Living with eight families in Switzerland for the rest of the year, Jana Dunbar will spend June to December 2003 with the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program in central Europe.
"I want to learn about the culture by experiencing it with direct social interactions," said Dunbar, 4-H alumna from Franklin County.
As her first choice of countries to stay, Dunbar selected from a list of more than a dozen around the world. She said Switzerland topped her list because of the complex dynamics of politics and people.
"The country is known for its neutrality for decades and I want to know more about its government, economy, educational systems and agriculture," Dunbar said. "It is a small country with 60% covered with mountains, yet it still has more than 7 million people."
Dunbar said she is open-minded and ready to learn from her experience abroad. Upon her return to Kansas, she will give more than 100 presentations to 4-H groups, schools and civic clubs on her experience.
"I want to build a mutual understanding by giving as much as I gain from the people I meet," she said.
Erin Hjetland from Brown County and Hannah Nielsen from Lincoln County will also represent Kansas 4-H by traveling internationally.
Under the motto "Peace through Understanding," IFYE builds connections between people across political divides. Participants often find common ground through communication and compromise.
"Probably now more than ever we need to be able to establish interpersonal relationships with others," said Mary Kay Munson, volunteer coordinator of the Kansas IFYE program. "There is a lot more need for this in our current world."
After World War II, the cultural exchanges began for 4-H youth to learn and share.
"The whole idea promoted peace," said Becky Meiwes, IFYE alumna who spent six months in India in 1984. "IFYE strives for international understanding."
Meiwes said the experience changes lives. As a result of her experiences, she has returned service by helping coordinate the state program and finding host families for 4-Hers coming to the state from other countries. She works with 23 county coordinators to match up logistics.
"When you get so much out of something, I wanted to put something back into it to give more the same opportunities," Meiwes said. "I volunteer to allow other kids to participate in the program."
In 1965, Munson traveled to India as an IFYE participant.
"Almost everything in your life has a new perspective," Munson said. "I am much more able to relate to people with a variety of backgrounds and work with them. It helped my career and every area of my life."
Volunteering since her return, Munson said she has seen numerous changes in the program through nearly four decades of involvement.
"The program has decentralized this past year," she said. "The USDA was unable to support it through visas, and the program was discontinued at a national level. Each state now has to handle all of the arrangements with other countries on their own."
Because of these changes, Kansas is one of 11 states to be involved with IFYE in 2003. A collaboration of states within the Midwest help to support the continued efforts of the program.
One of the well-kept secrets in Kansas 4-H, Munson said many 4-Hers expressed difficulty in finding out and learning about the program.
"The numbers have dropped over the years," Munson said. "It has mirrored the Extension reduction in staff, and it may also be tied to the 4-H age going younger."
New partnerships with Kansas State University, however, have allowed for presentations to students. Munson also hopes to build a network of county coordinators to involve local families to serve as hosts.
"4-H provides opportunities to experience another culture to gain strong understanding of people in a another part of the world,"Munson said.
Anyone interested in participating as an IFYE delegate or host family may contact their local Extension office or log on to the State 4-H website, at www.oznet.ksu.edu/4hyp/.