This summer, the Texas 4-H program, in collaboration with the States’ 4-H International Exchange Program, will again be hosting a group of Japanese youths and their adult chaperones.
Twenty youths ages 11-14, known as delegates, and two chaperones from throughout Japan will travel to Texas to stay with a volunteer host family from July 23-Aug. 16
“We are looking for Texas families to host these delegates and chaperones for this four-week homestay, which many participants have described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Darlene Locke, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications at Texas A&M University, Bryan-College Station.
Locke said global citizenship activities such as the States’ 4-H International Exchange Program provide youth and families with life-changing experiences.
“The homestays provide a rich environment where the visitors are immersed in our culture,” she said. “They are not here as tourists, but to engage with the host family each day they are in Texas. And the host families share their Texas hospitality and introduce the delegate or chaperone to their own special part of the world.”
Texas families have been participating in the program for more than two decades, also hosting delegates from Costa Rica and South Korea.
Becoming a host family
“Opening your home to a foreign visitor and treating them as a member of your family is one of the most selfless acts of service you can offer,” Locke said.
Locke said to be a host family, there should be a child in the family of the same gender as the delegate and within plus or minus four years of the delegate’s age.
“Even though this is a 4-H-related program, it is not necessary for anyone in the hosting family to be a member of or affiliated with 4-H,” she said. “The main criteria for a host family is the openness and desire to dedicate time and interest to a young person from another country and make that person feel at home. There is no stipend for being a host family, so this is a truly altruistic endeavor. The primary expectation is just to provide a bed and three meals a day.”
Locke said host families are not expected to entertain the delegate, but rather to treat them as a member of the family.
“They come to the United States to learn our ways, our customs and how we interact as families,” she said. “The delegates have some familiarity with English but often lack the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned. Their immersive homestay in Texas and with families provides the ability to further develop their English skills. However, host families also learn that communication goes beyond the spoken word.”
To apply to be a host family, go to https://www.states4hexchange.org and click on the “Host a Student” tab. For more information on the international exchange program, contact Locke at email@example.com.
“Many of the Texas host families have kept up with their exchange delegates for more than 20 years,” Locke said. “The bonds made during these short four-week homestays can be strong and long-lasting.”
Locke said giving young people the opportunity to learn about themselves and help them develop the confidence and competence needed to navigate the modern world is a tremendous gift.
“We want to help these young people become more self-reliant and possibly step outside their comfort zone, but to do so in an essentially safe and supportive environment,” she said.
Since 2017, the Haschke family of Wise County has hosted three Japanese delegates and one Japanese chaperone. They have also hosted one South Korean delegate. They did not host in 2020 or 2021 due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This past year, we hosted a 15-year-old named Hana Ito, who lives near Tokyo,” said Julie Haschke. “She is about the same age as my daughter Emma, and the other Japanese delegates we hosted were about the same age as my other children when we hosted them.”
She said as part of her Texas experience, they introduced Ito to the Fort Worth Stock Yards, spent the day with her at a local water park and shopped together in their town square.
“My friends, who also live in Wise County, hosted another Japanese delegate, so we all got together to go places,” Haschke said. “The girls also had sleepovers and cooked together. My daughters got to learn some Japanese as well learning about origami and anime. They also played some Japanese games, including one called Sumo. It was all a great experience for all of them.”
Although it was summertime, the Haschke family also decorated their kitchen with a Thanksgiving theme and hosting families served their guests traditional Thanksgiving dishes. They also decorated their living room for Christmas and exchanged gifts with the delegates.
“We wanted them to experience some of our holiday traditions and the foods we typically enjoy during the holidays,” Haschke said.
Emma Haschke said Ito was anxious to learn English and was interested in American culture and slang.
“She wanted to know about our language and our culture,” she said. “She was a little quiet during the first week, but after that began to open up and enjoy herself. “After getting to know her and learn about her country, I wanted to visit Japan. I haven’t done it yet, but I hope it’s something I can do in the future.”
While the girls learned some Japanese from the delegates, Masami Sato, the chaperone they hosted, was fluent in English and gave them daily Japanese lessons.
“Not only that, Masami was a delightful person and an excellent cook,” Julie Haschke said. “She made us some wonderful Japanese dishes and was a lot of fun.”
Before the pandemic, Judy Besler and family, of Brownfield, served as hosts to 13-year-old Japanese delegate Iori Kimagai of Osaka.
“In a way, having a person from a different country and culture in your home is a lot like traveling to that country,” Besler said. “It also provides the opportunity to show the person visiting what’s special about where you live.”
While staying with the Beslers, Kimagai was shown around the area, including agricultural production sites, the Top of Texas Farms pick-your-own apple orchard in Idalou, the National Ranching Heritage Center and Science Spectrum in Lubbock, and Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
“We told her how this area produces a lot of the nation’s corn, wheat, cotton and grapes,” Besler said. “We also took her to a pick-your-own apple orchard and to Palo Duro Canyon, where we all watched the outdoor musical ‘Texas’ that told the history of the state.”
Besler’s daughter, Katelyn, three years Kimagai’s senior, was her primary contact and companion during her stay.
“Iori’s knowledge of English was pretty basic, but we were able to communicate with one another through drawing and writing, teaching one another some of our language and alphabet,” she said. “We also did a lot of things together, like using the apples we picked at the orchard to make apple pies and apple crisp. Iori also enjoyed using our swimming pool.”
Katelyn Besler said Kimaigai’s openness and willingness to go new places and try new things were an inspiration to her.
“The way Iori embraced these new experiences and the excitement she showed me were contagious,” she said. “She was younger than me, but she wasn’t afraid. Her enthusiasm and confidence rubbed off on me and inspired me to return the visit, staying with her and her family in Osaka.”
The year following Kimagai’s visit, Katelyn Besler traveled to Osaka for a four-week stay with Iori and her family. While there, she visited temples, markets, shrines and festivals. She and Iori also dressed in traditional kimonos.
“I was extremely nervous and had stressed myself before the trip,” she said. “But once I got there, I realized everybody was so nice and willing to help. There was nothing to fear. It was also nice to see how clean everything was and see the pride the people had in their city.”
She said the experience helped her be more self-confident and better understand how to communicate with people from a different culture.
“I came back with the understanding that, while there are differences in people and cultures, we’re all seeking the same goal – to do the best we can with our lives.”
Katelyn Besler said the impact of hosting someone from a different country and reciprocating that visit was an eye-opening experience that changed the trajectory of her education and career choice.
“Being from a small Texas town, I used to go everywhere with my parents and hadn’t had much experience being on my own, especially not in a foreign country,” she said. “But after Iori’s visit and then my visiting Osaka, I decided to study international business in college so I could travel more and also learn more about other countries and cultures.
Last year, while pursuing her degree at Angelo State University, Katelyn Besler participated in a study-abroad program in Greece.
“I’m looking forward to seeing even more of the world,” she said.