During my first semester of college, Autumn 2015, I enrolled in a pre-departure course to prepare me for a study abroad program to Nicaragua. The OSU First Year Experience CFAES Nicaragua Study Abroad Program was a ten-day program in January 2016. Through the pre-departure course and the in-country program, we discussed, learned, and studied Nicaraguan culture, agriculture, environment, government, politics, etc. While in country, you participate in many agriculture-related tours and visits, including tours of the entire coffee-making/faming process as well as other production tours. During our program, we all helped to maintain a daily blog which you can view by clicking here, to get a better understanding of the things that we did and experiences we had.
Before the Nicaragua program, I had never been out of the country before. I remember that I felt that pre-departure course I was taking was helping me to feel prepared for what I would see, learn, and experience, and that it was also helping me to get to know those with whom I would be travelling. What I remember most about this time, the time before the program and preparing to go, was just the general process and experiences of being a new freshman on such a big campus. I remember feeling, even then, like I was grateful to have the other people in my Nicaragua class to cling to as friends, and to cling to as first-year agriculture majors who were all going through similar things and challenges as me. I was grateful that my first out-of-the-country experience and first study abroad experience was going to be with so many people who were the same way, travelling for the first time, new to college, and never studied abroad before.
While Abroad Reflection
What I remember most about my study abroad program to Nicaragua are the relationships I forged and the personal growth that I found within myself. I remember how inspired I felt by how small that I felt in the world. I remember realizing, truly, for the first time how large agriculture was and is, and that it truly encompasses the entire world. I remember some moments of being uncomfortable, but mostly I just remember feeling inspired to go back to Ohio State and continue to make the most out of my education and the opportunities offered to me. Below is an excerpt from the blog we all kept, on the evening for which I was responsible for blogging:
Today was certainly one of the busier days! We had one our earliest mornings today and after breakfast we took the trek to begin our activities. We had the opportunity to speak with farmers and representatives from Prodessa about agriculture, differences in our production systems, and cultural/societal differences and their role in all of these things. After that, we had the opportunity to talk with two Nicaraguan veterinarians about the differences between methods of certification and studying between our two locations, the culture of animals in Nicaragua, and other general questions we still had about the agriculture industry here. To finish out our events for the day, we went to a local cattle operation where we got a special look at some very centralized cattle issues, we got to investigate a specific Nicaraguan cattle system, and we got to ask questions about livestock production. All of these activities, and all of things we have taken part in while here in Nicaragua thus far, have been truly amazing and eye-opening. However, we are very fortunate to be on this trip with our professors from The Ohio State University who guide us through all the changes and realizations we are making on this trip, in addition to guiding us through the learning experiences. We ended today in reflection led by our study abroad instructors and I am so grateful for The Ohio State University and the extraordinary faculty they have, who challenges us as students to grow and learn and think everyday.
After we got back from our tours we had dinner and then we began our evening meeting in an open space at our beautiful hotel. The meeting began with our professor expressing gratitude for the group and our willingness to participate in the program and bond with each other. After that, he posed us all some questions and encouraged us to answer. First, he asked us why we decided to go Ohio State. The answers ranged from things like “it was affordable”, “it was close”, and “there are so many opportunities” to “the agricultural reputation”, “it’s a family tradition”, and “I just knew.” In your first year at Ohio State you get to hear a wide variety of reasons for why people picked the university, and you yourself have to justify your decision often, as well, and this makes you pretty aware of all the reasons why someone would decide to go here. He then asked us why we chose to go to Nicaragua through this trip. Some people mentioned that they heard about it and orientation, some said that it was one of the opportunities that they always wanted to take advantage of in college and specifically at Ohio State, some said because it was a good way to get credit and travel the world while also being financially reasonable, and some said that they just “winged it.” Since the trip is nearly over and we get closer and closer to beginning our second semester, it was kind of nice to reflect on and remember why we are where we are in the first place.
The last question that he asked was why we all selected the majors that we did. On this trip, the majority of the students are Animal Science majors, however, the following majors are also represented: Meat Science; Forestries, Fisheries, and Wildlife; Agribusiness and Applied Economics; Agricultural Education; Entomology; and Environment, Economy Development, and Sustainability. That being said, many of us had different reasons for picking the majors that we did. However, what was challenging about this question is that our professor pushed us to answer the question “why?” five times after we gave our reason behind our choice. I personally am so grateful for this trip because it has allowed me to reevaluate my life, the things I value, and things I want to do. Studying abroad and going to a different country, especially through a program like this, genuinely is life changing. During this meeting it was very evident that I was not the only person that has been affected by this trip in such a deep way; during the meeting we all thought deeply about the things we wanted for our lives, why we wanted them, and how our time at college and this trip have both affected all of this. All of us on this trip have the amazing opportunity to travel the world, to travel the world with friends, to grow closer to professors, to learn about international agriculture, to see cultural differences, and (maybe most importantly) to challenge ourselves to grow as professionals, leaders, and individuals, and we could not be more grateful.
After Return Reflection
Nicaragua was definitely the first step in ignited a global passion and global-mindedness within me, and a desire to add a global component to my education. Nicaragua was also the program that said up a very foundational friend group for me at the beginning of my college experience. I reminisce on Nicaragua now and feel so much older and more experienced, but I also feel very grateful for the chance I took on myself for that trip; I feel like I was putting myself out to the world and out to people that I didn’t know much about at the time. This program represents, now, one of my first true moments of pushing myself out of my confront zone and challenging myself to see how truly small I am in the universe. I will always look back on this program and remember it as one of the first experiences to shape me into an adult with greater critical thinking skills and open-mindedness.