|Study Abroad To
Belgium & The Netherlands
Elizabeth Karcher and Mike VandeHaar
The group consisted of 19 undergraduate students in Animal Science (16), Zoology (1), Agribusiness Management (2) and, Veterinary Medicine (1). Before the trip, the group met twice to discuss key differences between the U.S. and The Netherlands. Students were given the task of working on problem statements before departure and during the program. These statements ranged from the question of sustainability to regulations surrounding manure management. In addition, the students were asked to keep a daily journal documenting their experiences.
Experience for Students
Three companies helped sponsor activities. Lely Industries provided a tour of their factory and of a local farm and gave the students insight into the complexities of designing and constructing a robotic milking machine. Scientists at Provimi (animal nutrition company based in Rotterdam) talked to the students about their current areas for ruminant nutrition research. Finally, Alltech, Inc. arranged a day with government regulators in Brussels and a visit to biogas generator to show ways in which many Belgian farmers are dealing with manure management.
Two of the most popular activities among the students were the opportunities to interact with faculty and staff at both CAH Dronten and Wageningen University. Members of the CAH Dronten dairy club arranged a full day of discussions and farm visits for the students and concluded the day with a social activity. Several MSU students commented that the interaction with their peers at another school really provided insight into Dutch agriculture and culture.
While in Wageningen, several faculty members took the time to meet with program participants to discuss issues ranging from organic farming and sustainability to nutrition and environmental concerns. Participants also toured two of Wageningen UR’s research dairy farms - Waiberhoeve and Aver Heino. The 4-day visit to Wageningen ended with a student social hosted by Wageningen Animal Science students.
Besides Academics, Fun
Students also learned about Dutch trains and public busses – dependable, on-time, and orderly. Several students, accompanied by Karcher, spent a Saturday touring Cologne, Germany. Of course, all of the program participants enjoyed dining on “pannekoeken” (Dutch pancakes) and Belgian waffles.
In Their Own Words
According to Tera Koebel (Agribusiness Management, sophomore), “Studying dairy husbandry and environmental stewardship in the Netherlands and Belgium was a very enlightening experience for me because it was like looking into the future of how resources will be managed as our country gains human and animal population density.”
“Since those countries are so much smaller (compared with the U.S.) and everyone lives so closely together, the farmers have to be very strategic with their management of land, cattle, and wastes which are all issues that the United States will likely become more strict with over time. By traveling there to see their farms and hear firsthand how they cope with these challenges, I am able to help prepare my family’s farm and use my studies at Michigan State to help people in agriculture to be one step ahead of the regulatory processes to come.”
Long Before It All Started
These two countries were chosen because they have climates and water resource issues similar to Michigan, English is commonly spoken, and flights to Amsterdam are reasonably priced. Moreover, they have greater population densities for both cows and people than Michigan, so environmental and social concerns about farming receive even more attention than in the US.
In 2008, VandeHaar did a sabbatic at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, partly with the intent of developing a study abroad program. In 2009, Karcher visited the two countries to meet with contacts and arrange the program.
Karcher states, “The most rewarding part of the trip for me was the opportunity to increase my interactions with MSU undergraduate students and to watch the students’ personal growth as they were forced into situations outside their typical comfort zones. In 2 short weeks it was easy to observe the increased global awareness and confidence exhibited by many of the program participants.”
For more information on this study abroad program, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Karcher (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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