Being in the 4-H leadership zone by traveling internationally

4-H empowers youth to step outside of their comfort zone and into their learning zone to become strong leaders.

Hannah Huntsberry in Japan
Hannah Huntsberry on exchange in Japan for eight weeks, attending Japanese school and embracing her learning zone. Photo by Hannah Huntsberry.

Why is 4-H successful in growing strong leaders? No one is born a leader. Some youth demonstrate leadership skills early, but all youth can be leaders. According to the Student Organization Advising and Resource (SOAR) at the University of California Santa Cruz, everyone can develop leadership skills and everyone can benefit from them. Developing leaders is intentional in 4-H. 4-H creates a safe place for youth to move outside their comfort zone into their learning zone. During this shift, leaders are created.

In the late 1800s, 4‑H opened the door for young people to learn leadership skills and revolutionized how youth connected to practical, hands-on learning experiences outside the classroom. Youth enjoy learning new things. Today, 4‑H serves youth in rural, urban and suburban communities in every state across the nation. 4‑Hers are tackling the nation’s top issues, from global food security, climate change and sustainable energy to childhood obesity and food safety. 4‑H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a wide variety of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) opportunities—from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science—to improve the nation’s ability to compete in key scientific fields and take on the leading challenges of the 21st century.

In 1974, Michigan 4-H embraced International Exchange Program with States’ 4-H International. This program offers inbound hosting opportunities and outbound homestay experience for Michigan youth. In the summer of 2020, Michigan will have 15 youth traveling to five different countries: Japan, Costa Rica, Taiwan, Romania and Norway. These youth will be traveling outside their comfort zone to their learning zone. They will learn so much about themselves, their culture, the culture they will be experiencing and interacting with many people from a different culture than their own. This experience is a terrific way to build confidence, leadership skills and interpersonal relationships.

Great leaders make it a habit to step outside their comfort zone and into their learning zone. Eighty percent of people choose to live in their comfort zone, while 20 percent live in their learning zone. These 20 percent are the people who dare to change things, dare to make a difference and dare to make an impact on the world.

Michigan 4-H State Youth Leadership Council is another great example of 4-H youth who are living in their learning zone. They are developing their leadership skills to making a difference in their community, state and world.

Josh Oliver Di Paola
Joshua Oliver-DiPaola with his host siblings in Costa Rica. Photo by Joshua Oliver-DiPaola.

Here are a few other upcoming 4-H opportunities to develop leadership skills:

4-H grows strong leaders. If you would like to learn more about 4-H Youth Development, visit the Michigan 4-H or contact

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.

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