January 23, 2008 | By: Katie Pratt

The 4-H International Program needs families to host 20 Japanese youth and two adult chaperones who will be coming to Kentucky through two exchange programs this summer.

“It’s a great opportunity for any family interested in international programs, travel or people in general,” said Mark Mains, state 4-H youth development extension specialist and coordinator of the 4-H International Program. 

The Japanese–American 4-H exchange program has been around for more than 30 years, and Kentucky has been involved with the program for the majority of those years, Mains said. The two programs that bring Japanese young people to Kentucky are Language Laboratory (LABO) and UTREK.

LABO participants are ages 12 to 14. Host families will pick up the students and chaperones July 24 at the Executive Inn in Louisville and host them through August 20. Youth in UTREK, which is geared toward learning about the natural environments of the United States and Japan, range in age from 14 to 16. The teenagers participate in a 5-day camping excursion upon their arrival. They will stay with their host families from July 28 until Aug. 20. 

Host families do not need to be in 4-H or speak Japanese. The only requirement for the program is for the host family to have a child with a similar age and gender as the exchange student. The students should have their own area and bed, but can share a room with their host sibling. Since the program focuses on American culture, Japanese youth will not be placed in homes of families with the same cultural background. 

Hosting a LABO or UTREK participant does not require a large monetary investment. Host families are expected to provide for them in the same ways they provide for their own child. Students come with their own spending money for any extras they may want to purchase. Hosts are encouraged not to plan extravagant trips or deviate from their daily routines. While in the United States, the exchange students and their host families can participate in 4-H programs at any level with which they are comfortable, but participation is not a requirement.

Students in both programs have varying English speaking abilities. They have been taught some English in Japan through stories and repetition. 

“The child doesn’t come to the United States to learn English, but they pick some of the language up while they are here,” Mains said. “It’s more about the cultural experience. Bonds that last a lifetime are created.”

While trying to communicate with someone who may have few English conversational skills may seem difficult, Mains, whose family hosted a Japanese student when he was younger, said there are ways for families to bridge the communication gap.

“The key thing is not to get frustrated,” he said. “If your first try at communication doesn’t work, try to communicate again in a different way. It’s amazing how far hand signals, writing and pictures can go toward effective communication.”

Families or adults that do not have children with similar ages to the Japanese youth can volunteer to host one of the two group chaperones. The chaperones have good English speaking skills and stay with a host family for either a 2-week or 4-week period, Mains said. The chaperones’ main objective is to help with communication and facilitate problems any of the Japanese youth may have. 

Japanese students, chaperones and their host families will participate in International Day on August 20 at the Kentucky State Fair. Japanese students will demonstrate a particular aspect of their culture, such as origami, and the host families will be on hand to answer questions about their student’s demonstration and 4-H International Programs.

Persons interested in receiving more information on international opportunities through 4-H should contact Mark Mains, UK College of Agriculture, 212 Scovell Hall, Lexington, KY 40546-0064 or at mark.mains@uky.edu. Requesting information does not obligate families to host students this year. Applications for those interested in hosting a Japanese student this summer should be submitted by April 1. Families and students are matched based on their similarities. 

Host families will be given the option for one of their own children to participate in one of 4-H international outbound programs, which allow them to experience another country’s culture.


Mark Mains, 859-257-5961 ext. 231