Communication Lessons & Baths

I’ve never seen college students so happy to stop at a McDonald’s restaurant as I have today. To preface this, the United Kingdom drinks more tea than coffee (surprise, surprise), but the coffee they do have, as I have been told is atrocious. Needless to say, stopping for some fast-food coffee might be the highlight for some students!

We started our day at Rural Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester, England. This area is known as the capital of the Cotswolds, which offers gorgeous scenery! We met with Dr. Steven Chadd, a former administrator, and lecturer at RAU. He talked about the history and background of RAU and the programs they offer.

RAU was granted a royal charter from Queen Victoria in 1845 and opened its doors with 25 students. Today, 1,200 students attend RAU, and graduate from four “schools”- Agriculture, Food, and Environment; Equine Management and Science; Real Estate and Rural Land Management; and Business and Entrepreneurship. Ohio State University is very similar to RAU in the way the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences is divided into departments like ACEL or AEDE. These are then further divided into majors or “disciplines” at RAU. Dr. Chadd continued with the different degrees the university offers. There is a one-year “certificate” of sorts that Dr. Chadd described as “a crash course in agriculture”. RAU does offer Ph.D. programs, but Dr. Chadd noted that they only have a handful of post-graduate students.

Most similarly to OSU, specifically the Wooster campus, RAU has its own farms. They own over 400 hectares, which is roughly 988 acres. There they have a sheep operation with 400 breeding ewes, a dairy facility with 900 cows, and an organic completely outdoor pig farm with 100 sows and their offspring. The livestock is fed out and taken to market once they reach roughly 200 pounds. I found the facility to be especially interesting because it’s completely outside and because it’s a joint venture with a nearby farmer. Essentially, RAU owns the infrastructure and uses it for educational purposes, and the farmer owns the pigs and pays the labor.

Another similarity to most US university’s is that second-year students must complete a “placement” which is basically an internship to gain industry experience and build network connections. Unlike the US, RAU’s school year goes from October to June, and students were in the midst of exams when we were there today. Their tuition is similar to most public university’s at around $11,500, although the UK government is trying to lower their tuition costs for students.

Our next presenter was Dr. Peter Morris LLB (Honors), a communication/media professor. He noted that he’s previously commentated rugby games and equine events and owns his own media and journalism business called Vocal Solutions. Most strikingly, he said that our job as communicators for the ag industry is to use the power we have in a conscientious way and assimilate and validate the information we have. Additionally, he noted that peoples’ perceptions of various things are born through the media. For example, the UK receives NCIS, The Big Bang Theory, and American Pickers TV show. While the US gets Downton Abbey, Sherlock Holmes, and other BBC programming. Both parties are guilty of stereotyping the other based on the TV shows we watch. Furthermore, to highlight his point, Dr. Morris showed us a video featuring a very fun and large agriculture event in the UK, but what people don’t see is the “dark side” of ag or all the issues farmers are facing, and the US is experiencing a similar fate. Additionally, the UK is also facing the problem of the lack of broadband internet in rural areas. It’s pertinent to make the internet accessible to farmers for emergencies, market updates, and other uses. Lastly, Dr. Morris said, “the biggest reason why agriculture makes the news is due to sensationalism,” and I feel this is especially true in the United States. In addition to this, the U.S. and the UK also struggle with fake news and deciphering what is true. Not to fear though, Dr. Morris offered us some exceptional advice: Ask where it was reported, where else it was reported, what is the source, and does it “feel” true? Those are the best questions to debunk and invalidate fake news.

Afterward, we took a short tour around the campus to see student housing (which is similar to most universities where freshman live on-campus, and upperclassmen rent off-campus properties with others), dining halls, chapel, and student union/gift shop. Did I need another crewneck sweatshirt? Absolutely not. But when else will I visit RAU?

After RAU, we headed to Bath, England where we visited the historic Roman Baths and hot springs and took a walking tour with Louise around the city. After the fabulous and exciting tour of the city, we went back to the hotel to change and get dinner on our own. Word to the wise, The Scallop Shell has the best, fried fish I’ve ever eaten! 10/10 would definitely recommend. Honestly, today was my favorite day so far, from the communication lessons from Dr. Morris and Dr. Chadd to the audio tour at the Baths, and the walking tour around the city. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store!