MIAMI COUNTY — A Miami County family is spending close to a month with a special visitor, as the Puthoff family of Fletcher is hosting a 14-year-old girl from Japan through a 4-H international exchange program.
Miami County Junior Fair officer Rylee Puthoff is the first student from the county to participate in the Labo International program. She is hosting Yui Takahashi. She arrived on July 23 to join the family through Aug. 17.
“You get to learn more about their culture and our culture,” Puthoff said. “The world is bigger than just your county or your state.”
According to their website, Labo is “a family-based Japanese youth organization” for children ages 3-18 “to improve the English-language ability as well as to learn about other cultures and expand their personal horizons.”
Puthoff said she’s enjoyed having Yui experience her life at home and at the county fair.
“She is so unique and special. One of our favorite things to do is just to sit and talk at 2 a.m. in the morning with her. That’s when we have our best conversations,” she said.
Puthoff laughed as she listed the cultural oddities of having a foreign exchange student at home, including Yui’s love of ice cream and cereal with cookies on top.
“She loves ice cream because they don’t have that in Japan,” Puthoff. “I wanted to do this because I want to be a well-rounded person. I thought getting to know someone else from another country and how they act and how they live is interesting.”
While’s Yui’s English is limited, Puthoff said Google Translate, as well as the use of hand gestures, has come in very handy.
“One of the most challenging things about this has been the language. She’s had three years of English and it’s still really difficult to understand,” she said. “Otherwise we just go with the flow and we use a lot of hand motions.”
“It’s been a good experience to learn about other people,” Puthoff said.
Takahashi has especially enjoyed horses.
“She loves going to the barn with me and petting the horses,” Puthoff said.
Puthoff said she’s learned a lot about the Japanese culture through their daily interactions.
“She thinks it’s so odd why would we eat a duck — she thought that was really odd,” she said. “Why would we wash our chickens? She’s never seen a chicken get a bath. She thought that was crazy. You also don’t walk around and eat at the same time. She thought that was weird, but that’s what we do at the fair.”
Puthoff said she hopes to travel to Japan next year for the exchange program and put herself in Yui’s shoes as they share their culture.
Rylee is a member of the Mr. Graham’s Museum 4-H Club in Conover.
The Puthoff family participated in the program with the Ohio State Extension Office.
For more information, visit www.labo-exchange.com