MIAMI COUNTY — One local teen traveled the world to experience a whole new culture through the international student exchange program with 4-H and Labo youth program of Japan.
Rylee Puthoff, 15, of Conover, returned home just in time for the Miami County Fair last Thursday. She left for Japan in early June to learn more about the language, culture and every day life in the foreign country.
“I liked getting to know the different people and their culture and comparing it to our culture. You take your shoes off before you enter their homes and in public buildings,” she said.
The food is part of the cultural exchange. Puthoff shared how she learned to eat salad using chopsticks and now finds it odd to use a fork. “It actually is easier to eat salad with chopsticks for me,” she said.
Another food experience was eating shellfish straight from the ocean.
“I got it out of the ocean and my (exchange) sister’s cousin took a mallet and smashed it on a rock and handed it to me while it was still moving and said, ‘Eat!’ so I did,” she said. “I’ve never done that before.”
Puthoff said she enjoyed the language classes she participated in through the Labo program. “I had four teachers and each of them taught something different,” she said. “I was in the basic class because I knew zero Japanese, but it was a lot of fun.”
Last summer, the Puthoff family hosted 14-year-old Yui Takahashi from Japan through the Labo and 4-H international exchange program. Labo International is a language and family organization similar to the 4-H program.
“I liked going to my exchange student’s home because I got to see her life. I really understood how she felt when she was here,” she said.
Puthoff also attended Labo camp, Japan’s version of 4-H camp. While Americans “camp” in cabins and tents, Puthoff explained how the camp was held in a hotel type of building.
“It was the best experience of my life. I may never do something like this again, so I’m happy I got to do it,” she said.
Puthoff credited her church community helping her do a large amount of fundraising for the trip. She plans on giving a presentation about her travels at Fletcher United Methodist Church in the near future.
Puthoff, is a member of the Mr. Graham’s Museum 4-H Club and the Miami County Jr. Fair board. She showed breeding lambs and chickens at the Miami County Fair.