Host an international exchange youth through 4-H

Take an international youth into your home and give them an adventure of a lifetime: be a host family for a month or a year.

Michigan 4-H has been involved in international exchanges since 1948 at the inception of the International Four-H Exchange (IFYE). Since then, the 4-H program has sent and received many youth and their chaperones as we formed partnerships with youth-serving organizations in other countries.

Michigan 4-H families have been very generous in hosting youth through the Japanese Labo exchange and Belize 4-H since 1972. Other countries that Michigan 4-H families have hosted are Poland and through States’ 4-H International Exchange Organization Japan, Eastern Europe, Australia, Finland, Norway and Costa Rica. The IFYE program host families enjoyed hosting young adults from Ireland, Taiwan, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland.

To bring someone into your home and make them part of the family for a period of time puts the family in a total immersion situation. People have various reasons for hosting an international student. Some people say it is so they can learn about the customs and culture of another country. Other families want to share the American culture with people from around the world. The youth in the family also have their reasons for hosting. They may choose the person they host based on their interest in sports, music, art, camping, environmental concerns, love of animals, cooking or interest in agriculture.

Host families make their international student feel welcome in many ways. They show their delegates sights around their community and around Michigan. They also take pleasure in sharing their home life with the delegate by including them in food preparation, outdoor chores, grocery shopping and visiting other family members. They arrange for them to be interviewed by the local newspaper or to meet city officials like the mayor. They attend baseball games, music concerts and fairs. Having an international exchange student in your family does not mean that the family is the only beneficiaries of the cultural experience. Many of the delegates take part in community service projects with their family and helping with fundraisers for 4-H clubs or events like the Relay for Life.

But the host family experience is not all-give – the student has something to offer as well. They share their culture with the family through language, cooking recipes from their culture, discussions on agriculture, schools, economics, environmental issues and sharing their family through pictures and stories.

According to a study done by Dr. Mary Arnold at Oregon State University on the Japanese 4-H exchange both the host siblings and the exchange student learn the same set of skills. They both reported significant change in comfort levels in meeting people from other cultures, communicating in a language other than English and working through misunderstandings. What is evident is that youth gain the same skills whether they are the traveler or the host.

To learn more about being a host family through Michigan 4-H go to or call your local Michigan State University (MSU) Extension office.

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