HOUGHTON - A couple of years ago, Genny Gierke and her family decided to give a student exchange program, the Labo International Exchange through the MSU Extension, a shot.
Years later, they share stories of the friendships they have made over time, having hosted four visitors from Japan already.
"The first year, we hosted a chaperone and that was a good way to learn from someone," she said.
Gierke was still in school at the time, living with her family in Chassell, when the family began hosting students. When the opportunity was presented, the family hosted a Japanese student through a one-month exchange. The program aims to expose the student to a new culture, the chance to learn English and meeting new people. Through the Labo International Exchange, Gierke's family was able to provide a place for a student to stay and learn. Children in Japan between the ages of 3 and 18 join Labo in order to improve their English-language ability as well as to learn about other cultures.
"It's always really fun," she said. "The cultural differences are always neat to see."
After hosting a chaperone the first year, the family began to take on students which brought the opportunity for Gierke to travel to Japan and visit one of the students previously hosted at her home.
"It was really neat to see how our culture fit into Japanese life there," she said.
Host families are currently being sought to participate in a one-month exchange between July 24 and Aug. 20. The program is open to any family with a youth of the same age and gender as the Japanese youths and provides an opportunity to introduce someone from a different culture to the Copper Country.
The idea of the program is to help Japanese youths make friends and communicate in English. Chaperones also take on a host family and make the trip to assist the students with any needs they may have.
"I always really enjoyed it," said Gierke, now a sophomore at Michigan Technological University. "It's just like having a friend come visit for a while because you get to know the person so well, and you get to come see them and see them grow."
Carol Kreher, 4-H program associate at the MSU Extension office, said the program has been in place for quite a few years, and the state of Michigan currently seeks families to host 53 students.
"In the past, we have one or two families (from the area)," Kreher said. "We like to have families with at least one youth around ages 12 to 18."
By hosting a student, the family gets credit toward traveling to Japan, Kreher said.
For more information, call the MSU Extension office at 482-5830 or e-mail email@example.com. To learn more about the Labo International Exchange program, visit labo-exchange.com.
Stacey Kukkonen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.