Many college students like to spend spring break somewhere tropical. That is what a group of LSU College of Agriculture students did on their recent spring break. But this group wasn’t lounging on beaches. The students were visiting farms, working with local children and helping struggling communities.
Four undergraduate students and three graduate students took part in an international experience in Nicaragua, April 4-11.
Three of the students had never left the country before. Myra Boudreaux, from Belle Rose, Louisiana, a junior studying agricultural education, was one of them.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” Boudreaux said.
The students visited coffee, tobacco and rice farms, learning about the entire production process for each crop.
Emily Kraus, a graduate student in entomology, from New Alsace, Indiana, has spent time in Senegal, where she worked for the Peace Corps, and in Guatemala. But she said each new experience offers something unique, including a visit to a rice farm in Nicaragua.
“I was jumping into the mud looking for insects,” she said.
The rice farm the group visited is managed by LSU alumnus Manny Porro. Kraus said she plans to return to Nicaragua for a semester and conduct research on that farm, which she described as a dream come true.
“Regardless of what agriculture field you are in, there is something for everyone. Each day was jammed-packed with information about agriculture,” she said.
Chelsea Sutherland, a junior studying agricultural education, from Monroe, Michigan, enjoyed getting immersed in the culture. She said she tried Nicaraguan food only at the first restaurant they visited and attended mass on Easter Sunday.
“We walked into a church and got to see how Catholicism was presented, and it was a little different. They actually had an open-door policy. The church literally had no doors,” Sutherland said.
She went on to say that making connections was an important part of the trip.
“Global agriculture requires global relationships. We met a lot of people and built a lot of relationships,” she said.
Programs like this one aim to expose students to international agriculture and give them experience with the global marketplace.
Ivana Tregenza, director of international relations for the LSU College of Agriculture and program coordinator for the LSU AgCenter International Programs office, said a student’s career preparation is not complete without international experience and some knowledge of global issues.
“Many agricultural enterprises buy or sell internationally,” Tregenza said. “Our graduates will not be able to successfully compete for higher-paying jobs if they do not include this experience in their education.”
Bradley Coleman, a senior in agricultural education, from Ponchatoula, Louisiana, has traveled abroad. Coleman plans to teach after graduation and said his experiences will help make him a more valuable teacher.
“I can share these experiences with my students and maybe encourage or arrange for students to travel abroad,” Coleman said.
Coleman is urging other agriculture students to take the opportunity to have international experience.
On their last day in Nicaragua the students visited a market and purchased and delivered food to underprivileged families. They also worked in an aftercare program with young children.
Peyton Beattie, a junior in agricultural education, from Houma, Louisiana, said working with the children was her favorite part of the trip. Even though the LSU students spoke little Spanish and the children spoke no English, they were able to play together, including a game of “patata caliente,” or hot potato.
All of the students expressed how their time in Nicaragua gave them a new perspective on agriculture and the world.
“You can’t get these experiences any other way than going abroad,” Boudreaux said.