For many teenagers the world outside their door is a very familiar place, especially in rural America. The seasons change, and with it the landscape, but there is still a sense of familiarity and home.
This August, during the Missouri State Fair two teenagers experienced what is familiar for many area youth, but in a most unexpected way.
Ko Yawata of Chiba, Japan, and Eva Semm of Berlin Germany arrived in the United States only days before the start of the Fair and their first experience living in an “American home” was a camper on the Fairgrounds.
“We just kind of threw them into this,” Amy Jo Estes, Dairy Superintendent for the Missouri State Fair said. “Both Trisha (Schniedermayer, 4-H assistant sheep superintendent at the Fair) and I have a lot of responsibilities during the Fair, and besides there isn’t a better way to expose them to this aspect of Mid-West life than the Fair.
“For us, this is one of the greatest place in the world, and we want them to experience it first hand,” Estes said. “It’s an important way for us to build a relationship with our children.”
Estes is the Senior Regional Director for Ayusa, an exchange program for high school students sponsored by the State Department.
Both she and Schniedermayer have hosted several exchange students in the past.
“People always ask us why we do this,” Schniedermayer said. “It’s because we gain so much from each experience and opportunity.
“Every year we do this we grow, and experience something new and different,” she added. “Really all we have to provide is a big heart and a sense of adventure.”
Having only been in the United State and Missouri for a few days, both Yawata and Semm were looking forward to the adventure.
“Everything here is large,” Yawata said. “Not so much in the size of the city, but the land is big and wide open.”
Yawata was also impressed by American food, especially the portions.
“Your hamburgers are so huge,” he said. “I am not used to this, but in time.
“I have always wanted to come to America and learn,” Yawata said. “Especially your language and slang.”
Yawata hopes to work as a diplomat when he is older and said that this year will provide him with the opportunity to broader his knowledge of America.
“We have an idea of the country from the news,” Yawata said. “But, I can learn so much more being here.”
Like most teenagers, Yawata is hoping to attend concerts and playing sports while here.
“I will start football practice soon, and I will play baseball too,” Yawata said. “I hope I can see Bruno Mars or Maroone 5 while I am here,” Yawata said.
Yawata, who turned 17 during the Fair, was also looking forward to his first corn dog, experiencing all the Fair had to offer, especially working with the animals. Although he could not show at the State Fair, he was helping his host family care for their sheep.
“I’ve gotten to shear some of them,” he said. “I don’t think I would have that chance at home.”
For Semm, working with animals is something she hopes to do throughout her life.
“I want to be a veterinarian,” Semm said, “Being here is so good.”
Semm said she was looking forward to learning English, and like Yawata she was eager to start school become immersed in both her life at school and on the farm.
“I will play volleyball and I want to be on the dance team at school.” Semm said. “I love music and there are so many groups I would like to see like One Direction, and Ed Sherwin.
“I also want to work and learn on the farm,” she added. “I hope to learn Western riding and everything I can about caring for the animals on a farm.”
Both Estes and Schniedermayer were looking forward to helping both students experience the American culture in as many ways as possible.
“A lot of times families who are interested in becoming a host family will say to me, ‘We want to do this but, we don’t have anything special to offer them,’” Estes said. “I tell them that everyone has something to offer.
“Being a host family is something that changes you forever,” Estes added. “Both you and the child who you host will grow and learn so much from one another from the experience and you will never be the same.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484