CORVALLIS - This year's Oregon 4-H Japanese exchange program is in full swing with several Oregonians leaving for Japan in mid-July and many more Japanese youths due to arrive in Oregon later this month.
This summer, 4-H members and their families in 11 Oregon counties are hosting 83 Japanese teenagers and six adult chaperones. The visiting youth will be in Oregon from July 25 through Aug. 22.
At the same time, six Oregon 4-H members and one adult will travel to Japan to stay with Japanese families and learn about life in another culture. Four of the group departed late last month to spend three weeks in Japan taking classes on Japanese language and culture. The other members of the Oregon contingent leave July 12.
The Oregon 4-H program is facilitated by the Oregon State University Extension Service.
The 4-H exchange participants traveling to Japan will become part of their host families, share everyday life with them, meet relatives and friends from the community, and gain insights not available to the average tourist, explained Lillian Larwood, OSU Extension Service 4-H Youth program specialist. The 4-H members participating as hosts are asked to provide these same experiences for their Japanese visitors, she said.
"The exchange program broadens the perspective of all participants," said Byron Williams, student coordinator for the program. "They develop an entirely new view of the world and really learn what living in a global society means."
The 4-H Japanese Exchange Program has been providing the benefits of intercultural experiences to 4-Hers throughout the United States for over 30 years. A recent study conducted by an OSU Extension educator found that participants benefit equally from the program whether they travel overseas to Japan or stay at home as hosts to visiting Japanese teens.
"Participation in overseas exchange programs help youth to be more flexible, independent, sociable and responsible," said Mary Arnold, OSU Extension 4-H Youth specialist. "This is essentially the same set of skills that 4-H programs encourage young people to develop."
Arnold conducted a survey of randomly selected U.S. 4-Hers in the 2003 4-H Japanese Exchange program to assess the results of their experience. Using a pre- and post-test process, Arnold studied the impact of the program on participants' life skills and personal development, and compared the experiences of youth traveling abroad with youth who remained home to host Japanese students.
The study revealed remarkably similar outcomes for youths who went to Japan and host youths who remained in the United States.
Upon completion of the exchange experience, both groups gave similarly high ratings to a broad range of personal development categories including, appreciating another culture, finding commonalities with others, sharing experiences, caring about others, being resourceful, having self-confidence, cooperating with others, and developing a positive sense of self.
"Although it is clear that travel abroad provides opportunities that can't be experienced by host youth," Arnold said, "the study indicates that 4-Hers who remain at home as hosts to visiting Japanese teens also achieve important growth in terms of their acceptance of other cultures and international understanding.
"This is a very significant finding for the national 4-H exchange program when you consider that over 10 times as many youth serve as hosts than travel to Japan in any give year," said Arnold.
The Oregon 4-H Japanese exchange program has been ongoing annually since 1973. During that time some 3,000 Japanese youth and 400 Oregon youth have participated. According to Larwood, Japanese participation has always been greater than the number of Oregon 4-H members who go to Japan.
Counties hosting Japanese exchange students this summer are Baker, Benton, Clatsop, Coos, Crook, Deschutes, Douglas, Harney, Jackson, Linn and Polk. Over the 31-year history of the program, all 36 Oregon counties have participated, hosting Japanese youth and sending their own county 4-H members abroad.