Passion for international travel
October 1, 2023
Just before harvest was upon us this year, my husband Scott and I spent two weeks in Western Europe. We explored a few cities in Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy, before spending a week in Austria for the World IFYE Conference. Traveling and learning about agriculture across the world has long been a passion of mine, and I count myself lucky to travel regularly.
My passion for international travel started with my parents taking our family to Switzerland when I was a child for a friend’s wedding. I adored learning about another culture and having friends in another country. Our connection to Switzerland started through my mother, Beth. She was an exchange student to Switzerland in 1979 through the IFYE exchange program (formerly International 4-H Youth Exchange) and maintained contact with many of her host families. I grew up with many Swiss friends visiting to experience life on our farm and learn about agriculture in Illinois.
I had my own opportunity to explore agriculture in another country when I was an IFYE to Germany in 2010. My ancestors emigrated from northern Germany in the 1800s, and I remember thinking on my first day, “it’s no wonder they moved to northern Illinois – it looks the same as here!” I find it fascinating to learn about differences and similarities between agriculture in the USA and other countries. I’ve been fortunate to continue learning by attending IFYE Conferences across Western Europe, and also Thailand. One of the aspects of IFYE I most appreciate is the ability to experience everyday life beyond being a tourist.
Planning an international trip may seem daunting, and without personal connections, it can be more challenging finding opportunities to learn about agriculture outside tourist areas. Besides for IFYE, I have traveled with a UIUC study abroad course, the Illinois Agriculture Leadership Program, and the German American Chamber of Commerce. Illinois Farm Bureau has also organized international market study tours in the past.
If you prefer not to leave the country, another way to learn about international agriculture is by hosting an exchange student. Illinois IFYE is always looking for more host families. Scott and I recently hosted an IFYE alumni from Germany for two weeks, and we had a wonderful time showing her our everyday life and farms.
If you have the opportunity to travel and see another part of the world, I encourage you to take it! Participate in exchange programs or seminars. Host an exchange student. Many of the best experiences of my life and some of my dearest friends have resulted from my travels abroad. I believe that travel can help increase empathy and understanding for differing cultures and opinions – something that is definitely needed in a continually divisive world.