LISBON, Ohio – A white third-place ribbon hanging below an origami sailboat brings a smile to Yusuke Yoshimura’s face.
Arriving in America less than two weeks before the Columbiana County Fair, Yusuke made and entered origami in the fair’s art work show. The ribbon he earned could be one of the most prized souvenirs he will take home to Japan.
Yusuke, hosted by Kevin and Sarah Swope and family of Salem, Ohio, landed in Columbus July 21 with 115 other Japanese youth and 20 chaperones.
After spending a few days in Columbus, Yusuke came to Canfield, Ohio, with the other Japanese youth who would be staying in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.
From there, Yusuke came home with the Swopes and their children, Hannah, 10; Rebecca, 12; and Caleb, 14, who actually applied to host the Japanese youth.
Applying. Both boys had to submit an application telling about themselves to get involved in the program.
The program tries to match the Japanese youth with families that can accommodate the types of experiences they would like to have while in America.
Yusuke wanted to live in a rural environment and be able to cook with fresh vegetables.
The Swopes live on a farm and have a large market garden, raising produce they sell at a farmers’ market in Cleveland. A perfect match.
He is experiencing the life of a young American boy, interacting with family and helping with chores, just as Caleb does.
Rural America. Rural life has been a change for Yusuke. His home town of Maysuyama, Japan, has more than 470,000 people.
In Japan, education is so important, the youth rarely have chores or jobs like rural American children. There’s simply no time: Yusuke goes to school year ’round from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Both Caleb and Rebecca pick blueberries for Dillon’s Fruit Farm, so Yusuke went with them and worked. He liked picking the berries but said it was hot.
While in America, Yusuke has enjoyed playing tennis, and spending time with the Swopes’ farm animals.
Gifts. Yusuke brought many gifts for his host family: clothes, purses, Japanese fans and games.
Caleb and the girls enjoy trying the games but agree they are difficult. They are games of coordination, and some of the games you have to use chopsticks – and that’s hard, Caleb said, but Yusuke can do them.
The Swopes’ youngest daughter, Hannah, enjoys Yusuke’s cooking. He has made fried rice and Japanese barbecue, she said.
The first night Yusuke came, he brought seaweed for his American family to try. It was called lavar, little packets of dried seaweed wafers.
“It was salty and tasted kind of fishy,” Sarah said.
Labo party. Since 1980, Japanese youth have been coming to America to learn about American culture through 4-H families.
It is the first year the Swopes have hosted a Labo student.
The Labo program in Japan is devoted to teaching Japanese youth English and American culture.
Each summer, close to 1,000 Japanese boys and girls and their adult leaders travel to America for a one-month visit.
Before Yusuke came, the Swopes wrote and e-mailed him to introduce themselves and find out a few things about him, so they could start to plan activities for when he came.
“It’s been a positive experience for the children. It shows them that kids are kids all over the world,” Sarah said.
It is interesting to hear him talk to his chaperone in Japanese, Rebecca said. And it is fun to learn Japanese words from him.
He gets on the bus to take him back to Columbus Aug. 17 and leaves for home, Aug. 20.
Exchange opportunities. Other programs sponsored by Ohio 4-H and Labo
include a year-long hosting opportunity for Ohio families and Japanese youth, and an outbound program that sends Ohio youth to Japan for one month.
Ohio 4-H also organizes other exchange opportunities around the world.
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