Tim Sandles is not usually one to venture outside of his comfort zone. The LSU graduate student from Madisonville, Texas, studying agricultural education decided to push himself this summer when he signed up for a study abroad program in Europe.
“I knew it would be a good opportunity for personal development,” Sandles said. “It definitely exceeded my expectations.”
Sandles journeyed to Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in June with three other students and J.C. Bunch, an assistant professor in the LSU College of Agriculture.
“It is important to many companies and employers in the agriculture industry that potential employees have some international experiences with other countries and their cultures,” Bunch said.
The program focused on international agriculture. The group toured agricultural universities, farms, bakeries, breweries and wineries as well as cultural landmarks in the three countries.
The students earned three hours of credit in agricultural education. They were required to write in a journal each day about their experiences and create a final project after they returned.
Much of their time was spent in Nitra, Slovakia, at the Slovak University of Agriculture. Students from that university visited LSU in February. Some of the same students took the LSU group around Nitra and to agricultural sites.
Myra Boudreaux, a senior from Belle Rose, Louisiana, studying agricultural education, said she enjoyed seeing the dairy farm at the university.
“I showed cows, so I liked seeing how some things were similar here and other things different, like some of the equipment they use,” Boudreaux said.
Boudreaux was planning to finish college debt-free but took out a student loan for the trip.
“It was worth it,” she said. “Ag is everywhere, and international experience matters. I am building networks and making connections I can use the rest of my life.”
Cristina Serrano, a graduate student from Caracas, Venezuela, said no pictures, no words, no photographs, no descriptions can show you what you actually live and learn while studying abroad.
She finds travel addictive and said traveling with a program is a good way to go.
“For someone who hasn’t left before, it could be difficult to be gone for so long. So go with people you know,” she said. “It’s safe to travel with group, and you can work out any complications together.”
Chelsea Sutherland, a senior from Monroe, Michigan, said she is more open-minded because of her travel experiences.
“I think sometimes we can have a broken view of someone or some culture that is different,” Sutherland said. “But we can change their view of us, and they can change our view of them, and we become more supportive of each other.”
Sandles said he hopes through his experience he can encourage others to step outside of their comfort zone and travel abroad.
“If you experience it, you are better situated to tell someone else about it and influence them,” he said. “I hope to spark an interest in people I mentor and students I may one day teach.”
The reward of studying abroad was definitely worth the risk, he added.