satake said. “I was very nervous at the beginning, but very thankful for this opportunity. I am happy that we will see our new friends again in Japan.”