Develop cross-cultural awareness and friendships with youth from Japan

Participating in the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Program is a unique opportunity to learn about another culture through first-hand, shared experiences in a four week homestay program.

For many Michiganders, summer is the time of year for county fairs, camping, beaches, boating and barbecues. For some families, it is also a time to form a friendship with someone from the other side of the world.  Through their participation in the 2013 Michigan 4-H International Exchange program, 35 Michigan families hosted 31 youth and three adult chaperones from Japan.  The Japanese youth and chaperones stayed with the Michigan host families for four weeks learning about American and Michigan culture, lifestyles and language through their homestay.

The Japanese exchange program, which is coordinated by the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program, annually matches Japanese youth, who ranged in age from 12-17, with one primary host sibling who shared similar interests, are close in age and is of the same gender. 

Through their participation in the exchange program, Michigan families and their Japanese visitor were able to develop cross-cultural friendships, understanding and communication skills.  During the month long homestay program, the Japanese youth become members of their American host family, and were immersed in the culture of the U.S. by participating in family and community activities and events.  The Japanese exchange students gained language, communication skills and developed culture awareness by participating in the exchange. 

In addition to these skills, Michigan host families members also developed problem solving and critical thinking skills, as they worked together to help their exchange student adjust to living in a new cultural setting with different customs, language, foods and traditions.  Host families enjoyed the opportunity to share their time and lifestyle with their Japanese visitor and to learn about Japanese culture through the experience. 

While the exchange only lasted for four weeks, many of the host families and exchange students developed close friendships through the experience.  Host family members and the Japanese youth were sad to have the experience come to an end on August 23, 2013, but were happy to have started a relationship with someone from so far away. The friendships, memories and knowledge gained by host families and the Japanese delegates will last for many years to come; many delegates decide to return to visit their host families in future years.  Families interested in hosting a student during the 2014 Michigan 4-H International Exchange program with Japan may contact their local 4-H staff person for more information. 

To learn more about Global and Cultural Education programs offered by MSU Extension, visit the Michigan 4-H Youth Development website.

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