by Juan Vazquez-Leddon
Across the state, 30 families have opened their homes to host a young person from Japan for three weeks as part of the New York State 4-H Japanese Exchange Program, in cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension offices around the state. The 27 Japanese youth, ages 12-16, and three adult chaperones arrived in Syracuse on July 22 and 23.
The three-week stay is supported by States’ 4-H International, a nonprofit organization, based in Seattle, affiliated with 4-H. The goal of the program is to encourage youth to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for cultural diversity, global connection, and civic engagement. States’ 4-H International works with 4-H programs in nearly 30 states to coordinate inbound and outbound cultural exchanges like this current one where 350 Japanese youth will experience life in the United States, including here in New York state. In Malone, Franklin County, Lindze Harkness is hosting Sora Fujiwara in what she calls an enjoyable experience.
Sora Fujiwara has been spending part of the summer with the Harkness Family in Malone, NY as part of the 4-H International Exchange Program.
“It’s 24/7 learning about the culture,” Harkness said. “It’s not like you’re visiting somebody for just a little bit and then leaving. It’s there, in your household 24/7. It’s constant learning.” The family has played games and taken Fujiwara to visit Six Flags Great Escape. He’s also introduced Harkness’ family to Japanese snacks.
“We tend to like their candy better,” Harkness said. “It has a more natural flavor where our candy is just pure sugar or dyes. Their candy is really tasty.”
In Gloversville, Fulton County, Tammy Angus and her family have bonded with Ami Saito, even using technology to break down communication barriers using Google Translate. “It’s so convenient, you can click back and forth,” Angus said. “It’s been a lifesaver.”
Angus said her daughter and Saito have shared music, TV shows, and movies. They’ve also played games and enjoyed a trip to Six Flags Great Escape.
Angus feels that Saito has gained some independence during her time here, something that she doesn’t get to experience much back home.
Ami Saito makes smores with Georgiana Angus during her stay with Georgiana’s family in Gloversville, NY.
“I think she’s learning independence from my daughter, where, for her, it’s not a problem to go to the barn and do barn chores or go to the mall and stay three stores ahead of us, as long as they’re within eyesight,” Angus said.
Both Fujiwara and Saito have shared gifts with their families, a tradition that was unexpected but appreciated.
“Every place we go, Ami will bring out some origami to give as gifts to the other children, and she’s open to teaching that art to the children,” Angus said.
Both families have noticed a trend from the visiting students that they hope sticks in their households — tidiness.
“I think Americans could learn a lot as far as tidiness,” Harkness said. “And manners.” The youth will be staying with their host families until August 16.
States’ 4-H International has coordinated exchanges between 4-H youth and youth from South Korea, Norway, Costa Rica, and other countries. The exchanges can last from one to 10 months. More information on the program is at States4HExchange.org.