Winter 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW2

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Optimizing the 4-H Exchange

By taking 4-H youth out of their culture and away from their native language, this unique program optimized the out-of-state exchange.

Truda Roper
4-H Extension Agent
Virginia Extension Service
Virginia Tech-Rustburg
Internet address:

A 4-H out-of-state exchange can be an outstanding educational experience, an excellent way to retain 4-H members, and a way to attract teens to the 4-H program. An exchange with Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth of the United States, gives an international dimension to an out-of-state exchange because teens can explore differences between American and Hispanic cultures and be exposed to another language. Yet, it has the advantage of being much more affordable and easier to conduct than an international exchange.

During the 1991-92 year, the first half of a 4-H out-of- state exchange took place between Loudoun County, Virginia and the Region of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico. This was the first time a region of Puerto Rico had participated in a "county-to-county" exchange. Loudoun County teen participants formed an exchange club, led by a youth chairperson, which met monthly to plan and implement fund-raising projects, make trip arrangements, and participate in educational programs.

The educational programs consisted of an intercultural training program to explore the customs and cultures of Virginia and Puerto Rico. They were facilitated by the Extension agent and a Puerto Rican resident. A source of much of the intercultural training was Cross-Cultural Orientation: A Guide for Leaders and Educators published by The Experiment in International Living. Club members shared books and other informational resources to pursue individual study.

The Extension agent developed a cultural exchange project book describing the goals of the program and providing participants with the opportunity to record all aspects of participation in the two-year exchange program. It answered questions about traveling and hosting as well as posed daily journal questions to be answered during the exchange. The cultural exchange project book was designed to be used by any 4-H out-of-state or international exchange group.

In 1992, 15 Loudoun County youth between the ages of 12 and 19 traveled to Puerto Rico with three volunteer leaders and one Extension agent for a nine-day exchange. The Extension agent and one youth spoke Spanish fluently. A few others had some knowledge of the language. Our Puerto Rican hosts had studied Eng-lish, but many weren't adept or comfortable speaking it.

Activities conducted during the exchange included a welcoming ceremony, an appearance on a local television show, meetings with the director of Puerto Rico Extension Service and the director of 4-H at the University of Puerto Rico, and attending the Puerto Rico 4-H Congress where Loudoun County youth gave a presentation about Virginia 4-H. To promote the maximum amount of cultural exchange, group activities were organized so host brothers and sisters always accompanied their guest.

An important part of the program included group meetings where youth shared their experiences and discussed problems and concerns. Chaperones also spoke individually with both Virginian and Puerto Rican participants about their experiences and feelings throughout the exchange. During the last evening, small groups were formed, consisting of both Virginians and their host brothers and sisters, for an evaluation and processing session. Host parents met separately for their own evaluation session. Questions such as "What was the most difficult cultural difference you had to deal with?" were posed to participants from both cultures.

A written evaluation was completed on the airplane while traveling home. The results were positive, although participants wished the exchange could have been longer and they could have spent more time with the host family and less time touring. The hosting experience received the highest rating. Many also expressed a new understanding of the importance of learning another language as well as a desire to do so. All participants reported great appreciation for the warmth and generosity of the Puerto Rican people.

By taking 4-H youth out of their culture and away from their native language, this unique program optimized the out-of-state exchange.