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Beck, Hennings experience immersive trip to Kosovo

October 12, 2018
CJ Eilers - Editor ( , Dysart Reporter

Karson Hennings of Dysart and Dysart-La Porte FFA Instructor Louis Beck recently returned from an educational trip to Kosovo from September 22-28, learning more about the small European country and its agriculture firsthand.

The trip was part of Hawkeye Community College's international program aimed at developing a relationship with the relatively new country as it struggles to establish an agriculture economy. Beck and Hennings were selected along with four other FFA students and four FFA advisors to take the trip to Kosovo and tour farms and communities with the goal of "advocating for agriculture and to get kids excited about ag studies at their technical schools." Hennings-a senior at Union, the President of the Dysart-La Porte FFA Chapter and a District Officer for the NE Iowa FFA Association-had recently done a paper on the country and had learned quite a bit about Kosovo, which proved invaluable in securing himself and Beck on the trip.

"I feel it was an amazing experience and I'm really glad I took the oppurtunity to go to Kosovo even though I was a bit nervous at first," Hennings said. "I learned so much through traveling there. It didn't really hit me until we got there because we were flying at night. Flying for the first time was a cool experience."

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Upon arriving in Kosovo, Hennings took note of the different landscape the small Eastern European country provided. The capital city of Pristina is heavily populated where they first landed to and in contrast the city of Peja was located in a mountainous valley.

"The first few days, our group toured around Pristina and went out to different types of farms, including an apple farm," Hennings said. "We talked with the farmer about how many apples he grows and the methods he used. He showed us the irrigation system he uses for the tree. We also toured a farm with greenhouses that grew peppers and cucumbers."

"The thing over there is they don't have huge areas to grow, so farmers have to make do with little patches to raise grain or high-dollar fruits and vegetables," Beck added.

Hennings then spent time with his host family in Peja, a town of approximately 49,000, and experience Kosovo living, food and culture. The family took him to more farms around the area, including a dairy farm and a plum operation. He also got to see the nearby mountains with his host family before joining up again with his fellow FFA members to discuss their experience near the end of the trip.

"We each talked about our experiences, going over differences and similarities," Hennings said. "It was cool to eat traditional Kosovo food. One of the things they have over there is a drinking yogurt instead of drinking milk. They have some that are really salty and then a sweeter type I liked."

Beck had a different experience than his student, living with his host family that included a fellow teacher at an agricultural technical school as a food science teacher. He would sit in on their lab classes to learn more about teaching methods and how students are educated. One lab included chopping up apples to make apple cider and juice."

"My expectations were to see how they learned and how their schools worked to learn something from them," Beck said. "I was surprised about their school system and how different it is. At a very early age, students need to make a decision to go to college prep or go into a technical school. We were visiting a technical school for ag, but it seemed to me a lot of kids hadn't put a lot of thought into this choice. I didn't feel they were enthused about agriculture like my students are. I hope one of the results in this is they get excited about being in agriculture."

Beck saw how his family lived and where they bought their food, making it "more real" for him in Kosovo. He noted how lack of land, money, support from government and resources were reasons for a struggling ag economy and many students don't see it as a viable option as a career. Beck will continue corresponding with his host over the next months.

"I enjoyed being able to see a totally different country," Beck said. "We were their for a week, but it felt more like a month because we were immersed into their country. I made sure we ate their food while there, which was really interesting. I've never ate so many peppers because they have them for nearly every meal. Peppers, cabbage and vegetables are part of their diet and as a result they are very healthy people. "Kosovo has a lot of work to do with agriculture, but they are trying. They've only been a country really for 10 years."

To wrap it up, the FFA students and advisors went around Pristina again to get souvenirs and experience what the city had to offer one more time before jumping on to a plane back home.

"For Karson, the best thing was to be immersed in their culture," Beck said. "The home stays were a vital part of this program. He stayed in their house, ate their food, did their activities. Language was a barrier as most adults speak Albanian, which is rare language. Fortunately, their young people start taking English in fourth grade. They listen to a lot of American music and watch a lot of American movies with Albanian subtitles. As a result, my own host family had two children that spoke good English and were my interpreters."

"I feel just learning to open myself up to new things, new experiences, that will be something that stick with me," Hennings said.

Hennings is currently considering joining the Marine Corps to help him decide on his future while attending a college to pursue an ag field.

"I'd tell anyone interested to take the oppurtunity because if there's anything I've learned in FFA and life in general, it's to get out of your comfort zone," Hennings said. "That's helped me to excel. Looking back, if I had decided not to go on this trip, I would have regretted it. People should get out there and experience new things."

As part of this program, Beck will host students from Kosovo in April for a similar experience as what Beck and Hennings had. Both plan to present more about their trip to FFA and social studies classes at Union over the course of the next few weeks. Several area groups are also interested in a presentation.

"This is a successful program because it made us more aware of what's going on with agriculture worldwide and there are countries like Kosovo who want help," Beck said. "We need to be there for them to develop a system and won't have to be dependent upon on charity or other economy. It's about helping them being self-sufficient in a shrinking world. It was a good experience and we were happy to have encouragement and funds from the community to help with our trip."



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