ISU students host international agriculture conference

Elaine Godfrey

From discovering dining dollars to exploring traditional Iowa farms, July was a month full of new experiences for 40 international students attending the 2014 International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Studies World Congress.

The International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences is a club on campus whose members work to connect students to agriculture in the local area and around the world.

The ISU chapter of the club was one of the first in the nation, and there are many more throughout the world. In total, 17 countries were represented during the organization’s annual World Congress.

World Congress, also known by the affectionate nickname “WoCo,” is meant to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience in agriculture, said the club’s world president Genna Tesdall, senior in global resource systems at Iowa State.

“At the meetings, you get to know each other,” Tesdall said. “We talk about what agriculture is like in other nations, different political systems, and reality of life.”

The group’s schedule was full of field trips, tours and group discussions.

“We have gone to seed industries like Monsanto and Syngenta, and we went to the Hy-Vee distribution center, which is a part of the ‘farm to table’ process that we don’t normally see,” Tesdall said.

The students also took a trip with the ISU outdoor recreation program and went on a few industry tours in Kansas where they were able to attend a county fair and taste some local barbecue. They also toured a conventional Iowa farm in Prairie City to learn more about corn and soybean cultivation.

“I think most people don’t realize that Iowa farmers are open to new ideas,” Tesdall said. “I heard a lot of people talking about that. That was a really valuable experience for them to see that Iowa farmers are really progressive.”

The group had several sessions in between its various field trips where it voted on the club’s constitutional amendments and decided its yearly goals. During meetings in the Memorial Union’s Sun Room, a vast array of accents and languages could be heard, including Chilean and Swiss.

“It was really important to have this professional conference in a culture that’s different from other cultures around the world,” Tesdall said. “People are really enjoying seeing what’s true and not true about their stereotypes, which is true in every country that we travel to.”

Hai Le Van, a graduate student in agricultural sciences from the University of Melbourne in Australia, was impressed by Iowa’s corn production and the “tidiness” of the state’s landscape. But perhaps more importantly, he said he was impressed with its people.

“It is my first time in the United States, and I was nervous at first to get a visa and get into the country,” Le Van said. But he was welcomed immediately. “We can see all kinds of people here, like LGBT, are treated in the same way. Here people treat each other in a good way.”

This is the first time he had seen so many cultures and countries represented at a single event, Le Van said, and although the World Congress is completely operated by students, it’s run in a very professional way.

“We can see their enthusiasm,” Le Van said. He said he hopes to someday start his own chapter of the club – both at the University of Melbourne and in his home country of Vietnam.

For Ekaterina Muravleva, a 24-year-old student at Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia, said the World Congress has been an excellent lesson in international communication.

“We don’t live just in our country,” Muravleva said. “We have to communicate with other countries also.”

Muravleva, who studies electrification and automization of agriculture, hopes to be an engineer at an international agricultural company. Traveling the world with the club not only looks good on a resume, she said, but meeting others with a passion for agriculture will also be very valuable in her future career.

“We are able to meet and keep in touch, and in the future I can send them mail,” Muravleva said. “I want to keep in touch with all 40 people. I have so many more friends.”

The next World Congress will be a traveling conference, with sessions in Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands. But Tesdall, and the rest of Iowa State’s club members, are grateful to have had the opportunity to host the event here in the Midwest.

“It’s so rewarding to have these people experiencing Iowa,” Tesdall said. “People were really impressed by how beautiful Iowa State is, and it’s really fun to see Iowa through their eyes.”