4-H offers Oakland County youth immersion opportunity in Japanese culture

International travel takes youth outside of their comfort zone and encourages them to be better communicators.

Michigan outbound youth delegate Saudia Tate eating traditional Japanese food with her host family. Photo by Saudia Tate.
Michigan outbound youth delegate Saudia Tate eating traditional Japanese food with her host family. Photo by Saudia Tate.

Saudia Tate, an Oakland County youth, traveled abroad during summer vacation to continue her desire to learn about other cultures. Saudia isn’t new to traveling abroad, but this summer’s experience was different then her school trips to China, since she was able to stay with a host family and live life as a Japanese resident.

D’Ann (D): How was your trip to Japan different than being at home?

Saudia (S): Culturally, my host family watched news all the time. Their news format is different, it is more fun. Our news is fear-based, but Japanese news is fun and whimsical. Another difference was I am used to doing my own laundry, but in Japan my host mom did all the laundry every day and hung all the clothes to dry. As far as transportation, everyone in Japan took the train or bikes every day, here in the U.S. we travel more with automobiles. My host family and I would buy train tickets and multiple tickets since we would switch trains when we traveled.

(D): How did you feel about these differences?

(S): My host sister, Haru, was in France for a year prior to me arriving. She was doing school work to try and get caught up from being abroad herself. So it was challenging to adjust to the differences without her help as much as I would have liked. The train system was the biggest difference, it took a lot to get used to. Obviously, there were language and diet differences. I am vegan, so my host mom worried a lot about what I would eat. Every morning my host mom would load the rice cooker and we would eat rice with every meal. My host father was a restaurant manager and was an excellent cook, so I looked forward to days he was preparing meals. I was offered salad for breakfast, which was different. I tried to go with the flow most of the time. It was part of the experience.

(D): Was your relationship with your host family what you expected?

(S): It was mostly what I had expected but I did expect to be much closer with them. They did answer many of my questions but I thought we would have more time together hanging out or playing games, similar to my natural family, but my host family was very busy. I spent a lot of time with other people taking me to places around the city. I’m glad was I able to see many things, but would have enjoyed it more with my host family.

(D): Before you left, you shared with me you wanted to learn about the history of Japan, music, food and instruments. Were you able to accomplish these goals?

(S): On one of my trips with a Hippo Club member, we spent some time at the history museum. I had an English guide while I was there. That was interesting. I feel I got a good sense of food, which they prepared each meal for me, and Taiyaki was my favorite thing to eat. It is like a pancake with sweet red bean paste in the middle. Traditionally, they are shaped like a fish for luck. I ate sushi here in Michigan, but I learned even more making dishes for when I return home.

As far as music, teenagers listen to American music and k-pop, so that didn’t seem too different. I was able to visit a Japanese cultural summer festival one night and I wrote my own haiku. I participated in many Japanese tea ceremonies. I saw an artist playing traditional instruments at the summer festival in tents.

One thing that surprised me was how popular baseball is in Japan. They have teams with the same names as American teams, like Astros. I also leaned kids play tennis and participate in soccer clubs. Therefore, I think I was able to experience all those things and understand the cultural significance.

(D): During your outbound interview, I asked you what you would like your host family to learn from you and you were not sure. What did they learn from you?

(S): I taught my host sisters dances and veganism, and I explained peanut butter and jelly. They didn’t think it would taste good together and didn’t want to try it. I learned quickly that their peanut butter tasted different than our peanut butter, so that helped me understand why they didn’t like the taste together.

(D): Since you were not a 4-H youth prior to this trip, you didn’t understand what 4-H was. Now that you have experienced a little of what 4-H has to offer, how would you explain 4-H to someone who knows nothing about it?

(S): 4-H offers a chance to immerse yourself in a culture by staying with a host family. You can experience living your life as a Japanese person while participating in an international 4-H program.

(D): How did you prepare to travel to Japan on exchange?

(S): I spent a week or two with flash cards to learn key Japanese words. I spent a week with pronunciation, too.

(D): In what way do you feel this experience will help you in the future?

(S): I think traveling in general gets me outside of my comfort zone and understand other cultures better. The experience helps me be a better communicator. Traveling abroad reinforces how important communication is when not everyone speaks English. You learn to be creative in communication by writing things down to better understand.

(D): Describe your feelings during your experience in Japan.

(S): I had some big frustrations the first week to understand the language. I got better with coping with that. The frustration was mostly from them talking over me.

(D): What did you miss most while you were in Japan?

(S): My bed and my room.

(D): What are your plans for future travel or educational fields of study?

(S): This summer in June I plan to travel to Costa Rica for a mission trip. I hope to travel to China again with my study abroad program Chinese college. I would like to travel everywhere. I hope to teach people English. I want to study neuroscience and communicative studies to learn how the brain understands language. I also have an interest in African American studies. Michigan Tech accepted me already, but I am also looking into studying at the University of Vermont, University of Michigan, Portland Emory and many others.

(D): How have you changed because of this experience?

(S): Japanese culture is a part of my life now. I still watch Japanese Netflix or shows. I speak Japanese sometimes. I’m more aware of Japanese culture and other cultures. I learned money management skills while I was there since I only had access to a limited amount of spending money.

4-H grows global travelers. If you would like to learn more about international exchange programs in Michigan, Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs or contact me at drohrer@anr.msu.edu.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016 can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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