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Extension agent discovers rural life




The symbols might be different, but the four-leaf clover is the same.

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The symbols might be different, but the four-leaf clover is the same.

Trying to learn more about American 4-H customs is one of the primary reasons for Cindy Yen's three-month visit to the United States this summer.

The 33-year-old member of the National 4-H Club Association in Taipei, Taiwan -- similar to an American 4-H Extension agent -- will be introducing her fellow Taiwanese to American customs when she returns home next month.

Yen spent three weeks in Ellis County, staying with 4-H youth development Extension agent Susan Schlichting in Ellis, and one of Yen's most prized possessions she purchased was a pair of square-toed Justin-brand cowboy boots.

Knitting was just one of the many "firsts" for Yen while staying with Schlichting.

She rode a horse for the first time in her life, was in awe at deer walking into the Schlichting's backyard, squealed at the sight of a large field of sunflowers and discovered the serenity of star gazing.

"I live in a big city and can't see the stars," said Yen, a resident of Taipei, her country's capital city with a population of 26 million. "I have never seen rabbits and deer that aren't in a zoo."

"That's more than (nine) times the amount of people we have living in all of Kansas," said Schlichting, shaking her head about the difference in population. "Amazing."

However, as far as 4-H is concerned, Yen said, "We are not so much different from here."

"We Americans are the ones who developed their 4-H program," Schlichting said of the Taiwanese.

While 4-H in Taiwan has some similarities to those in America, there are different means to accomplishing those goals.

There even are differences in Extension programs from state to state in our country, Schlichting said.

4-H in some states is run through the school systems; others are separate entities, involving the communities in their particular counties.

"I sure think clubs are the best avenue for 4-H," Schlichting said. "Our 4-H in Kansas is very grassroots driven. Kansas 4-H bleeds green."

Yen said that approach to leading 4-H'ers is why her supervisor chose Kansas for her to visit as a delegate to the U.S. on the International 4-H Youth Exchange Program.

"My boss thinks Kansas 4-H is complete," she said, "We are wanting to make our projects more interesting, start new programs and understanding the foundation of (American) 4-H. We are alike, but different, too."

One of those "alike, but different" examples is the green clover, the world-wide symbol for 4-H. In America, a big white "H" stands out on all four leaves, one for each of head, heart, hands and health -- four foundation principles of 4-H.

The Taiwan 4-H clover features the symbol that signifies the word for each of those "H's."

Yen became visibly excited as she talked about other new things she has learned about American 4-H.

"We don't have big livestock," she said. "Just things like chickens and rabbits and ducks. Here, I got to see a lot of other bigger (animals)."

"I got to lead a pig for the first time."

Yen also will take plenty of souvenirs home with her.

"She's a power-shopper," Schlichting said. "She's enriched our mall greatly while she's been here."

Following a conference in Reno, Nev., in June, Yen attended the annual 4-H camp for "betweenagers" -- youth 12 to 14 years of age at Rock Springs 4-H Center in the Flinthills south of Junction City. She then spent from two to three weeks with families in Grant and Lyon counties before coming to Ellis County.

She left for Nemaha County in northeast Kansas on Monday and is looking forward to attending the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson next month, then spending a few days in Washington before heading home.

Schlichting is familiar with the IFYE program, having participated herself in a trip to West Germany right out of college in 1984.

She also has hosted several visitors through the international program since coming to Hays 11 years ago and thinks "it's a great way to learn about other cultures without traveling from home."

"I have an appreciation and an understanding for the importance of this work," she said. "I learned a lot about (Taiwanese) culture, how things are with their families, how work is the same and how it is different -- at all levels."

Schlichting said she especially enjoyed this particular visit because of the ties to 4-H.

"It's a good way to share our 4-H program with others," she said. "The (IFYEs) I've been assigned are professionals wanting to know more about our program. It's been a great experience."