States’ 4-H International Exchange Program

Sonya Ferguson, central director for Virginia Cooperative Extension, and her daughter, Tessy, welcome Atsuko as part of the States’ 4-H International Exchange Program in 2017.

An international exchange program is in need of local families to host students for the academic year.

There are 25 students aged 15 to 17 who are looking for host families, said Eliza Seibert, Virginia summer inbound coordinator of States’ 4-H International Exchange.

These students arrive in August and stay until June and enroll in public high school.

The program places students from Eurasia, Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea and Mexico through the academic year program. 

However, the current biggest need is finding families for Japanese and South Korean students.

Eurasian and Eastern European students are scholarship recipients participating in the Future Leader Exchange Program — also known as FLEX — which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

“It’s a great opportunity to grow your family,” said Sonya Ferguson, central director for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

While she hasn’t hosted students during the academic school year, she has hosted them over recent summers.

In the summers of 2015, 2016 and 2017, teens from either Japan or Korea visited with her family in July and part of August.

Her family was able learn various parts of their culture from the games they play to the foods they eat and how they act in their day-to-day lives.

Each teen brought with them a scrapbook they had made with information about themselves, their home and their family, and candy and snacks from their country.

“It’s a lifetime goal and accomplishment for these children to come and spend their summer in the U.S.,” said Ferguson.

As part of this program, she said they become efficient in English, must show positive behavior and character, and they complete a 4-H project book in English.

These exchange students also raise money to be able to participate in the program.

“It’s such an honor for them to come here. They’re so humble and kindhearted,” said Ferguson.

When spending time with Ferguson’s family, she was able to watch them bond with her daughter, take them on outings such as to a safari park, and at the beginning of their stay, she always hosted a pool party to allow them to meet their other family members and friends.

While they had much to learn from either other, she also was able to see that they weren’t that different after all.

“The better we know people, and the more connections we make, the smaller the world gets and the smoother things go,” said Ferguson.

Anyone who would like to welcome a high school student in their family — and is able to provide the student meals and a bed — may apply to be a host family for the academic school year.

No financial assistance is provided to the host families, and the families must treat the youth as their own, said Ferguson.

Prior to hosting a family, interested families may preview a list of the students. Information will be provided on the individuals’ name, age, gender, interests and more.

Before his or her arrival, Ferguson said the program provides a reference book on the culture of the country in which the student is coming from that includes items such as geography, history and etiquette.

For more information on this program email or call 540-872-6680.

Ashley Hodge reports for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at

Ashley Hodge is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at