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The Key to Relations; a Study Abroad Experience in Guanajuato Mexico

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Posted: February 16, 2018

By Sean Freidhof (Forest Ecosystems Management major, GIS minor) "Through this experience, I have learned communication, professionalism, and versatility within relations that I would not have learned in a regular classroom."
A few of the PSU students and I with our instructor Gail Good at the top of the University of Guanajuato’s stairs

A few of the PSU students and I with our instructor Gail Good at the top of the University of Guanajuato’s stairs

My name is Sean Freidhof and I am studying forest ecosystem management at Penn State. Last spring, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico over the course of 7 days. The purpose of the trip was to explore how agriculture practices in Mexico affect US food systems. It was led by Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture Samuel Hayes Jr. and two advisors from Penn State Altoona—Gail Good and Melissa Kohler. We spent our time teamed up with a few students from the University of Guanajuato visiting farms, ranches, factories, and historically significant areas.

Now, the question might be raised as to what someone majoring in forest management is doing studying agricultural practices abroad. Initially, I asked the same question. Through this experience, however, I learned applicable skills to my field regarding relations. Much of Mexico’s agricultural practice involve some sort of international or domestic relations. This is a huge principle in forestry because management practices involve everyone—domestic and international to protect, enjoy, and profit from the land of which we live.

In Mexico, international relations played a massive role in the food industry. Economically motivated to ensure the most money for their crops, Mexico follows all regulations put forth by other countries. In addition, they respond to these regulations by being versatile to produce crops using methods in which the recipient country requires. Communication also plays a huge role so many Mexicans who were in the industry were bilingual. In this respect they try to keep good relations with other countries to feed their economy financially and their people literally.

Just like Mexican agriculture provides food to the world, forests provide wood as a building supply to the world. Some lumber companies distribute internationally and require those relations to provide revenue to their company. Money is not the only reason why international relations are important though. Trees are a common theme among all nations and it can be helpful to look at the biosphere as a single unit. International relations are huge in forestry to control the spread of non-native invasive species. Non-native invasive species can hurt the ecosystem in the regions they invade so it is vital to communicate to other countries to limit the spread of these species.

To be a sustainable nation Mexico needs to also feed its people. Domestic trade between producers and consumers must happen to make this possible. Even though producers for domestic trade do not have to follow the same regulations as they would if their food was being exported, the quality of food must still be acceptable. Taxes and prices also play a role in domestic trade. The consumer must be satisfied with quality and price of the product in order for a trade to occur.

It is a common practice for landowners to sell their timber to logging companies to make a profit. These sales are organized by foresters and require a great deal of trust and communication between the foresters and landowners. Foresters also manage national forests and game lands to provide habitat for wildlife. A Lot of coordination between other foresters are required to provide the best treatment to a forest. Domestic relations are important—one cannot put back a tree after it has been cut. It's important to ensure all parties are satisfied with the outcome of a decision whether it be the public, other foresters, or landowners.

Through this experience, I have learned communication, professionalism, and versatility within relations that I would not have learned in a regular classroom. I was able to practice all of these skills day to day with the locals. How I presented myself each day through my actions and how I communicated contributed to the relations I was able to build with the students and professors in Mexico. I can take these skills and apply them to my field to be successful whether I am dealing with domestic or international relations.

Through this experience, I have learned communication, professionalism, and versatility within relations that I would not have learned in a regular classroom.