4-H youth shares her experience in Japan

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another country? 4-Her Libby Graber was able to be an exchange student for one month in Japan during summer of 2017.

Libby Graber with her Japan outbound display at fair.
Libby Graber with her Japan outbound display at fair.

Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs offer many exchange programs including outbound exchange in partnership with States’ 4-H International with headquarters in Seattle, Washington. The Japanese exchange program has a 44-year relationship with our partner organization, LABO, in Japan. Learn more about how this partnership has enriched a Michigan youth’s 4-H experience.

Have you ever thought about traveling around the world as a youth without your family? Are you curious to learn about other cultures and how others live? Fourteen-year-old Libby Graber from St Joseph County did just that. She wanted to learn about other cultures and see how others lived. On July 12, 2017, Graber boarded an airplane for the first time for an adventure of a lifetime. Enjoy her reflection of the experience.

D’Ann (D): When did you decide you wanted to travel to Japan?

Libby (L): My mom hosted an exchange student when she was a child, so she asked our family if we would like to have the same experience. Our family voted and agreed we would like to host. My brother hosted a Japanese boy for one month when he was 13 years old, then my sister hosted when she turned 13 years old. It was that second exchange student, my sister’s delegate, that planted the idea when she asked me to come to Japan and stay with her family. I wanted to stay with my own exchange student, so I hosted Mai when I was 13 years old. I did see my sister’s exchange student in Toyko when I arrived and departed.

D: How did you prepare to travel to Japan?

L: I watched a lot of YouTube videos about how to fit everything in a suitcase and what it is like to be in an airplane since I had never flown before. I studied Japanese with books I purchased off Amazon, a children’s dictionary and how to read and write Japanese. I also held fundraisers to raise money for the trip. My most successful fundraiser was holding a meal at my church. I also sold firewood, farm fresh eggs and sold rabbits and a goat at our county fair auction.

D: Did studying Japanese help you in Japan?

L: Yes, I could pick up words from what they were saying in Japanese and they were always surprised I understood some of what they said, at least pieces of it. Most people speak English in Japan, so it wasn’t a requirement to speak Japanese.

D: How did you pay for your trip?

L: I earned the money myself. My mom wanted me to learn how to work and save money over a long period of time for something I wanted. I started earning and saving for a year and a half. I also was awarded a 4-H scholarship through the Michigan 4-H Foundation.

D: How was flying to Seattle for your orientation?

L: I boarded the airplane in Detroit for my first time flying. I was aware of everything going on and I was taking it very seriously. We arrived in Seattle for our orientation with the whole group traveling to Japan from the United States. There were 30 of us all together. I made some new friends from different states; Olivia lives in Wisconsin and Shea is from Missouri. The States’ 4-H staff prepared us for our experience in Japan. We were given information about where we would be staying, chaperones’ phone numbers and LABO camp information. Eight of us would be at LABO camp together.

D: What is LABO camp?

L: LABO camp was five days in a place where everything was uphill. It is very similar to camps here in the U.S. We had different activities to do including a mini festival. The eight American kids performed a skit the last night of camp. We chose Baby Shark skit, it is a typical camp song. The kids loved it and could not stop singing it. I was able to hand out my business cards with a 4-H sticker/tattoo or Tootsie Roll/sucker. I have already received a letter from one of the girls I gave my information too.

D: What did you hope to experience during your exchange?

L: I was hoping to experience daily life and notice big differences between the two countries, but there were not that many.

D: How was Japan different?

L: Their lives are a lot like ours here in the United States. Schools were similar but different in small ways. We walked to school about two blocks away. I spent a half-day in school. Uniforms are worn everyday so I wore Mai’s extra one that day. Everyone had slippers to wear in school to help keep the school clean. The ones I had were too big so I just carried them. The kids had to clean the school. Buildings were three stories high and all the same grade were in each building. There were buildings across the street too. We listened to a one-hour lecture by a teacher. Then all the students sat in a big room for a 1.5 hour lecture and we sat on the floor with each class sitting in a line. Japanese students were well-behaved during the lecture. I didn’t understand half of what they were saying. Then the Japanese kids all got their homework for the summer.

