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Cheers from Ireland! by Casey Baxter, Plant Science Major

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Posted: June 6, 2016

When I heard that there was a class that would allow me to travel and experience a different culture while simultaneously expanding my knowledge of agriculture, I knew that the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Taken from the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. (This isn’t as dangerous as it looks)

Taken from the edge of the Cliffs of Moher. (This isn’t as dangerous as it looks)

Before beginning my studies at Penn State, I didn’t think that much existed outside of my small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. My adventures at Penn State eventually led me to this embedded trip to Ireland, and I came to realize that there is so much more to the world outside of my backyard.

For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for the agricultural industry. Whether it was feeding the calves on my family’s dairy farm, or participating in any FFA activity I could make time for, I have been engaged in agricultural education for my whole life. When I heard that there was a class that would allow me to travel and experience a different culture while simultaneously expanding my knowledge of agriculture, I knew that the opportunity was too good to pass up.

From the first day of class, I was immediately hooked on the subject material. Our study of the Columbian Exchange and the effects of transatlantic travel of common crop plants piqued my interest in a way that made me incredibly excited for the in-country portion of the class. I also really enjoyed the way that our last lectures on the conditions of the famine in Ireland really set us up for our trip. We began the adventure with a basic understanding of what it was like, and were able to really build on that understanding during our travel.

The trip itself really gave us a great opportunity to experience a different culture while also experiencing a part of our own history. After our delayed flight, we landed in Dublin at about 12:30 in the afternoon. We started off our trip with a guided walking tour of the city of Dublin. It was very interesting to see the way that the city had tried to stick to its medieval roots in some sections, and modernize with the rest of the western world in others. While in Dublin, we ate some traditional Irish food and spent some time observing the culture in some traditional Irish pubs.

The day after we left Dublin was probably my favorite part of the trip. We started by visiting Teagasc, which is basically the Irish equivalent of the Department of Agriculture. They gave us a tour of their research fields and the estate on which the facility was founded. We learned about their potato breeding program, and even learned a little bit about a trial that they performed with a type of tomato that is genetically modified to be resistant to late blight. The researcher that gave the presentation explained some of the societal challenges that they had faced in the process of performing this type of research. This type of information is definitely something that I will carry with me for the rest of my career with agriculture. It really doesn’t matter where in the world you are, it is always important to communicate with others regarding where their food comes from. Maintaining an open line of communication between farmer and consumer will help to strengthen the industry in the long run. After our visit to Teagasc, we visited a local potato farm in order to compare Irish potato production with American potato production.

Over the next few days of the trip, we visited many different tourist locations, like Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher. We also visited several different museums that were dedicated to the famine or the direct effects of it. Through all of these visits, we were able to learn about the conditions that resulted first in the Irish becoming second class citizens in their own country, and eventually how that fact caused the detrimental effects of the famine, and how that affects the country today. The English aristocracy acted as absentee landlords, allowing the famine to become so devastating to the native Irish people. However, the emigration of millions of Irish helped to develop the United States. I was very glad to have the opportunity to trace this web of Irish history and determine how it has affected my life today.

This trip has been highly educational, and also very significant in my development both personally and professionally. This trip resulted in my first travel by airplane. I now feel that I am much more capable of traveling independently in the future, which would be a huge asset to a future employer. Additionally, I now have more experience interacting with people that have different cultural experiences than I do. I spent some time talking to an Irish dairy farmer and found that some of their challenges are the same as the challenges faced by American dairy farmers. Agriculture is becoming an increasingly international industry, and I believe that an employee with international experience has an advantage over their counterparts who have only experienced American agriculture.