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CLAY CENTER, Kan. – 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.
She also was among the first to offer her family’s home to the young visitors.
At the time (1977), Scott was a 4-H member living in Oak Hill, Kan. She learned about the new program at a 4-H meeting, and asked her parents if their family could participate as a host family.
In volunteering, Scott, who was 17 at the time, could not have known that she would begin a lifelong friendship with Hiroe Yoshioka, 13-year-old girl from Hiroshima, Japan.
According to Scott, Hiroe was from a large city, but embraced Kansas and opportunities to learn about farm life, the state’s vast landscape with “much vacant space,” night sky with so many stars, and friendly people.
And, while Japanese students selected for the program practice English-speaking skills prior to coming to the U.S., Scott said that Hiroe also had packed a Japanese-English dictionary that the two girls used frequently.
“It was great fun, as we celebrated the joy in understanding and learning more about each other,” Scott said.
As Hiroe learned about the U.S., Scott said that she, as her host, and others in the family’s community also had the opportunity to learn about Japanese culture and lifestyle, and to learn more about their own surroundings as they watched Hiroe experience life in their community.
The month-long exchange passed quickly, she said, yet served as the foundation for a lifelong friendship, and occasional international visits.
The experience has stayed with Scott. After graduating from K-State, she left the state for employment. When she returned to Kansas, she checked in with the Extension office to volunteer with the program (about 12 years ago), and has now assumed responsibility as Kansas Summer Inbound Coordinator.
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.
One Family’s Story: “Opening Your Home Adds Value to Life”
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 (IFYE) 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 couple met in Wisconsin, and have a shared respect for the value in international travel and exchange programs. During their marriage, they have made it a policy to choose a home with a guest room, Mary Buchele said.
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.
Rod Buchele shared that their son Steven’s interest in Japanese culture, which had been inspired by a cartoon he had seen as a young boy, grew substantially during Shuto’s visit; in subsequent years, the two boys have continued their friendship.
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.
The cost becomes manageable, Steven’s father (Rod) said.
“High school students have part time-jobs and some savings, and also are encouraged to apply for scholarships through 4-H and other community groups, sometimes in exchange for cultural programs about their experiences when they return. Others also host fund-raising events to cover some of the cost,” Buchele said.
The Bucheles opted for the bargain-priced add-on language program.
“It’s the best money we’ve spent,” Rod Buchele said. “Steven left a teenager and came home as a significantly more confident – and accomplished – young adult with a greater understanding of the larger world.”
Steven credits the exchange with helping him “step out of his comfort zone.”
“In learning to communicate with others, we can learn about their lives – and our own,” said Steven, who said experiences in the exchange helped him “make great friends” and “learn to become more resilient – and resourceful.”
As an example, when returning to his host home after a language class, he realized he had gotten on the wrong bus.
“I was in a foreign country, and just learning the language,” he said.
“I remained calm, and back-tracked to work through it,” said Steven, who credits the exchange program with helping to practice problem-solving skills in a way that he would not otherwise have done.
“These are skills that I will use the rest of my life,” said Steven, who is now in his first year at the University of Tulsa studying computer sciences and animation. He is focusing his career goal on creating computer-animated educational cartoons for international youth.
His sister, Mary Lynn, a sophomore in high school, was accepted into the program this summer.
She fretted about missing orientation for a new high school. She thought she might get lost, but her fears evaporated during her travel experiences, she said.
In traveling from her host home to her language class, Mary Lynn rode a bike to a local train station; boarded a train, which she took to Shinjuku, the largest train station in Tokyo; there, she transferred to the subway before walking the rest of the way to class.
She came home as a capable young adult, and said: “If I can manage my way around in Tokyo, I think I can manage the new school.”
Like her brother, Mary Lynn returned with friends in Japan and from other states and countries from which students also participated.
She also has a clearer vision for her career goal, teaching the Japanese language in high school.
Learning to Share a World View
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.
Deryl Waldren, K-State Research and Extension area specialist based in northwest Kansas, is a former IFYE and a well-traveled advocate for the exchange programs.
“I am always pleased how so many youth upon returning have learned about global citizenship, have developed a global perspective and their personal sense of place in it. It’s like the light bulb comes on during the exchange program,” he said.
Waldren, who currently serves as the chair of the States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs, traveled to Japan earlier this summer with States’ 4-H Program president Yoko Kawaguchi, to explore opportunities to collaborate with the Labo, Lex and Utrek program partners in the educational exchanges.
“One goal is to provide a longer exchange, with still more opportunities,” said Waldren, who referenced Heidi Bivens’ year-long internship with the Labo Language program in Japan.
At the time, 1989-90, Bivens was a Republic County 4-H member from Courtland, Kan.
“The experience changed me,” Bivens said. “I grew up immensely and gained a level of confidence in myself that I didn’t know existed.”
Bivens first experience with the exchange program was in 1979, when her family hosted Yasuko Hayashi, from Nagoya, Japan.
Doing so instilled a love of the Japanese culture, said Bivens, who was a summer outbound exchangee in 1986.
Bivens has since hosted numerous times, and has been able to keep in touch with a few of them over the years.
Some, along with their families, have returned so they could share their experiences first-hand with their parents and siblings, she said.
We (in America) tend to take for granted the little things in life, such as our wide open spaces and the ability to see the Milky Way, Bivens said.
“I never imagined myself as different, but my blue eyes and curly red hair made me stand out among the Japanese people, and opened the door for a lot of conversation.
“I spent time in western Japan and in inner city Tokyo, and I learned much about the larger world and its people,” said Bivens, who noted that she has since tried to bring some of what she learned from her experiences to students at the elementary school where she works by reading to students in Japanese and fixing them Japanese food.
Bivens, who still lives in rural Courtland, Kan., is married (her husband is Tony) and the couple are parents of two boys (Ty, 18 and Cody, 16).
This year, the Bivens family is hosting Sohma Hizawa, a Japanese exchange student from Kasugai, Japan, who is here as part of the year-long high school program.
The new school year is off to a good start. Cody and Sohma are both taking Spanish I, and it’s fun to see them sitting at table helping each other with their homework, she said.
They come from different backgrounds, and can learn much by working together, she said. Cody has enjoyed teaching his Japanese brother about caring for farm animals and the rural American way of life.
And, Sohma has been a wonderful brother; he has jumped right into our lifestyle.
“One of our best experiences yet has been sitting in the front yard watching the meteor shower in August. That is something he may never have experienced in Japan,” Bivens 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).