Youth develop global citizenship skills through 4-H international exchange programs - Part 2

International exchange alumni reflect on their global citizenship journey.

Do international exchange programs contribute to positive youth development and the development of youth as global citizens? Are college and career choices influenced by participating in international exchanges? These questions will be explored in this second article in a two part series on developing global citizenship skills through international exchange programs. Part 1 in this series by Michigan State University Extension looked at communication and cultural competency skills Michigan 4-H youth reported after hosting a delegate from Japan during the summer 2014 4-H youth exchange. This second article will look at results from a longer term evaluation of international exchange programs sponsored by States' 4-H International Exchange.

States’ 4-H is a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Wash., that works with Cooperative Extension to coordinate 4-H exchanges for states across the nation. Michigan 4-H works with States’ 4-H to offer the Japanese month long summer incoming and outgoing exchange programs and other yearlong hosting opportunities.

Mary E. Arnold, Ph.D., Oregon State University, conducted the three phase evaluation of States’4-H International Exchange programs. The 2012 phase 1 survey of outbound and host youth looked at how the exchange program contributes to positive youth development and youth development as global citizens. The experience of being independent, meeting and interacting with people from another country while traveling abroad were the opportunities the outbound youth rated most highly. Youth that hosted said they made the greatest gains in their understanding of the personal and family life, culture, traditions and the educational systems of their international visitor.

The phase 2 survey of randomly selected alumni of outbound exchanges looked at longer term effects of the exchange. These alumni also reported being independent, meeting and interacting with people from another country as most valuable. They reported that the exchange had an impact on their choice of college and future career. The alumni sought out colleges that had a strong international and/or study abroad programs. The exchange experience also gave many of the alumni the desire to pursue an international career.

Phase 3 of the study completed in 2013 interviewed ten exchange alumni that were intentionally selected. A few key findings of the study showed that:

  • Hosting exchange youth from other countries is an important step on the pathway to global citizenship.
  • There is a distinct relationship between a youth’s growing cultural awareness and the choice of college major, which in this study all had an international component.
  • Youth and families should be encouraged to host youth from other countries ideally prior to going on their own international exchange.
  • The quality of host families matters – they play a vital role in the exchange.
  • Helping youth connect to other international opportunities following the exchange is important.

Participating in an international exchange experience can be a great first step to building global citizenship skills. It could be increasing communication and cultural competency skills as a host sibling or gaining confidence and independence while traveling on an international exchange. Each international experience can enrich a young person’s life and influence the college and career choices they make.

You can learn more about 4-H international hosting and travel opportunities at the Michigan 4-H Exchange Programs website.

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