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4-H gave her the courage to step into the unknown; Now, she’s headed to Japan

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Rachel Dowell wouldn’t call herself a risk-taker. But compared to most 16 year olds, she’ll soon be miles ahead — more than 7,000 miles ahead.

That’s the distance she’ll travel this July when she leaves her home in St. Lucie County, Florida, for a month-long stay with a host family in Japan. She’s one of several American 4-H youth going abroad this summer as part of the States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs.

While she’s not naturally adventurous, 4-H has helped her develop that side of herself, she said.

“I like predictability and routine, but being in 4-H has pushed me to learn by doing, to get out there, try new things and do you best,” she said. “Through 4-H I’ve been able to go to a lot of competitions, practice public speaking, and just do things that push me outside of my comfort zone. It’s given me the confidence to step out into the unknown.”

For the last several years, Dowell has participated in 4-H through her local 4-H science club, the Research Coast Florida Junior Academy of Science, which helps local youth with science fair projects and other science competitions. Dual-enrolled at Indian River State College, she hopes to one day study medicine and become a doctor.

She wasn’t aware of international opportunities through 4-H until last year, when she attended 4-H University, the annual week-long college experience for Florida 4-H youth held each summer at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville. Florida 4-H is the youth development program of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, and serves approximately 200,000 youth in the state.

As part of the exchange, Dowell is looking forward to bringing some American culture and technology to share with her Japanese host family.

“The American delegate is asked to pick a part of American culture they think is interesting and share that with their host family. I love to cook, so I’m planning on making a traditional American dish. I’m think of something like Key lime pie or chili,” she said. “I’m also going to be doing an agricultural science project there. I’ll be bringing a hydroponic set up because that’s something that’s common in my county. Hydroponics is also popular in Japan, too, and I think it would be really interesting to compare our different systems.”

She’s never been outside of the U.S., and she’s excited, albeit a little nervous, to be in a new, unfamiliar environment.

“I want to be immersed in the culture and get a more global perspective. This is about thinking larger than yourself,” Dowell said.

That global perspective is one of the central aims of the States’ 4-H program, said Georgene Bender, outbound coordinator for the Florida exchange program.

“In the 4-H pledge, youth commit themselves to clearer thinking, greater loyalty, larger service and healthier living for their club, community, county and world, so Rachel’s time abroad will help her experience what it means to be a world citizen,” Bender said.

As Dowell heads to Japan this July, twelve Japanese students will make their way to Florida. They’ll stay with their American host families for close to a month. In addition, Florida 4-H will also host two Japanese students for the academic year. One student will stay in DeSoto County, the other in Suwannee County.

In addition to Japan, States’ 4-H International operates exchange programs in several countries, including Finland, Norway, South Korea and Costa Rica.

For more information about Florida 4-H and the States’ 4-H Exchange contact Shane Michael, regional specialized 4-H Agent and State 4-H Exchange coordinator at shanemic@ufl.edu. Or visit the Florida 4-H: States’ 4-H Exchange Facebook page.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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