There’s no place like home

IFYE Worldwide Exchangees before departing on their exchange
IFYE Worldwide Exchangees before departing on their exchange

Kaitlyn Martin from Ballywalter YFC was one of the YFCU members who were awarded a bursary sponsored by the Ulster Farmers’ Union as part of the YFCU Exchange Programme.

The Exchange Programme has been offered through YFCU for over 60 years and forms many international lifetime friendships.

First stop on the Washington DC tour was to visit to see the president

First stop on the Washington DC tour was to visit to see the president

Members compete for places, are interviewed by a panel and receive intensive training before heading off to their foreign destinations.

Kaitlyn travelled to Kansas to stay with various host families throughout her exchange.

Here is her report.

On 16th June, I departed from Dublin Airport to embark on my International Exchange to Kansas, USA. I had a direct seven hour flight to Washington D C where I stayed for the weekend in a hotel with incoming and outgoing exchanges for an orientation which prepared us for what might be in store for us on our trip. It was great to meet new friends from across the world and learn about their cultures while also getting a day to sight see around the Capitol.

Saige, Isaac, Kael and Kaitlyn Martin from Ballywalter YFC after our day shopping

Saige, Isaac, Kael and Kaitlyn Martin from Ballywalter YFC after our day shopping

On Monday, I then set off very early for my flights to Wichita to meet my first host family. Unfortunately, the day did not go to plan due to delayed and then cancelled flights so I did not land until 10pm that evening and then discovered my luggage had been lost…the joys of travelling. That evening I stayed with my host ‘mom’ Tia in a hotel before setting of to her home in Kansas City early the next morning.

Upon my arrival to the Hutcheson’s home in Kansas City I was greeted by three little smiling faces who were very excited to have an exchangee live with them for the next two and a half weeks. After a long journey and jet lag we chilled in the house that day where we asked questions about each other and our family, culture and traditions. The next morning was another early start with Geoff, my host dad and the kids, Saige (2), Isaac (5) and Kael (7) heading to go blueberry picking at a local farm. Through my first week with the Hutchesons I experienced Mexican food, watched a few T-ball games, attended Tia’s charity picnic and thankfully had time to cool off in their local swimming pool – it is safe to say a Northern Ireland girl is not used to almost 40-degree heat.

While I was with the Hutchesons, I got the opportunity to meet the rest of Tia’s family at a nephew’s birthday party and pre 4th July celebrations which was great as I was missing my own family. I learned a lot about how this large family lived in Kansas City, how the school system worked, their religious and cultural views along with what they like to do for fun. Some of these I got to experience first-hand; Kansas City Zoo, a Science Museum at Union Station, shopping (of course), Kansas City Farmers Market and ‘Gleaning’ to donate food to the hungry.

On my stay with my first host family, my host mom Tia took me to Kansas State Capitol – Topeka where we visited the enormous and beautiful capitol building, the Brown vs Board Museum about the Black Civil Rights Movements (where our small little country got a mention) and we drove around the Lawrence University Campus which was the size of a small village in Northern Ireland.

The Miller family and Kaitlyn Martin from Ballywalter YFC

The Miller family and Kaitlyn Martin from Ballywalter YFC

My final week with the Hutchesons was over the 4th July where I got to experience American Country Music first hand at the Gardiner 4th July celebrations, sitting on deck chairs with kettle corn in my hand listening to Drake White, Tars Thompson and Big Time Grain Company and finishing a great 4th July off with fireworks.

On my final morning at the Hutchesons, unfortunately Saige and Isaac were sick and therefore could not come with us to meet my next host family so Geoff stayed at home while Tia, Kael and I visited the Cowtown Museum in Wichita and then met my next host family, the Millers. On our long drive, back to Merrill Ranch – a 10,000 acre beef farm, we stopped at their local town where I got a pair of cowboy boots which I was told would protect me from snake bites…scary.

The Miller family consisted of Tina and Jamie along with their sons Jaxon (10), Bo (9), Victoria (2) and their foster child Aaron (3). This family was very different than my first host family and they lived literally in the middle of nowhere on their Ranch on the Oklahoma border of Kansas. On my first week with the Millers they were preparing for their County Fair while also keeping up to date with all the work on the farm shifting cattle so we were very busy.

I got the chance to attend Stafford Rodeo with the family which I can now tick off my bucket list along with seeing a buffalo herd on a nearby ranch.

Family and friends congratulating the King and Queen of the fair

Family and friends congratulating the King and Queen of the fair

The next week with the Millers was spent mainly at the Comanche County Fair which has a diverse range of activities to get involved in such as baking contests, rodeo-style horse competitions and showing animals.

But it wasn’t all work with the fair – during the evenings when the temperature had cooled down (thankfully) the fair put on different events; we attended a carnival on one evening, a barn dance and a roping competition where competitors could win big money for winning which a lot of the community watch in anticipation.

I had such a fun-filled time with the Millers so when it was time to say goodbye on the Sunday it proved very difficult but after a few tears I met my next family – the Beesley’s. The family consisted of Don (dad), Renee (mom) and the girls Sydney (15) and Faith (11).

The final week of my exchange was none stop as the Beesley’s were also having their county fair on my stay. The Monday began with riding in a Camero at the front of Stevens County Fair Parade with the King and Queen aka. my host grandparents Rita and Doug, throwing candy to children while driving by. I got to enter in the fair’s dog contest and the baking competition where I placed first for both in my class…not bad for a rookie. To top it off all the baked goods are sold at an auction and my Wheaten Bread sold for $235 all in aid of their local 4H…if bread sold for that in Northern Ireland I would be opening a bakery as soon as possible.

It was then the time of the week to bring the animals to the fair – getting up at 4am to start and queue for a good stall for the animals. The Beesleys competed with horses, cattle and goats that year and the girls were very competitive and it paid with both girls placing in most of their categories.

The fair wasn’t the only thing that kept us busy, on the Saturday morning we set off early again with the horses for a horse show near Wichita. Both Faith and Sydney compete in Western riding and English riding competitions and it was interesting to see how different this was to shows at home.

A difficult goodbye at the airport with Renee, Sydney and Faith

A difficult goodbye at the airport with Renee, Sydney and Faith

Sunday was my final day in Kansas and my morning consisted of Cowboy Church which was a quick service with a cowboy and a guitar before the competitions began. With a quick stop for lunch we then headed to the airport. Again, this goodbye was very difficult however with the girls wanting to travel in the future I hope to see this family again.

I would like to thank the YFCU and UFU for the opportunity to go on this Exchange and I would highly recommend it to all YFCU members.