What makes an Illinois teenager decide to travel to a new country and live for weeks with a family she's never met? For Lana Fitzgerald, it's adventure of the unknown.
Lana was part of the 4-H intercultural exchange program and lived with a host family in South Korea for four weeks last summer. Korea holds special meaning for the Champaign County 4-H member. She first studied the country as part of her 4-H intercultural project. Since then, Lana has immersed herself in Korean culinary, music and drama.
"I saw a K-pop music video and it got me interested," Lana said. She downloaded a Korean language app and started learning the language.
Lana embodies the adventurous nature of today's Illinois 4-H member. She flew alone from Chicago to Alaska before catching a flight to Seoul, South Korea. Even a last-minute change in her host family assignment didn't dampen the teen's enthusiasm.
On one adventure, Lana and two of her host sisters went to Gyeongbok Palace, which was the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty. She toured several buildings and museums.
"It was so strange to see such a historical place right in the middle of the bustling city," she said. "On the way out, we witnessed a procession of palace guards who marched around the palace in traditional dress."
Lana was prepared for most of the food she ate in Korea; she often cooks Korean food for her family who lives in Urbana. She said the family served a different grilled meats with vegetable sides and soup, as well as ramen or meat stew.
One of the few western meals Lana had was pizza, "but it definitely wasn't your normal pizza," she said. "Mine had potatoes and shrimp with egg custard in the crust.
"4-H in Korea is largely agricultural based," Lana said. "The program has both opportunities for youth and for adults to be involved."
Lana called the trip a once in a lifetime experience.
"Be open to trying new things, even if it's uncomfortable at first," Lana said. "You don't want to regret anything. "
In addition to South Korea, Lana has studied Russia and Swaziland in 4-H. She said the project has inspired her to consider careers that allow international travel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager
Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.