Adventure abroad: Michigan teen experiences life in Japan through 4-H

While other teens spent the summer attending sports camps, working part-time jobs or sitting poolside, six Michigan 4-H’ers had a different summertime adventure: traveling abroad through the 4-H international exchange program.

RyAnn and her host sister visiting Fushimi Inari-taisha.

While other teens spent the summer attending sports camps, working part-time jobs or sitting poolside, six Michigan 4-H’ers had a different summertime adventure: traveling abroad. Through the 4-H international exchange program, coordinated by Michigan State University Extension, each youth spent four weeks in Japan, Norway or Costa Rica, learning what life was like for a young person across the world.

“I loved pretty much everything about Japan,” said 14 year-old RyAnn Rohrer from Mason County. “It was an amazing experience.”

A 4-H member for the past three years, RyAnn was involved with showing rabbits, goats, chickens and horses, as well as various craft projects and statewide Michigan 4-H events such as 4-H Exploration Days, 4-H Creative Arts Celebration and 4-H Leadership Spectacular. In 2016, her international exchange experience began when she and her family hosted a 4-H exchange student from Japan. In 2017, her family hosted once again, and RyAnn decided she would like to experience life as an exchange student for herself.

“My mother participated in this program as a 4-H youth, so I wanted to, too,” explained RyAnn. “I thought it would be a good experience and I wanted to see a different culture and way of life.”

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In mid-July, RyAnn departed for her four-week Japan excursion, and her international exchange experience came full circle as she spent two weeks with each of the young women whom she and her family hosted in previous years. During her stay, RyAnn visited famous sites such as Fushimi Inari-taisha, a shrine for the god of rice, and Byōdō-in, a temple built by the once powerful ruler Fujiwara no Michinaga. In addition to seeing Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and partaking in traditional dining, RyAnn also enjoyed native experiences such as having her hair and makeup done in the traditional Japanese style.

“I loved everything,” said RyAnn. “But if I had to pick, my favorite part was visiting Kyoto. It is the number one tourist site, the oldest city in Japan and was once was the capital.”

Though she expected a difference in culture, RyAnn found herself surprised by how minute some of the differences were. Among the most unexpected variances were the small size of Japanese cars, the narrow lanes of traffic and the practice of store employees not bagging purchases for the customers.

Now back in the States, RyAnn plans to continue her Japanese immersion.

“I would like to learn more Japanese. I hope to take an online Japanese language course and visit a Japanese school in Michigan.”

When asked what she would say to another 4-H’er considering an exchange experience, RyAnn was quick to answer.

“I would say ‘do it!’ It’s an amazing experience!”

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To learn more about traveling abroad with Michigan 4-H, visit the 4-H international exchange programs page online. Families can also experience the joys of international exchange by hosting an exchange student in their own home. In 2018-2019, Michigan 4-H will host 58 youth from a number of countries: South Korea, Japan, Turkmenistan, Serbia, Georgia, Taiwan, Belize and Finland. Stays range from one month to an entire school year. To learn more about hosting an international exchange student, contact D’Ann Rohrer at or 231-845-3361.

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