May 27, 2009

The Allen family of Kenton County with international 4-H'er Megumi.
The Allen family of Kenton County with international 4-H'er Megumi.
Hosting a Japanese student through one of Kentucky 4-H's International Programs was an enriching experience for Martha Yount and Cathy Kunkel-Mains.

Both women have hosted youth multiple times and learned a lot about the Japanese culture in the process. After she graduated college, Kunkel-Mains traveled to India as a result of her 4-H experiences.

"It's really showed me how important a global experience is to really understanding others," said Kunkel-Mains, a state volunteer coordinator for 4-H's International Programs.

Yount said she was amazed by how Japanese and American teenagers share many similarities, despite cultural differences.

"They are regular kids with many of the same character traits as my children," said Yount, who is also the Breathitt County Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. "There were more similarities between my children and them than I thought there would be."

Kentucky 4-H has participated in international programs since the 1970s.  This year, program organizers are seeking host families for six boys, four girls and one adult chaperone.

"It's a great chance for families to learn about different cultures," said Mark Mains, state 4H Youth development specialist, who leads the program. "My family hosted an international 4-H'er when I was younger, and we kept in touch for years. It makes a huge impact on the lives of everyone involved."

The youth are members of two different exchange programs, Language Laboratory (LABO) and UTREK. Students in both programs are between the ages of 13 and 16.  The major difference between the two programs is how long the youth stay with their host families. Host families for LABO youth pick up their delegate in July 22 in Louisville and bring them back to Louisville Aug. 18. UTREK youth go on a week-long environmental camp when they arrive in the state. UTREK host families will pick up their delegates after the camp on July 26 in Georgetown and return them Aug. 18 in Louisville.

"Hosting an international 4-H'er for four weeks requires a much shorter time commitment than traditional international programs so it could appeal to people who maybe don't have the time for a year-long commitment," Yount said. "But it's long enough for the Japanese youth to become comfortable with your family, and you're able to develop lasting bonds."

Hosting a Japanese youth is a great way for families to get a cultural experience with minimal cost. Host families are asked to provide for the delegate the same way that they provide for their own children. To host a Japanese youth, families need to have a child of the same gender and within one to two years of the delegate's age. International 4-H'ers can share a room with their host sibling, but they must have their own bed. Host families can live anywhere in Kentucky. Those who do not have children can host one of the adult chaperones. 

"Those interested in hosting need to be open, welcoming and willing to share their life with the delegate," Kunkel-Mains said. "It's important for host families to include the Japanese youth in every aspect of their lives."

Families should not plan expensive, elaborate family trips while they are hosting a delegate.  The delegates are visiting the United States because they want to learn about American families, their lives and culture. The delegates bring spending money for any extras they may want to purchase while in the United States.

"You don't have to make a lot of changes in your everyday life because the Japanese delegates are coming to see how everyday American youth live," Yount said.

Those interested in hosting a Japanese youth do not need to have any prior experience with 4-H.  Host siblings and delegates can participate in local 4-H activities but it is not a requirement.

The Japanese delegates began learning English at a young age, but few have had a chance to use it in a real-life experience. Therefore, the youth will have varying English-speaking skills. Host families do not need to know Japanese. All host families are given information that can help them break any communication barriers.

The delegates will travel with two adult chaperones. Adult chaperones are available to help solve any problems or issues, such as communication barriers or homesickness, which arise during the stay.  The chaperones are fluent in English.

Kentucky also has volunteer coordinators who can help address any concerns the host family may have.

Host families with children have the option to send their children to another country as part of the 4-H International Program. Most Kentucky youth go to Japan, but some have gone to Costa Rica and Australia in the past.

For more information on becoming a host family, contact Mark Mains at 859-257-5961, ext. 231 or the county 4H Youth development agent.

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Writer: Katie Pratt, 859-257-8774

UK College of Agriculture, through its land-grant mission, reaches across the commonwealth with teaching, research and extension to enhance the lives of Kentuckians.


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