4-H Japanese exchange program creates friendships, memories

May 8, 2013  

Linda Hines Japanese students

Linda Hines of Purdue's Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education with Japanese students in the 2001 exchange program. The group was touring campus before going to stay with host families for three weeks. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - When Linda Hines and her family opened their home to a student from Japan for part of a summer in the early 1990s, they understood that they didn't need to spend a lot of money on special activities to introduce her to the United States.

"We took our Japanese daughter to visit state parks and dairy farms and to see hay wagons. She didn't have those kinds of things in Japan," said Hines, a secretary in the Purdue Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education. "There's a meteor shower every August; we used to take her out and just sit back in lawn chairs and watch until 3 or 4 in the morning. It was great. I loved to listen to her talk. She'd never seen something like that before."

Today, Hines coordinates Indiana 4-H Japanese Exchange, a partnership that brings students from the Meiji Gakuin High School in Tokyo to stay with host families in Indiana for three weeks each summer. Every even-numbered year, Indiana high school students go to Japan to spend three weeks with a host family there.

This year, the program is seeking families to host students from Japan.

The goal of the program, which began in 1986, is to promote cultural understanding between young people from different cultures, said Roger Tormoehlen, department head.

"We have moved into an era where it is critical that all of us, especially our youth, develop a more in-depth understanding and tolerance of people who come from different cultures," Tormoehlen said. "Hosting a youth for 2-3 weeks is an excellent way to create that understanding. This is the primary goal and the primary reason for the partnership."

The students will visit during their summer break, so they will have no homework or assignments, other than keeping a journal detailing their experiences. Some families take their Japanese students on trips to see famous landmarks, such as out West or in Washington, D.C. Others have their exchange students simply enjoy the family's normal summer activities - for example, 4-H families may take their guests to a county fair or the state fair.

"Hosting a student does not have to be expensive for families," Hines said. "The only expense we ask from the families is that they give the students a roof over their heads and a place to sleep. If they want to go on vacation, that is their decision, but we tell them that all they need to do is stay home and live their normal lives. That's what the students want to see."

One of the greatest benefits of hosting a student is the formation of a lasting friendship, Hines said.

"I've known of American families who have gone to Japan for the weddings of the kids who came and stayed with them," she said. "My Japanese daughter stayed with us during the summer of 1990, then came back and stayed with us for a year in 1991-92, and every year for the next 10 years she came back to the U.S. to spend time with us and visit."

Deadline to apply to host a Japanese student is June 1. Families interested in becoming host families should have at least one child 13-18 years of age. They are not required to be 4-H members to qualify as a host. Families will undergo background checks if selected. They also will receive a handbook and information on Japanese culture and what to expect when hosting an exchange student.

Those seeking more information or interested in having a county coordinator speak to their group should contact Hines at 765-494-8433 or hinesls@purdue.edu.

Writer: Jessica Merzdorf, 765-494-8402, jmerzdor@purdue.edu

Sources: Linda Hines, 765-494-8433, hinesls@purdue.edu

Roger Tormoehlen, 765-494-8422, torm@purdue.edu 

Related website:

Purdue Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
Agriculture News Page

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