Ten tips for organizing a 4-H youth exchange

Youth exchanges build cultural appreciation and life skills. Follow these ten steps for a successful exchange.

Exchanges with youth from other states can provide insight on different cultures without ever leaving the United States. The common thread of 4-H membership establishes common ground between the travelers, while they learn about the population, climate and local economy of their travel destinations.

Typically, participants stay in the homes of the families they visit, providing an opportunity to learn what life is like in the area they are visiting. The Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development Program has developed “A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs” that cites additional learning opportunities: “Exchanges provide opportunities to travel, sightsee, meet new people, make new friends, explore expanding interests, experience how others live and see other 4-H members in action.”

When planned appropriately, exchange programs are not only an exciting travel adventure, but expand members’ appreciation of diversity and increase members planning skills.

The ten steps below involve a basic outline of making exchanges successful. One of Michigan 4-H’s Guiding Principles is, “Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process.” It’s incredibly important that youth are involved in each step outlined below, as planning a trip of this nature builds life skills in planning, organizing, teamwork, goal setting and decision making.

Michigan 4-H recommends participants involved in interstate exchanges be age 13 or older. When recruiting, it’s important that participants understand all that is involved in participating – it isn’t simply a week of travel, but involves year-round fundraising, planning, learning and likely serving as a host family. A sample application is available on page 15 of the “A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs.” Be sure to remember that exchanges not only need youth participants, but require adult chaperones. Michigan 4-H requires an adult to youth ratio of 1:10, and requires that both a male and female chaperone travel with groups that include both boys and girls.

Choosing travel dates
Most 4-H exchanges are designed so that youth members travel one year and host the same group the following year, requiring a two-year commitment from members. However, both travel and hosting can be accomplished in the same summer if a motivated exchange group prefers. Poll interested members to find the time of year that will work the best for the most people, being careful to avoid local events and holidays.

Choosing an exchange location
4-H programs across the United States utilize a website hosted by North Carolina State University to post free advertisements about exchange opportunities. Youth programs post information about their group size and preferred travel dates to help counties find an appropriate match.

Establishing an agreement
Consult the “A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs” for a sample Memorandum of Understanding that can be used an agreement between the two participating exchange groups. It’s also very important to discuss early-on what the requirements are for background checks of adults serving as host families.

Establishing a budget
This is another important aspect to discuss with both exchange groups. Typically, 4-H exchange programs require the traveling group to cover their transportation expenses to get to their destination (airfare, fuel costs or train transportation), while the hosting group often covers the expenses of any activities they will organize while the group visits. This can be done simply by hosting picnics and events at homes of the participants, or extravagantly by organizing overnight trips to popular tourist destinations. It’s important to consider the activities the hosting group would like to coordinate when establishing a budget, and make sure to get feedback from the traveling group on the local opportunities in which they are most interested.

Costs for trips can be funded in a variety of ways, including fundraising efforts, personal contributions, local scholarships and donations. It’s important to establish expectations for fundraising early. For example, are families required to participate in a certain number of fundraising efforts, or will the club track family participation at each fundraising event and provide compensation for trips based on how much each family is able to participate in fundraising efforts? Requiring youth participation in fundraising efforts to some extent should be mandatory. Youth begin to build relationships through these experiences and have a better sense of the big picture involved in an exchange.

Before traveling, encourage youth to learn something about the place they are going. Youth can research the size of the community (both population and square mileage) and compare it to their own. Youth can learn about important industries in the community and learn whether most of their community is rural, urban or suburban. A worksheet to help youth through this process is available on page 24 of “A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs.”

Gifts and souvenirs
It is customary for groups to exchange gifts – thank you gifts for host families and souvenirs by which they remember the travel experience. This does not have to be elaborate or expensive, but is a nice gesture to help establish relationships between the groups.

Make sure families are given an itinerary and travel information for the duration of the exchange, including the emergency contact information of the chaperones and host families. Check with airlines on group travel policies and advise group members on size of luggage and suggestions of what to pack. It is important that all travelers bring photo identification; this is needed in airports, as well as at many government buildings. Mitigate risk by collecting health information forms and being familiar with allergies of participants. 4-H groups have an option to take out an accident insurance policy for the time of their travel, a safety net that provides extra protection for families.

After the experience, be sure to meet with the group to discuss what they learned and to go over the things that worked and things that could be improved upon as part of their experiences. Be sure to focus not only on the activities and planning processes, but on the differences and similarities between their home community and the community they traveled to. Emphasize the learning that took place. A sample worksheet to help members reflect on their experiences can be found on page 28 of “A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs.”

In many cases, the planning starts right back up after year one of an exchange, as the traveling county prepares to host and the hosting county prepares to travel. When following these tips, exchanges to new places can build appreciation of diversity and life skills in youth.

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources