Youth develop global citizenship skills through 4-H international exchange programs - Part 1

Families and youth develop communication and cultural competency skills by hosting an international exchange delegate.

Hosting an international exchange student can be an important step for youth and their families to build cultural awareness, develop life skills and open the door to global citizenship. During the summer of 2014, there were thirty one31 families from 19 counties across the state of Michigan that hosted a Japanese exchange delegate or chaperone as part of the Michigan 4-H international exchange program. 25 youth and four adult chaperones from Japan spent one month in Michigan with their host families. Michigan 4-H works with States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs to coordinate the exchange with Labo, the Japanese exchange program partner.

During the exchange the Japanese delegate is matched with a sibling of the same gender within 2 years of their age. Host families welcome he or she into their homes as a member of the family. Strong bonds are formed and lifetime friendships made. Host siblings evaluations from the summer 2014 exchange indicated that because of their 4-H International Exchange experience, they are more accepting of differences in others, are more appreciative of another culture and care about people who are different than themselves. 

According to Michigan State University Extension, communication skills are important skills gained through participation in an international exchange. Host parents from the summer 2014 exchange reported that, “We gained communication skills both verbal and non-verbal, learned to work through communication barriers, to be patient when trying to communicate and learned to communicate with laughter and fun experiences.” 

One family discovered that Frozen is a very popular movie in Japan as it is in the U.S., giving the girls a common bond. They taught each other to sing “Let it Go” in each other’s language providing a fun way to find similarities in their cultures that have so many differences. One family shared that they learned to respect everyone no matter how different they are and that the exchange reinforced trying new things.

Michigan 4-H offers a variety of international exchange hosting and travel opportunities. Summer month long exchanges are offered with Japan, Belize and Poland. Other year-long hosting opportunities are also available.  You can visit the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs website for more information on each of the exchange hosting and travel opportunities. The deadline to apply for the outbound Japanese Exchange is December 15th for the four and eight week programs. Application forms for 2015 host families will be available soon at that site.

A second article in a series will focus on the findings of a recent States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs qualitative study of ten past 4-H exchange participants and their global citizen path.

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