Second generation travels abroad with Michigan 4-H International Programs

Mother shares her experience traveling as a youth to Japan and why her son is also having the same opportunity.

Owen Myers with Japanese family
Owen Myers eating with his Japanese family in Japan 2018.

The longevity of Michigan 4-H International Exchange Program has proven beneficial to one Oakland County family as they seek to send their son Owen to Japan on a similar trip his mother took almost 30 years ago. In partnership with States’ 4-H International Exchange and LABO, 45 years of continued dedication to this international experience for youth has yet again exceeded expectations.

Owen Myers, an outbound delegate to Japan this summer, became interested in traveling once her learned about his mother’s experience abroad almost 30 years ago. Allison (Piesczak) Myers shared her experience with her son when he was researching about Japan of her time in the outbound exchange program as a 15-year-old outbound delegate to Japan in 1989.

Enjoy the conversation between Maggie Nagle, MSU Extension international exchange intern, and Allison, as they discuss the program impact over two generations.

Maggie (M): How did you hear about the outbound program when you were a youth?

Allison (A): I was active in 4-H all my life, living in a very small community it was a big part of growing up. My mom had heard about the 4-H inbound hosting program from one of her clients and she wanted to try it out. I had never really heard of anyone traveling back to Japan, and I hadn’t thought about it much myself.

After I had hosted a delegate in the summer, I became more interested in visiting my Japanese delegate and traveling to Japan. I learned more about traveling outbound from my state coordinator and the LABO program. I was our delegate’s host in Michigan and our delegate hosted me when I traveled to Japan.

M: What impact did this experience have on your life?

Allison in Japan
Allison (Piesczak) Myers when she was in Japan in 1989 with her host family.

A: I still remember so much from my trip and all the amazing things I was exposed to. After I got home I wanted to go back, it was such a great time and I still would like to go back to Japan. It’s on my bucket list! I was from a small community, and I had never been out of the country before. This experience opened my eyes to so many new experiences and friendships that have changed my life.

I stayed in contact with my host sister for a long time, but about 10 years ago we lost touch. I don’t know her married name so I haven’t been able to find her online. We used to send letters back and forth, she even sent me a gift when my son was born 15 years ago. I am still in touch with a few people from Michigan who were also on the exchange with me. We are Facebook friends now and send Christmas cards every year.

In some ways, I was inspired to lead a healthier lifestyle after experiencing the food of Japan. There were no loaded carbs on the table, and we ate fresh vegetables and fruit with every meal and there was no sugary cereal for breakfast. I try to incorporate those ideas into the way I cook for my family today.

During college, I took Japanese history as an elective course and I was glad to have background knowledge on the subject from my trip; I was really able to apply it. I think about my experience often and I cannot wait to someday go back and explore the place I was so many years ago.

M: Why do you think this is a valuable experience?

A: After being away from your parents for four to five weeks, you gain a lot of independence. My communication and world view were the most impacted after this. I think this is a valuable experience because of the world view you gain after all those weeks and the culture you are exposed to.

This is a great experience for anyone to have, but especially for youth. When you are young, you are still developing your ideas of the world and the way that you view things. Youth are very moldable by their surroundings and experiences, we just need to take advantage of that time and give them that world view and experience. It can be a truly life changing and inspiring experience.

M: Whose idea was it for your son, Owen, to travel abroad?

A: Owen had a big, semester long project where he had to research a country and make a presentation about it. While he was trying to decide what country to focus on, we got out the box of my things from Japan and he was inspired. During his research and my many stories about my trip to Japan, Owen decided he would like to travel himself. He was very excited about this decision to travel abroad, and I am so excited to hear all of his stories from his adventure.

M: What do you hope Owen has gained from this exchange, the same exchange you participated?

A: I see this opportunity as such an amazing experience, something that can impact you in small ways every day. When I returned home, so many people commented how great it was that I was able to have the opportunity to travel to Japan on the exchange. I hope Owen is able to use this experience in his life and that it can help him be successful. There are so many stories to write about and knowledge of a different culture and the workings of a country expand your understanding of the world. These ideas come in handy during any English class and creative writing courses.

Owen is only a sophomore, but he is interested in international relations and maybe being a translator. I think this experience will be an overview for him to help with that decision and provide valuable experience he can use to his advantage in college.

M: Do you think your daughter will travel abroad as well?

A: Yes, I think so. She is 12 right now, so we are thinking of hosting in the summer and looking at that perspective first. We haven’t hosted yet, so we are thinking that might be a good place to start with her. Since we have been planning this trip for Owen, she has been asking when she will get to go.

M: If you were trying to convince another mother to send their child on exchange through Michigan 4-H International Program, what would you say?

A: From my perspective, Japan is an excellent country because of the safety of the communities there. It is one of the safest places in the world. The LABO program, which the kids travel with, is very thorough in their process of finding placements for all the kids who will be staying there. We didn’t know the host family for my son until one month before his departure, but so far it has seemed to be a great match. It’s not like you are just living with a random Japanese family. You attend meetings, camps, cultural events, visit historical places and so much more.

There is a great education aspect to it too, you’re not just being sent overseas to sit around. I can see where many parents are stressed and nervous, especially if they haven’t traveled themselves. I get a lot of feedback from other parents in my son’s classes. They ask, “Aren’t you going to miss him? That’s so far away for such a long time.” I know that there is so much more depth to his experience that is lasting four weeks as opposed to just one week. Although I will miss him so much, it will all be worth it in knowing what an amazing experience this has been for my son.

4-H grows second generation travelers. If you would like to learn more, visit the Michigan 4-H International Exchange Program website. To learn more about hosting an international exchange student, contact D’Ann Rohrer at drohrer@msu.edu or 231-845-3361.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs read our 2017 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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