The traveling experiences of Javier Mares include trips to Japan, Korea, Costa Rica and the United States.
In the United States, the 16 year old from Mexico City visited several states, including Texas and California.
However, for Mares, there is one state in particular he likes to visit.
“I really like Wisconsin,” he said.
He likes the people who live in the state – and the milk, cheese and cheese curds.
This month, Mares is in Wisconsin for the fourth time through the Institute for Language Experiment, Experience and Exchange (LEX).
The LEX program was founded in Japan in 1981, and the program has a partner in Mexico.
Mares’ parents are the directors of the program there.
The program is about meeting new people and learning new languages, he said.
“That’s why I’m here,” Mares said.
He is one of three students who traveled from Mexico to Wisconsin earlier this month through a collaboration between LEX Mexico and 4-H International.
A chaperone accompanied them, and the students are being hosted by families in different parts of the state. It is a four-week exchange.
They arrived in Wisconsin on July 3, and Mares then headed to Waupaca, where he was hosted by Susan Reniewicki and her son Oscar Martineau.
Martineau, who will be a sophomore this fall at Waupaca High School, is a member of the Casey Lake 4-H Club.
Reniewicki knew 4-H International has exchange programs and said this was a good summer for them to host a student.
Martineau enjoys learning Spanish, making the LEX Mexico program a perfect fit for the family.
Kay Hobler, outreach specialist at UW Extension 4-H Youth Development in Madison, oversees Wisconsin 4-H International programs.
“4-H International has been in Wisconsin since around 1952,” she said.
The program currently works with about 10 countries that involve four-week summer exchanges and about 10 more for year-long exchanges, Hobler said.
She said they primarily work with exchange programs in Japan and Korea.
Those students travel to Wisconsin, she said, through two youth organizations that teach children and families English and other languages while learning about culture.
One of the organizations is LEX, and the other is the Labo International Exchange Foundation.
In addition to hosting students from other countries, Wisconsin 4-H youth may also participate in the exchange program.
“We send about a dozen students outbound each summer,” Hobler said. “We try to have exchanges on each continent.”
During the summer, 4-H families host students from many of those same countries.
Families host students from Eurasia, Japan and Korea during the school year, for year-long exchanges, she said.
These days, students are especially excited to host students from Spanish-speaking countries, Hobler said.
Mares stayed in Waupaca until July 16.
During his time here, he participated in the Fourth of July parade, floated the Tomorrow River, camped in Door County and ate a venison burger.
“He had never seen the Great Lakes before,” Reniewicki said.
Of course, Mares had to take a dip in Lake Michigan when they were in Door County.
And, the water was a bit cold.
What Reniewicki liked about the program was that Mares was the only student being hosted in this area and that they were free to plan their schedule.
Martineau described it as an authentic experience.
He and Mares kept a notebook in which any time a word was said that Mares did not know, it was written inside the notebook.
The words “wander” and “hooligan” were among them.
“But, there were also Spanish words we were curious about,” Martineau said.
Mares loved being somewhere so close to rivers and lakes and is now visiting a family that previously hosted him. He will head home the end of this month.
“They get so much out of the program,” Hobler said of those who go on an exchange or host a student.
She said the 4-H programs of today include a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), civic leadership, volunteering, healthy living and about being good global citizens.
Mares’ host family in Waupaca was excited to be part of the program, and he liked being back in Wisconsin.
“I like seeing how people live in different countries,” he said.