NILES - The Labo International Exchange Foundation provides an opportunity each summer for Japanese and American youth to learn about one another's cultures.
Each summer, Japanese youth ages 12 to 14, spend time in the United States with a host family who have a child of the same age and gender. They are provided an opportunity to learn English and experience day-to-day life in America.
Seven students and an interpreter / chaperone are in the Trumbull and Mahoning counties area from July 26 to Aug. 21. There are 94 participants statewide. Mahoning County is hosting two students and one adult chaperone, Portage County has two students, Stark County has two and Trumbull has one.
Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland
Japanese students have been staying with local families in the tri-county area as part of the Labo International Exchange Foundation. At a recent trip to a Mahoning Valley Scrappers basball game Eastwood Field are, from left, Matthew Bogen of Canfield, Kosuke Sekihara, Kara Burcaw, Kaylee Burcaw, Krista Burcaw, all of Salem, and Haruki Tange and Mitsuko Sunouchi, both from the Labo program.
John and Kathy Woods of Warren and their teen daughters are hosting Ayane Kashiwagi, 14. Kashiwagi has shown and prepared the family several Japanese foods and meals including sushi.
Kathy said the family went to Washington, D.C., to show Kashiwagi the nation's capital.
''We wanted her to see more than just the Warren area and some of the assets of the United States,'' she said.
To help communicate, the family uses iPhone translation apps.
This is the second time the Woods have hosted a youth. Kathy said her daughters were the one who encouraged the family to take part again.
''It has been a wonderful short-term experience,'' she said.
Gary Reel, area coordinator, said the program helps build an understanding between the children.
Reel said the program pairs Japanese youth with "real" American families for the summer as a way to improve their English and find out how Americans really live. Each is matched with an American youth of the same interests as part of the 4-H International program, which has facilitated this program for the past 40 years, he said.
''The program helps to expand the boundaries of today's youth,'' he said.
Sunouchi Mitsuko, a Labo tutor for 21 years, accompanied the youth and serves an an interpreter. She said it is a positive experience for the youth to experience a different culture.
Reel said while the families do individual activities, they try to get together for group events such as trip to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers baseball games in Niles.
''This was a group outing and chance for whole group to be together,'' he said.
Participants in the Labo program start when they are in sixth grade and by age 12 to 14 they spend 22 to 25 days in the United States over the summer months.
Kosuke Sekihara, 13, is staying with Gregg and Jill Bogen of Canfield and their sons.
Jill Bogen said this is the second year they have hosted a student and have found the experience rewarding both for their children and their guest.
She said they have taken Sekihara to amusement parks, such as Cedar Point and Kennywood.
Sekihara said he enjoys swimming and go carts.
Adult chaperones are stationed in homes throughout the state to assist in emergencies and ease the pain of homesickness and cultural differences.