The Japanese clothing was opposite of ours. In the U.S., girls wear skintight jeans or spaghetti straps; in Japan, girls wore baggy shirts and extra layers of clothing to protect them from the sun. My Japanese grandma wore a big floppy hat and long sleeves.

We went to the movies and the theater in Japan was nice. There were leather seats with shoe cubbies, slippers to wear and you drank out of glass cups. They still had popcorn, Japanese candy and soda juice, but no water. We saw an American movie in English with Japanese subtitles.

The streets were very clean and the vehicles were nice but compact. It was different to see them drive on the opposite side of the road. When my host brother got into the car, I thought he was going to drive.

My host family lived in an apartment with three bedrooms and six people including me. They had air conditioning but my host sister would turn it off stating, “Too dry in here.” We had one bathroom but the toilet and shower were in different rooms. They had a toilet that sprayed your bottom. I tried it once but never again. I was in a public restroom and the toilet lid went up automatically. I thought that was cool.

D: You stayed with the exchange student you hosted in 2016, so tell us about your host family.

L: My host dad managed a coffee shop and my host mom worked in a daycare. Great grandmother, grandmother and grandfather lived close. Grandma was the LABO tutor, so she was over a lot to make sure I was learning about Japan and doing activities. I did pottery making. I experienced pop culture at the mall twice a week. They would show me their favorite stores and we ate Japanese food. We ate meals at tables with chairs. Even the restaurants used table and chairs, but at grandmother’s house we ate on the floor. I also learned it is disrespectful to walk down the street eating food; I think this is how they kept the streets so clean.

I shared a cultural meal with my family; I made macaroni and cheese hamburger helper and rainbow jello. I gave my host family wooden toys; one of the favorites was a mouse that would pop out of a box. My host brother really liked that gift. They also liked the house with a mousetrap inside and it would explode. I made banana bread for a meal with the LABO party, I also gave my LABO party the U.S. quarter collection of all the states and a U.S. flag.

My host family were Christians, so we drove 20 minutes to church every Sunday. We would arrive at 10 a.m. for the service until noon then we cooked until 1 p.m. and ate lunch. We would stay there until 3 p.m. for the children’s service and then return home by 8 p.m. I enjoyed church, but it was very long.

D: Describe your feeling during your experience in Japan.

L: When I arrived in Japan, it was overwhelming. I thought, “Oh my goodness, it is really happening!” The first week I got homesick since it was my birthday, so I missed home. My host family made my birthday celebration really nice though. I feel like the homesickness was part of the process since it was different being in a new culture. When it was time to say goodbye, I was very emotional. (Even thinking about it during the interview made Libby emotional.)

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

L: I missed space since I live on a farm here in Michigan and we have lots of open space. I also missed my pets.

D: What do you miss from Japan now that you are home?

L: The food, all of it, especially the sticky rice.

D: How will you use this experience back in your community?

L: I have presented to St. Joseph County Youth Council, Rolling Clovers 4-H club and my church family. I share my experience with anyone who asks. I will put it in a portfolio or on my resume. This experience will make me more employable. It will help me in the future.

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

L: I hope to travel back to Japan in 2020 for the Olympics. I am thinking about dual enrollment pursuing foreign language at Glen Oaks Community College. This experience has influenced my study interest and has jump-started my education. I have a more worldly perspective of things going forward.

Michigan 4-H is now accepting applications to travel abroad for one month to Costa Rica, Japan, South Korea, and Norway in the summer of 2018. Application are due Dec. 1 with the first $2,000 payment, but don’t wait too long to apply. Two Michigan 4-H youth have already submitted their applications since some countries have limits on the number of youth who travel. See the 2018 Outbound Exchange section on the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Programs page for more information and to apply. Encourage the youth in your community to embrace the idea of traveling abroad and opening their minds to other cultures and the beauty of our world.

4-H grows internationally traveled youth. If you would like to learn more about international exchange programs in Michigan, visit Michigan State University Extension’s International Exchange Programs or contact D’Ann Rohrer, state coordinator, leadership and civic engagement team member, 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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