As is clear from the photograph above, George Meggison loves travelling and learning about different people and places. Plus, with plans to study agriculture at university and then return to the family farm, he wants to see as much of the world as he can while he is young.
“I think it’s very important to get that travel in,” believes 17-year-old Meggison. “It’s great that we get opportunities to travel around before we have too many responsibilities.”
Meggison has already knocked a few places off his travel list, including Japan, which he visited last summer through 4-H Manitoba’s Japanese Homestay Exchange, spending two weeks with a Japanese host family after having hosted five Japanese students at the family farm near Goodlands.
4-H offers a number of travel and educational opportunities for farm youth who are 4-H members. They include club-to-club exchanges, the Hands to Larger Service Youth Service Leader Program, and reciprocal exchanges like 4-H Canada’s Going Global Exchange and 4-H Manitoba’s Japanese Homestay Exchange. Plus there are frequent conference opportunities and other 4-H events within North America.
In Meggison’s experience, they’re a great way to get your travelling feet wet.
“Through 4-H there are opportunities for youth to get to see what different agricultural practices look like on the ground, which is really unique,” says Melina Found, 4-H Canada program manager.
Found believes in the power of travel. Different countries and even different provinces have different practices for raising crops and livestock, she points out. “Sometimes just being able to expose youth to different ways of doing things opens their minds up for when they then come back and want to apply that.”
The reciprocal 4-H Going Global Exchange Program pairs a Canadian 4-H’er with a 4-H member from another country. 4-H host countries change every year, and in 2019 applicants can choose from the United Kingdom, Finland, Taiwan, Jamaica, Argentina and Kosovo, which is just starting to develop a 4-H program and is a host country for the first time.
“When we hosted the Global 4-H Network Summit in Ottawa in 2017, one of the attendees was from Kosovo, and he had just started 4-H in his country and was looking to build that, so we are really excited to be partnering with them this year to offer that exchange opportunity to some 4-H Canadian members and to 4-H Kosovo members that are going to come back to Canada,” says Found.
A 4-H selection committee evaluates applications from 4-H members between the ages of 18 and 25, shortlisting delegates for phone or video conference interviews. “Some of the things that we’re looking for in the recipients of this opportunity are things like independence, have they travelled before, and is there that confidence and curiosity, all those really good attributes for travel,” says Found. “It could be that they haven’t travelled before but they’re very keen, so we take all of that into account.”
Once selected, members receive a number of onboarding calls to discuss what to expect and help them prepare for both travelling and hosting. “A lot of those onboarding calls are talking about what to expect,” says Found. “Some of them come with experience and for others it’s their first time travelling. When they get faced with something that they haven’t experienced before, it’s totally natural to go through culture shock, but we try to help them think about how they can turn that into a ‘WOW, I learned so much about this country.’”
There isn’t a specific checklist, but 4-H tries to cover all of the key points with travel participants and is open to communicate about any questions that they may have so that they feel supported in their travel.
The organization also handles most of the logistical arrangements for the travel, such as flights, and connects them to the 4-H organization in the country they are going to, and to the twin, so they can connect ahead of time.
Be open to opportunities
Obviously, not every farm kid is a 4-H member, and even if they are, not all are lucky enough to be selected for one of its exchange programs, but that shouldn’t stop them from getting off the farm and seeking out new experiences and opportunities while they still have the freedom to do it. Found promises travel will broaden their perspectives and open their minds to new possibilities.
“Being open to opportunities and pushing that comfort zone and boundaries is so important… these sorts of opportunities are out there, and it’s a case of saying yes to them,” Found says.
“Whether that’s through jobs, doing an internship internationally or whether that’s selecting a country and making it a goal of ‘I’m going to fund my own way there at the end of the year.’ I think there are different ways to frame it. But certainly, the opportunities are there.”
Communicating with his host family and Japanese classmates definitely helped Meggison’s communication skills. “I went to school there for three days and I got up and made a speech at a school assembly to 1,300 students,” he recalls. “I had my host brother up translating for me, but I definitely got a lot out of that. And I learned a whole bunch about their culture and the differences and similarities between them and what we do here.”
His favourite experiences included the traditional Japanese food, and visiting the disaster area from the tsunami in 2011. “We got to see how they’ve come back from that, but also the destruction that happened and hear stories about how it affected the people’s lives,” says Meggison, who also enjoyed staying the night in a traditional Japanese village. “That was one of my favourite parts because it was very scenic, in the mountains, and we got to walk around and explore, then we had a very traditional meal.”
“It definitely opened my mind to a new culture, and made me more adventurous to try new things,” he adds. “I feel like I’m more independent now after the trip.”
(To learn more about 4-H and how to become a member, contact a local 4-H office listed on the 4-H Canada website)
There are plenty of young people today graduating from Grade 12 and opting to take a gap year before heading off to university or college, or before settling down to work a job or join the family business. Farm youth are no exception.
That year can be filled in any number of ways: travelling, working, volunteering. There are all kinds of programs and organizations offering to help young people find work or to volunteer in countries all around the world. Some charge a fee, some are free, and it’s always a good idea to do plenty of homework before committing to anything.
There aren’t as many volunteer or work exchange programs that are specifically agriculture related but many do offer opportunities for youth travellers to trade free labour on farms in exchange for room and board.
One that is well established is Workaway, which has 30,000 hosts from 184 countries. Often these are distinctly non-conventional farms, so you need to go in with your eyes open. In fact, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a long-established program that links volunteers to farms that are, as the name says, distinctly organic.
Often these opportunities are as much cultural experiences as educational, but few young people who take the plunge ever seem to regret it.