Annie Gamber will say sayonara to her home this summer and travel to the Far East in pursuit of her dream.
The 17-year-old Wauseon High School senior was selected by Ohio 4-H International Programs to be a youth ambassador to Japan. She will be among six other Ohio students and 100 students nationwide who will travel to foreign countries through the 4-H exchange program to soak up and become educated in different cultures.
For Gamber, who has become enamored with and steeped herself in Japanese life, the trip will also help open the door to a career as an interpreter, either in the U.S. or abroad.
Between June 13 and her return in early August, Gamber will stay with two Japanese families, study the language, and immerse herself in the culture. She’ll begin the journey in Tokyo, where she’ll attend a language school through the Labo Foundation, an organization that teaches languages and cultures to Japanese youth. Gamber will also attend Labo language club meetings.
She will live for a month with the family of Yua Enomoto, an exchange student who stayed with the Gamber family last summer through the program, then with a second host family. In between stays, Gamber will join other American participants and their host families at a recreational camp.
She was selected to participate after undergoing an application process that required filling out a 28-page questionnaire and included writing essays. Mary Lynn Thalheimer, Ohio 4-H International program director, said Gamber was evaluated by a team at the Ohio 4-H office, and was chosen based on her responses and her choice of a required perspective cultural project. Gamber’s project will involve teaching her host families American card games and songs and cooking American dishes.
“She’s a very enthusiastic young lady,” Thalheimer said. “From the very start she was one of our more impassioned young people, really excited to host and really enthused about everything having to do with Japan.”
Thalheimer said she’s pleased someone in Fulton County is traveling “because it brings attention to the program and we want all families to know that traveling overseas is an option through Ohio 4-H, and perhaps even more importantly, hosting is an opportunity. That’s a wonderful way to invite the world right into your living room and to help your kids become more educated in an easy fashion.”
As a 10-year member of the local Leaders of Tomorrow 4-H group, Gamber became interested in Japan through self-determined 4-H projects. But she really became enthused after watching Japanese animation programs, which primed her to seriously begin studying the language.
“I started vaguely learning a few years ago, but it wasn’t until lately that I started hitting it pretty hard core,” she said.
The effort has taught her Japanese words she is now learning to form into sentences. She hopes her educational trip to Japan will hone her vocabulary and her writing skills.
Once home in August, Gamber plans to continue studying the Japanese language toward the goal of becoming an interpreter, either domestically or in Japan. She said global business expansion and a growing cultural diversity has created a need.
Through her connection with the Labo Foundation, Gamber can also apply to work for a year in the organization’s office in Japan when she turns 21.
To acclimate herself, Gamber has begun practicing everyday Japanese customs. They include the traditional bow when greeting someone, when leaving company, and when saying thank you. That extends to bowing to motorists she passes in the street, which has raised a few eyebrows.
“A lot of people just kind of look at me and go, ‘Why are you doing that?’ and I explain it to them. And they say, ‘Oh, that’s actually pretty cool that you’re doing that,’” she said.
The trip will cost $6,700; the state 4-H organization will cover $1,600, and awarded Gamber a $100 scholarship for hosting Enomoto last summer. She hopes to raise the remainder through donations from civic organizations and through fundraising projects.
One fundraiser in particular, through Funds2Orgs, collects used footwear for distribution among the less fortunate worldwide. Gamber’s collection of 2,500 pairs will earn about $1,000. She has set up collection boxes throughout the county, and so far has received 347 pairs of shoes. The deadline is April 11.
Bobie Williams, the county coordinator for northwest Ohio for the 4-H international exchange program, said Gamber will go through an orientation program with other student ambassadors in April at Ohio State University. While the program sends students mainly to Japan, some also visit countries like Norway, Finland, Estonia, Costa Rica, and Argentina.
“You have to really want to do this. It’s not easy,” Williams said. “But (Gamber was) very much immersed in the Japanese culture right from the very beginning. She’s going to enjoy it, she’s going to learn a lot. I was impressed with her interest in the Japanese culture already.”
Gamber said if she realizes her goal as an interpreter she would wholeheartedly accept a permanent position in Japan.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time,” she said. “Granted, I would miss my friends and family, and I would miss the culture here, but I also want to go there.”
An account under Annie Gamber’s name has been opened at Farmers and Merchants State Bank, 1130 N. Shoop Ave., in Wauseon, for donations. She will hold a cupcake sale Saturday at Tractor Supply Co., 14400 U.S. 20A, in Wauseon, where shoes for the fundraiser will also be accepted.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.