Former 4-H members still exploring the world — affordably
April 13, 2014
Adventure and learning needn't end for young people aging out of 4-H.
Former members have an opportunity for worldwide travel while making new friends.
Since 1948, the International Four-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) program has assisted young adults age 19 and over from the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific to experience cultural immersion.
Stays with host families in other countries mutually increase global awareness and language skills. Through IFYE's program in the United States, which is connected to 4-H, three-month or six-month trips are offered. A selection process is required and financial support up to approximately $2,500 is available.
Fort Collins native and 4-H "graduate" Clancey Lee eagerly participated in IFYE's 2013 program.
Lee, son of Joe and Kelly Lee, is one of eight children. Through his experiences in 4-H, he developed broad interests in all livestock species, as well as appreciating baking and home economics. Lee was a junior leader and a member of the Larimer County Advisory Committee, which assists planning for the county's annual Fair week.
From June 9, 2013, through December 14, 2013, Lee visited his official countries, Scotland, Wales and Austria. An extended rail pass also allowed the 20-year-old long weekends on his own investigating Germany, England, Ireland, France, Italy, Norway, Greece, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. Obviously, the young man gained knowledge and an understanding of many cultures.
Lee's diverse experiences included one week with pre-assigned host families as he moved around each country. Accommodations ranged from a city apartment to an organic farm. He stayed at a dairy that produced cow, goat and sheep milk. He lived at a vineyard in Wales, an Austrian cheese making farm, and one that manufactured/bottled apple cider.
At the cheese making plant near Vienna, Austria, Lee helped with each step in the process: raising and milking cows and goats; processing cheese; packaging and labeling; delivery and retail sales. Likewise, host families' compositions varied from some with children to a couple Lee's grandparents' age to an Edinborough, Scotland physician and his wife.
Lee used free time to soak up '"local color."
For example, he and three other IFYE kids spent three days in Munich, Germany for their Oktoberfest. The small group alternately explored the city environs and enjoyed festival food, drink and entertainment venues. The annual autumn celebration is open daily from morning until midnight. Gigantic circus tents that dot the landscape provide exhibit cover and seating for connoisseurs of Germany's famed and free-flowing beer.
One ag-related experience Lee particularly liked was the annual Scottish Highlands Festival. This initial U.K. destination direct from the airport was his first and single lengthiest stay. For that initial two weeks, he bunked at a youth hostel with other IFYE visitors to the U.K. and met many of the families who were to host the remainder of his trip. He reveled in a week at the nearby Festival, which lasts approximately three weeks.
Said Lee, "The Scottish Highlands Festival was a really great experience; it's the equivalent of our National Western Stock Show (in Denver)."
He expanded on the activities, saying "There are cattle and horses, but sheep are the main attraction. General exhibits and 4-H type entries like sewing and culinary projects are popular, too. And, there's live music."
But Lee admitted he didn't garner much in the way of foreign language skills because he travelled around so much. And, each host family is required to have at least one member with some English-speaking ability. Because he'd travelled in Europe on two earlier occasions, however, he managed well even in situations where English speakers weren't present. He said he never felt stressed or uncomfortable. Wales presented the greatest communication challenges because three different official languages are spoken.
Public transport immensely impressed Lee, who easily toured Europe on a six-month pass. That European Union ticket allows affordable travel between and within participating countries. It's the way locals get around safely and (usually) promptly. Maneuvering stations and platforms is easy as signage is designed for travelers of many nations. There are few private vehicles compared to in Colorado. Lee laughed as he stated, "Until Europe, I'd never taken a taxi!"
Noting cultural differences, Lee cautioned visitors to Europe to be careful of the American 'thumbs up' gesture. In some places, its message equals our middle digit sign. Handshakes aren't common in some countries such as Austria, where public displays of affection are rare. That means no kisses, hugs or handshakes, even between couples or family members. Older generations especially honor traditional greetings particular to their country or region. Social media, however, is Americanizing young people's behavior and preferences. German and Austrian youth listen to English music and sing lyrics they might not fully understand! Some English-speaking TV shows employ voice-overs, but those that don't are nevertheless popular with viewers who don't necessarily audibly follow the storyline.
Lee, who admitted a lifelong desire to experience Europe and its diverse cultures, recommends the IFYE program as a low-cost, well-structured method of exploring foreign countries. Through host families' eyes, he gained a true grasp of each culture. In fact, Lee was so impressed that he now makes IFYE presentations around Colorado. Although he presently has no definite career goals, he expressed a strong desire to live in Europe for a while. ❖
While the IFYE 2014 application deadline has passed, details about 2015 trips can be found at visit IFYEUSA.org/exchange-programs/.
For more information, contact IFYE program director, Alan Lambert, at email@example.com or call (605) 366-6107.