4-H exchange program adds global perspective for youth, communities
2012 marks the 35th year Kansas 4-H members and friends of 4-H have welcomed Japanese students for a month-long educational exchange.
The Japanese Exchange program is part of the 4-H States' International Exchange Program, a national initiative marking its 40th anniversary this year, said Barbara Stone, Kansas state leader for 4-H youth development and assistant director, K-State Research and Extension.
According to Stone, the 4-H exchange program has provided opportunities for hundreds of youth and families in Kansas to increase their understanding of cultural differences and their place in the world.
Since 1972, the national program has provided a four-week home stay in the U.S. for more than 48,000 Japanese youth; during this timeframe, the U.S. also has sent more than 7,600 4-H members for a home stay in Japan.
The month-long exchange is open to 4-H youth ages 12 to 18, and is timed during the summer break in the Japanese and American school systems.
Rose Scott, from Clay Center, Kan., serves as state coordinator, and has placed 28 Japanese exchange students with Kansas families this summer.
The exchange works both ways, Scott said. While many in the U.S. welcome Japanese Exchange students, Japanese families are welcoming 4-H participants from Kansas and elsewhere in the U.S.
Participants are selected through an application and interview process, and the current cost of the U.S. to Japan month-long exchange is about $4,000.
A large part of the cost covers transportation, and participants also have the option of adding a second month for a Nihongo language training program for $1,000.
Rod and Mary Buchele, and their children, Steven and Mary Lynn, from Garden City, Kan., can vouch for all aspects of the Japanese-American Exchange Program.
Rod, a K-State Research and Extension 4-H youth development area specialist, brings previous experience with international educational exchange programs in Wisconsin and Colorado.
As a 4-H member, his wife Mary traveled to Switzerland as part of the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program. She also led a tour of 4-H Youth Ambassadors to France, and volunteered to chair the state orientation for the IFYE Program in Wisconsin.
The family is active in 4-H, and welcomed Shuto Yoshida, a 13-year-old Japanese exchange student from Hamamatsu Japan, into their home when their son Steven was 11, and daughter Mary Lynn, eight.
"The exchange experience added value to family and to life experiences," Mary Buchele said. "With Shuto joining the family, everyday activities--family meals and game night are examples--the family found new joy in being together and sharing.
"Shuto also allowed us to learn more about Japanese culture, and to grow in understanding of their values and way of life," she said.
Hosting exchange students such as Shuto sparked exchange interests in the Buchele children, and Steven was accepted for the summer program between his freshman and sophomore year in high school.
His sister, Mary Lynn, a sophomore in high school, was accepted into the program this summer.
The Buchele family's experiences reflect the goals set forth for the program, said Lois Redman, a Kansas 4-H state youth development specialist emeritis.
Redman, a 4-H specialist in Oregon at the time the program was being developed, wrote the County Volunteer Coordinators' Handbook for the exchange program. After later moving to Kansas to accept a position as a state specialist in Kansas' state 4-H office, she served as state coordinator for the Exchange from 1979-88.
Redman knows the program and has good things to say about it: "We live in a global society. We can see and talk to friends over the world the same as if they were next door. Using Skype, we talked to--and saw--friends in Taiwan last night."
The rest of the world is all around us, and the more we learn about it, the better we can appreciate and accept differences in culture, she said. For example, the Japanese do not drive on the wrong side of the road; they drive on the left side. They did that long before we drove on the right side.
"America is not the first and best in everything; we are just one among many countries in the world," Redman said.
More information about the 4-H Japanese Exchange and 4-H States' International Exchange Program is available from Deryl Waldren (firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-462-6281).