CFAES Give Today
Ohio 4-H Youth Development

Ohio State University Extension


4-H teens immerse themselves in Puerto Rican culture

4-H'ers preparing to pick coffee cherries at Castañer Supremo.

Ohio 4-H members had a once in a lifetime experience in November as they traveled to Puerto Rico to participate in the Ohio 4-H Cultural Immersion Project. During this eight-day service-learning trip teens built multicultural skills and developed a greater understanding of the diverse world we live in, all while exploring the beauty of Puerto Rico.

While hiking, the group discovered the beauty of the island as they explored mountains, swimming holes, and waterfalls around the small central mountain village of Castañer. These hikes also proved to be a great bonding experience for the teens. “We rappelled down a cliff during one of the hikes and got to hold the 4-H members in front of a waterfall while on a hike near Castañer.ropes for each other, so that was a big trust-building opportunity,” said River Demmy-Stover, a Greene County 4-H member.

For the first time, music and cultural education sessions were added to the trip’s itinerary. “We learned how to play the drums and were taught some traditional songs and dances. The instructors also explained the cultural significance behind the music,” said Ross County 4-H member Ava Palmer. “The music workshops were a highlight for me,” said Demmy-Stover. “I’m a Youth spent time learning about traditional Puerto Rican music and dance.musician, so it was really interesting to see how the Puerto Rican music and culture influence each other.”

The group was also invited to tour Castañer Supremo, a coffee processing farm owned by former Puerto Rican 4-H’er Pedro Bengochea. “We picked the coffee cherries and learned how to shell them to get coffee beans,” said Palmer. “Then while our coffee beans were roasting, Pedro shared his 4-H story with us.” Bengochea is A 4-H member showing off her basket of coffee beans with Pedro Bengochea, owner of Castañer Supremo.grateful for his 4-H experiences and proudly wears a sewn-in 4-H patch on his handmade “coffee sack” blazer.

Getting to know the people in the community of Castañer proved to be one of the biggest highlights of the trip. “We spent Thanksgiving with a family in Castañer and learned about their lives. This was the first time I’d been away from my family for a holiday, so it was nice to still have that homey feeling despite being somewhere completely new,” said Palmer. Throughout the week 4-H members were also encouraged to step outside of their comfort zones as they participated in Amazing Race-style challenges in the community.

“Everyone was kind and welcoming even though there was a language barrier,” said Demmy-Stover. “Most of the people we met didn’t know perfect The group enjoying dinner with a family in Castañer on Thanksgiving.English, and we didn’t know perfect Spanish, but we realized that if we put the effort in and tried our best to communicate, people would typically reciprocate.”

The trip included another first, as six 4-H’ers from Minnesota joined the ten Ohio teens in Puerto Rico. “Our groups meshed really well and quickly became friends,” said Crystal Reith, extension educator for 4-H in Cottonwood County, Minnesota. “They not only gained a better understanding of Puerto Rican culture but made lifelong connections with Youth debriefing their day with one another and discussing their experiences.youth from a different state and U.S. territory.”

Sierra Baca, extension educator for 4-H in Medina County and Steve Brady, extension educator for 4-H in Warren County, were the trip leaders. Brady developed and organized the first 4-H Cultural Immersion experience in 2015 and continues to be impressed by the teens’ willingness to embrace the experience. “Sometimes the interactions and activities were uncomfortable, and youth were unsure of what to do, but in the end, they really immersed themselves in the culture,” he said. Opportunities for reflection and discussion each evening also helped them process their experiences and 4-H'ers and chaperones posing for a photo in front of the "Castañer" sign.encouraged them to support one another in understanding the cultural differences they encountered.

“This was such an eye-opening experience,” said Palmer. “It was easily the best trip I’ve been on and such a great way to explore a new place and learn about different cultures.”

If you would like to learn more about Ohio 4-H domestic and international Immersion programs, contact Steve Brady at