Global Issues classmates tour Scotland
June 30, 2005
By David Edmark, UA Division of Agriculture
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. --- The other side of the world is available to everyone via the media. But to get a better picture, nothing beats showing up.
Cecilia Gonzalez -- native of Ecuador, student at the University of Arkansas and previously a traveler to Central America, Mexico and Jamaica -- did just that, this time to Scotland. As a UA food science student, she is interested in the debate over genetically modified organisms, a topic that is much hotter overseas than in the U.S., as she found out.
She was one of three students in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences who went to Scotland at the end of the spring semester in May as part of their participation in the college honors program's Global Issues course taught by Preston La Ferney, university professor of agricultural economics/agribusiness and director of international agricultural programs for the UA Division of Agriculture.
"I hadn't been to Europe and wanted to see the cultural differences," Gonzalez said. About genetically modified organisms and a few other matters, "I saw their attitude, the way they see things. Culture influences a lot. They do what they think is best for them. When you are there, you can see the way they think."
They weren't the first students from Bumpers College to go overseas as part of its Global Studies Program; the program has sent students abroad since 1997. But it was the first time an honors program class has made the trip as a group, a tradition La Ferney wants to see continued.
"The students performed well in the class," La Ferney said. "And the camaraderie on the trip was perfect, triple-A."
The class composition reflected the college's broad curriculum:
- Gonzalez, a food science senior who will attend graduate school this fall at Cornell University;
- Ashley Rashe, a freshman environmental, soil and water science major from Shell Knob, Mo., who also works part-time in the soil biology lab;
- Laura Sossamon, a freshman agricultural business major from Ozark who wants to attend law school.
Their 10-day visit, led by La Ferney and Ray Barclay, the college's global studies program director, was more than just a tour of Scotland's exotic sites (although plenty of those were on the agenda). Most of the students placed by Barclay in international experiences enroll in classes or work in professional internships.
One of Scotland's greater influences on Rashe may have been a visit to the Seabird Center, a wildlife visitor center on the Firth of Forth east of Edinburgh where tourists see gannets, puffins, razorbills and other birds -- but only from a distance via television. The birds are on rock islands a mile or more from shore. Visitors to the Seabird Center can control remote cameras and zoom in where they wish without disturbing the birds.
"We really need to work to preserve these areas," she said of smaller rural areas in the U.S. "I found it inspiring that people are doing this overseas. I wondered how that could work in rural Missouri or Arkansas. It would be great to start something to preserve the habitat."
Sossamon, as an agricultural business major, was particularly interested in the daily life of the Scottish farm she visited. Coming from a western Arkansas farm, she wondered about parallels.
"I was able to hear straight from the (Scottish) farmers' mouths about subsidies and their government reducing them and how government policies can affect farmers' problems," she said. "I want to try to understand agriculture on a global scale instead of just what I learned on the farm."
The ongoing international disputes over whether to produce food using genetically modified organisms kept Gonzalez's interest as a food science student. She heard university professors endorse the concept and organic farming advocates condemn it while observing Europe's overall lack of enthusiasm for the idea.
"What made me want to enroll in this class was that I had to write my professional plan," she said. "I found GMOs were a current topic. I found that in research it's important to have knowledge of global issues and international experience."
After completing graduate school, Gonzalez wants to work for an international food organization, perhaps in a developing country. Different cultures will no doubt have an impact on what she finds.