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Student Perspectives: Suzanne O’Connell and Aaron Fox

Ph.D. students Suzanne O’Connell and Aaron Fox immersed themselves in Croatian agriculture, cuisine and culture as they explored study abroad options with the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Agriculture.

SUZANNE O’CONNELL: Whenever you go somewhere different you are going to learn new things, and Croatia was just a really great opportunity, because we got to learn academic- and research-related topics but then there was also this cultural historical all these different things social movements going on that we were exposed to.

My name is Suzanne O’Connell. I am pursuing my Ph.D. in horticultural and soil science.

AARON FOX: I am Aaron Fox. I am working on my Ph.D. in crop science, minoring in entomology.

Croatia is in southeastern Europe … what was formerly known as Yugoslavia. A relatively small country, about the size of West Virginia.

SUZANNE: We went to Croatia because there was a fledgling program that had been established with this university in Croatia. So we went to the University of Zagreb. They call it their Faculty of Agriculture, which is their College of Agriculture. And they were looking for graduate students to go participate in a month-long exchange to get familiar with their facilities, meet some of their staff, learn about some of their programs, and think about whether it would be a good idea for the university to pursue more formal graduate and undergraduate student programs in the future.

AARON: We were able to get a good idea of how students from N.C. State could fit into the programs that already exist there as well as the possibility of developing new programs for N.C. State students.

SUZANNE: So in Croatia they have three primary regions. One of them is the Mediterranean coast, where they produce a lot of kind of unique crops that we don’t produce here, like olives, a lot of grapes for both eating and making wine, citrus, figs, all kinds of wonderful fruits and medicinal herbs. Then the middle portion of the country near the capital city is more mountainous, and they have a lot of very small farms that have diversified vegetables, fruits as well as animal production. And then the eastern part is called the Pannonian Plain area, and they really have the most fertile, rich soil, and they are producing lots of agronomic crops as well as animals (and) horticultural crops.

It’s interesting, as you travel across the country not only are they growing different things, but they are eating different things. And the climate changes considerably, even though it’s a small country.

One of the really unique things about Croatian agriculture, and this is an artifact of some of their recent history, is that they have a few very large-scale operations, and then the majority are very small scale – between four and six acres. And there’s not a lot in between. And one of the questions is, what’s going to happen in the future? What’s competitive? How are the markets going to change? How are their traditions going to be affected?

AARON: When I talk about Croatia and my experience there, the thing that I end up talking about the most is really the people and how wonderful they were to both me and to Suzi, not only just with hospitality and making sure that we were comfortable, but really spending time with us, talking with us, discussing their culture and their history and their agricultural projects. We really felt very welcomed.

SUZANNE: I hope I get to go back, and I hope everyone gets to visit. It was a dream.

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  1. Hi Aaron, Your Grandmother Mrs. Clara would be so very proud of you. She talked about you often, as well as all of her other grandchildren. Glad to hear that you had the opportunity for this adventure in your life of education.