Michigan 4-H: Connecting youth to global experiences

Global and cultural competency is a knowledge and skill base that continues to grow in relevancy as our world increases in interconnectedness.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H both recognize the vastly interconnected nature of our world today and are working hard to ensure global engagement and learning opportunities are available to Michigan youth. MSU Extension educators with an expertise in youth leadership and civic engagement coordinate a variety of global and cultural competency programs each year.

Two very unique programs happen on a local level each year. The 4-H China Art Exchange is a really exciting program that creates a bridge between Michigan and Chinese youth. Kindergarten to sixth grade participants from both countries create works of art, or "visual letters," which are sent as an exchange with youth of a similar age in the opposite country. Additionally, we've started facilitating "virtual exchanges," where youth from Michigan utilize today's technologies to interact with youth abroad. This effort makes international co-learning and idea exchange cost-free and increases accessibility to international experiences across the state.

This team of MSU Extension educators has been continually working to create opportunities for global civic engagement at a state level. One new effort is the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute. This free, one-day event on campus will bring youth together from across the state to work side-by-side with Michigan food systems experts to discuss the worldwide challenge that is food access. Youth will share findings from research, collaborate on ideas, explore the MSU campus and expand their network, all while discovering the complexities of the global food system and learning how they can make a difference.

In addition to these events and programs, international exchanges are also offered. Two programs, FLEX and LABO, focus on school-year exchanges where high school students from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine come to Michigan to stay with host families for the entire school year. Other exchanges are coordinated during the summers. Youth from Japan have the opportunity to come stay with a host family in Michigan, with an additional outbound exchange where Michigan youth can travel to Japan for the summer.

Last, but not least, Michigan has a special relationship with IFYE (formerly known as International Four-H Youth Exchange) that allows us to be a host state for young adults wanting to travel to the United States. Participants live and interact with host families during their time in Michigan, and often rotate to different hosts around the state during their time here. This creates an experience that allows for increased understanding of the cultural diversity of Michigan.

Since the first exchange in 1948, over 5,000 young adults between the ages of 19 and 30 have left the United States to live abroad, and a similar number of delegates from around the world have come to the United States. In 2015, three families in Michigan are hosting Miss Sandra Wefer. Wefer calls Germany home, but during her time in the Mitten she'll stay on both the east and west coasts of the state, as well as in the Upper Peninsula.

IFYE is a two-way cultural exchange, immersing young adults over the age of 19 in other cultures around the world. Participants live and interact with host families for several months. This environment helps create a better understanding of cultural diversity through day-to-day living experiences rather than being treated as a guest or tourist.

Further information about hosting an IFYE delegate can be obtained from me, IFYE coordinator, at schul430@anr.msu.edu. IFYE is a two-way cultural exchange, so if you are interested in traveling as a Michigan delegate, please contact me or Alan Lambert, National IFYE program director, at alanelambert@ifye.org

Did you find this article useful?