• Heather Vaughn.
    Heather Vaughn.

Missouri 4-H alum Heather Vaughn sent this account of her 2019 4-H exchange trip to Costa Rica.

My 4-H exchange trip to Costa Rica was the single most impactful experience of my 10 years in 4-H. I had been taking Spanish classes for several years and had always enjoyed the subject, but I never expected to achieve fluency. When I spent a month in Costa Rica, everything changed. I was so excited to use my Spanish, but I seriously underestimated the challenge of changing from classroom Spanish to native Spanish. It took me about two weeks of tripping over my words and asking people to repeat themselves over and over, but I eventually adapted and improved.

While improving my language skills was very beneficial, the most important part of the trip was the lessons I learned along the way. I had to accept the fact that I was going to sound silly and make a fool of myself occasionally during this journey of learning the language. However, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t let my fear of failing keep me from trying at all. As my first trip outside of the United States, it made me realize that our American culture was not the only one out there, nor was it superior to any other culture.

After completing my 4-H exchange trip in 2019, I started my term as the Missouri State 4-H Council president. I was able to take everything I had learned and experienced in Costa Rica and apply it directly to our efforts in creating a fun and inclusive environment in Missouri 4-H. I participated in training in diversity and inclusion as well as public speaking and facilitation, and I apply those trainings in my current job.

After graduating from Mizzou this past May, I started a job as a resource specialist with Cactus Family Farms, a pig production company based in southern Iowa. I utilize my animal sciences degree and my bilingual capabilities to train, onboard and support our farm employees, who are primarily Spanish-speaking. I spearhead an education program that provides free Spanish and English classes for our employees who wish to improve in their non-dominant language. I am also currently developing a an improved training program for new employees. My leadership role on State Council empowered me to be a better leader and public speaker, and my experience in Costa Rica gave the confidence I needed to do so in a foreign language. I am truly grateful for my 4-H experiences and the many opportunities they have provided for me.