Youth from the western U.S. travel to Samoa
Twenty-two teenagers, three adults and two program coordinators traveled to Samoa for several weeks in December 2013 through the American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP).
Four of the teenagers were Wyoming 4-H members. They were Mary Schwope from Cowley, Laquisha Buffalo from Lander, Jaycey Lindsey from Wright and Quintin Migneault from Basin.
The AYLP program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs and is administered by the University of Wyoming 4-H Youth Development Program.
“Individuals who are not in 4-H are still eligible to apply for this program,” says Kim Reaman, University of Wyoming 4-H volunteer development specialist.
“It’s all part of the learning opportunity to see a different culture and to be immersed in it,” says Tara Kuipers, Northwest Area community development educator for University of Wyoming Extension. “We weren’t going to be part of a tour or just visiting villages. We were going to be living in villages with families who spoke very little English.”
Kuipers adds, “We were also going to be eating very different foods and just have a completely different lifestyle for several weeks.”
The participants were in Samoa from Dec. 11 to Jan. 3, and while there, they lived with a host family.
The 22 teenagers were also matched up with a Samoan host brother or sister of the same gender and around the same age to be their host sibling at their homestay.
“They basically became like a Samoan teenager for the weeks that we were there,” explains Kuipers.
The homestays were divided among four villages that were within 45-minutes walking distance from each other.
“There was one adult to groups of five to seven kids in the different villages,” says Kuipers. “They all stayed with different host families, but they were in groups according to villages.”
The AYLP program also has an educational component where participants compare cultural issues between the U.S. and Samoa. For the upcoming trip occurring in December 2014, the educational theme is nutrition and food security, with emphasis on obesity and diabetes, marketing and access to food.
“Part of the AYLP application does ask about applicant’s interests in those areas and what they see as food security issues in their local communities,” comments Reaman. “They then can compare these issues across the western U.S. and in Samoa.”
A face-to-face orientation takes place in Laramie pre-departure to Samoa where the youth will be introduced to the educational theme and its three specific topics.
After the trip the participants are also required to complete a follow-up project about their experience to Samoa and share what they have learned with their community.
Youth applicants must be between the ages of 15 and 17 at the time of travel to be able to participate in the AYLP. They must also be a U.S. citizen who resides in the western region of the U.S.
“We wanted a good, diverse group because we thought that would make a good impact on these kids,” explains Kuipers. “Not only were they going to have a cultural experience in Samoa, but they were going to have a pretty strong cultural experience when they were just together as a group.”
Having diversity among the youth from the U.S. is very important to the AYLP, and there were delegates representing 11 of the 13 states in the western region of the U.S. at last year’s trip to Samoa.
“We try to get as many youth-serving organizations that we can,” says Warren Crawford, 4-H youth development specialist with University of Wyoming Extension. “We want as many kids from Wyoming as we can go, but we also make sure we have a pretty broad and diverse representation from the western U.S.”
“Having that diversity of participants from all across the western region adds such a richness to the experience for all the U.S. delegation,” comments Reaman.
“The biggest thing, first, is an appreciation for differences in culture,” says Crawford. “Our number one goal is to open up the kid’s minds and give them some different perspectives to help them appreciate different cultures, settings and people.”
During their time in Samoa, participants did gain a deep appreciation for other cultures, as well as learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
“There were moments where it was fun and interesting, but it was always really challenging,” describes Kuipers. “We had people that wanted to speak with us, but they didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak very much Samoan.”
“That is going to be a lesson that will carry through for all of our kids, as well as for myself,” says Kuipers.
Applications for the upcoming December 2014 trip to Samoa are due April 1 for both youth and adult participants.
In addition to being able to travel to Samoa, AYLP also covers the costs of a passport, round-trip airfare, lodging, site visits, cultural activities and transportation in Samoa and accident and sickness protection for all participants of the program.