This Kansas Dairy Family Enjoys Hosting International Youth

By Audrey Schmitz

Do you have aspirations to travel? Are there different places and cultures you hope to experience one day? Every dairy producer knows it is extremely hard to get away from the farm for a long period of time. When they do it causes anxiety, stress and restless nights wondering if they are going to get a call saying the milking help didn’t show up, a piece of equipment stopped working, or a cow is having trouble calving.

IFYEHowever, one doesn’t have to leave the farm in order to experience a different culture from across the globe. All it takes is a warm heart, an open home, and enthusiasm for an international family living experience. The IFYE Program, formerly known as International 4-H Youth Exchange, is a unique opportunity for farm families to host rural, young adults from around the world in their own homes.

While I was growing up on the dairy, my family couldn’t afford to take off from the dairy to travel overseas, and what vacations we had were few and far between. But my parents found an alternative to traveling by hosting international youth on our farm. To date, my family has hosted nine different international visitors. Of those nine, six visited through the IFYE Exchange Program: Lina Lindley, Sweden (2005); Christina Trautvetter, Germany (2010); Frida Stenstrom, Sweden (2012); Betsan Hughes, Wales (2013); Carys Vaughan, Wales (2014); and Matthias Schmid, Germany (2015).

All of the international youth my family hosted through the IFYE Exchange Program were involved in their country’s 4-H or other rural youth programs, and either worked or lived on a farm. Often our state IFYE coordinator asked my family if we would be willing to host youth interested in American dairies or youth with dairy experience in their home country.

My parents always said yes to hosting international youth. They felt it was a great way to expose my siblings and me to global cultures and learn more about the world. Each visitor brought a new and unique adventure.

The “IFYEs” my family hosted were all in their early 20’s and stayed for approximately three weeks. We provided them with meals and a bed in the kids’ rooms or in a guest bedroom. They shared in daily activities, household and farm chores, and participated with us in community events. These guests experienced our American culture through personal involvement in our home, on our dairy farm, and in our community.

All of them had the chance to wake up early and milk cows with my dad at 5:00 a.m. as well as bottle feed baby calves. They also got to feed grain and hay to replacement heifers. I remember Carys helping tie rebar for the cement walls of a bunker silo my dad put in, and Matthias helping tear down and put up grain bins at our neighbor’s farm. Betsan and Matthias also traveled with my family to the State Jr. All-Breeds Dairy Show in the fall where they helped wash and clip cows for the contest.

Because the IFYEs were particularly interested in the dairy industry, my family always made it a point to take them to visit different dairies in the area. We gave them the chance to see different free-stall and tie stall barns as well as herringbone, parallel and robotic milking parlors. We even took some of our most recent visitors to see the local Amish dairies.

Opening our home to international exchange participants was an enlightening and rewarding experience for my family. Not only were we able to share our way of life, but learn about another.

Hosting doesn’t always end up as a one-way travel opportunity. The very first youth my parents hosted through their milk marketing cooperative came from a dairy in Australia. They stayed in very close communication with her afterward, and she invited them to her wedding a couple of years later. My parents accepted the invitation and traveled to Australia where they were able to visit the dairy she ran by herself with the help of her great-uncle.

My family’s IFYE hosting experiences instilled in me the desire to travel and be an international exchange visitor myself. My senior year of high school I applied through the States’ 4-H program to travel to Finland for a whole month in July 2013. While there I was fully immersed in the everyday life of my host family. Although my host family raised Finnish racehorses instead of market livestock, my host parents took me to visit their neighbor who owned a 200 head grazing Holstein dairy. I also saw my first ever ‘Cow Barn Movie Theater.’ An old milking parlor had been renovated and transformed into a small movie theater out in the middle of the country only a half a mile from my host family’s home.

After my experience traveling abroad I understood what it must have felt like for all the youth who had stayed with my family. Instead of traveling as a tourist and sightseeing, an IFYE exchangee truly becomes a member of their host family. An inseparable bond is formed and many memories are shared that will last a lifetime.

The IFYE Exchange Program has been in existence for nearly 70 years. It began in 1948 and has had continuous participation each year since then. The program originally was called “International Farm Youth Exchange” and later changed to “International 4-H Youth Exchange” and now is simply known as “IFYE”. The IFYE Association of the USA, Inc. sponsors the program.

If a family wishes to send an IFYE Representative to another country, or be a host family to an IFYE from another country, contact Alan E. Lambert, National IFYE Program Director, at [email protected] or 605-366-6107 for more information. Q

Aubrey Schmitz, a student at Kansas State University, has provided this story on behalf of the International Youth Exchange.

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