CORVALLIS - This summer, 4-H families in 15 Oregon counties are hosting 101 Japanese teenagers and their chaperones as part of the 4-H Japanese Exchange Program.

The visiting youth arrived in late July and will be in Oregon for a month.

The teenagers represent three youth organizations in Japan that focus on learning English and the study and understanding of other cultures. The Japanese students have been paired with host families who share their interests and have a child of the same gender and age.

The 4-H exchange participants are expected to become part of the host family, to share everyday life with them, to meet relatives and friends, and gain insights that are not available to ordinary tourists, according to Duane Johnson, Oregon State University Extension 4-H youth specialist.

"The participants learn to deal with differences in values and behavior as well as improve their ability to understand and speak another language," he said. "Many of them have developed life long relationships with their host families."

The 4-H exchange program also offers a unique opportunity to experience a culture that is much different than their own, according to Justine Staelin-Lofsky, 4-H exchange program assistant. "That's especially true for the kids who will be in eastern Oregon, which, unlike Japan, is sparsely populated and towns are a long distance apart," Staelin-Lofsky said.

The 4-H Japanese Program is the largest international youth exchange program in the United States, involving more than 2,000 young people across the country each year, according to Johnson.

The Oregon 4-H Japanese Exchange Program has the largest number of participants in the United States. Since the Oregon program began, an estimated 3,600 Japanese youngsters have spent four weeks in Oregon. And 400 Oregon 4-H members have lived with Japanese families.

In addition to the summer program, the 4-H Japanese Exchange Program sponsors an exchange for adults and families. And a one-year intern program in Japan is available to college students.

Counties hosting Japanese and Korean exchange students this summer are Baker, Benton, Coos, Crook, Deschutes, Grant, Harney, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lincoln, Linn, Polk, Sherman and Wasco. During the 26-year history of the program, all 36 Oregon counties have participated, hosting Japanese youth and sending their own county 4-H members abroad.

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Duane Johnson, 541-737-1311