Students gain new perspective through study abroad

According to students and teachers from Upper Midwest schools, a lot can be gained from taking students to other areas of the world to learn from foreign ag producers and industry leaders.

Mikala Guidinger
University of Minnesota-Crookston student Mikala Guidinger stands in a field in France during her 2009 study abroad trip.

According to students and teachers from Upper Midwest schools, a lot can be gained from taking students to other areas of the world to learn from foreign ag producers and industry leaders.

French excursion

University of Minnesota-Crookston animal science students receive required course credit from a study abroad trip to France where they learn about French ag practices, policy and marketing.

Associate professor, Harouna Maiga, who leads the trip, says the goal of the course is to expose students to ag processing and marketing in a foreign context. The students go to farms, mills and processing centers.

The ultimate lesson Maiga hopes his students take away from the trip is that "we are all linked to the international market. What is happening in the U.S. may be affected by what is happening in other countries."


He thinks the trip will help students "have a broader view of agricultural production systems," he says. "It opens students' minds." And the trip creates lasting memories.

Mikala Guidinger, who went on the trip as a freshman in 2009, agrees.

She says a highlight of her trip was watching the birth of a calf on a dairy farm they visited.

"The trip will greatly help me in my professional life," she says. "Having a sense of cultural awareness is so important."

She adds that she was inspired by the passion French farmers and processors have for their work.

She also made friends with a few French students who decided later to come to her university on exchange.

Maiga also says the course emphasizes exposing students to French culture and food, but within an ag focus.

Students on the trip receive credit based on a lab report they write on each place they visit.


The trip costs $4,500, including airfare, accommodations, food and tuition.

Maiga says the students are usually upperclassmen, but occasionally underclassmen are accepted if they have a background in agriculture.

Although students from all ag majors can go on the trip, the course is only required for animal science majors.

Serving in Mongolia

A few Montana State University students of environmental science take a trip each year with emeritus professor of Soil Science Cliff Montagne to live and work with Mongolian ag producers.

Montagne says the trip serves as a two-way educational opportunity for the students and the Mongolians they work with.

The schools send professionals and students of business, health and environment to learn from Mongolian natives, as well as share their expertise.

Montagne says Montana and Mongolia share attributes that make the connection profitable for everyone involved, including climate, topography and some major ag industries such as cattle.


"Though the cultures of Mongolia and the U.S.A. differ greatly, we face many of the same issues in agriculture -- from challenges in distribution, to variability in climate," Rebecca Kurnick, a student participant in 2012, says. "Understanding this has given me a unique perspective in weeding through and approaching small agriculture."

Montagne says despite the similarities, recognizing Mongolia's distinct culture is essential to a successful exchange of ideas.

Another former participant, Kaelin Kiesel-Germann, says she carries the lessons she learned in Mongolia with her still. And, although she has lost touch with the people she met there, she thinks of them often.

The cost of the trip is $3,900 and does not include airfare.

Applications are open to university students, as well as community professionals who might be able to contribute to the work done in Mongolia.

China or bust

North Dakota State University also hopes to give students a more global view of agriculture through a trip to China.

Professor David Newman, who leads the trip, says he hopes the program can expand to other countries, as well.

For now, students visit professionals at all stages of the agricultural process in China, from policy makers to processors to producers. They also visit important cultural and historic sites.

Ultimately, Newman hopes to "expose our students to the global challenges and opportunities impacting agriculture."

Then he wants them to be able to apply that knowledge to real-world situations and recognize the responsibility ag has to feed a growing global population.

The trip costs about $5,000 per student, but he says scholarships are available.

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