Students suggest ideas to study abroad in Croatia

Two graduate students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who visited the University of Zagreb in Croatia have developed ideas for study abroad programs that would introduce N.C. State University students to Croatian agriculture and culture.

Suzanne O’Connell, a doctoral student in horticulture and soil science, and Aaron Fox, a doctoral student in crop science and entomology, spent a month in Croatia last June. They visited the University of Zagreb, research stations and farms in different regions of the country.

One of their goals was to explore prospective opportunities for undergraduate and graduate-level study and research exchange programs. In early October, they presented their findings at a college seminar.

CALS has had a relationship with the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Agriculture – similar to a college at a U.S. university – since 2010. This past summer, two agriculture students from Croatia came to North Carolina for internships with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro.

Both O’Connell and Fox are completing their doctoral degrees and plan to graduate in the spring. Fox is looking for a teaching and research position at a university, while O’Connell is interested in a career that would combine interests in science and policy work. Both share an interest in sustainable agriculture.

Suzanne visiting cattle farm
O'Connell is shown visiting an animal and crop farm working with the University of Zagreb on an organic corn trial.

During the seminar, the two students shared information about Croatia as a country and their very positive experience there. The students described both the university and City of Zagreb as engaging and full of activity. University faculty, staff and students went out of their way to help both students learn about their agricultural research and teaching programs, as well as the country at large.

In addition to spending time at the main campus of the Faculty of Agriculture in Zagreb, O’Connell and Fox visited research stations around the country and a number of representative Croatian farms. Like N.C. State’s Agricultural Research Service stations, the University of Zagreb has research stations around the country that represent different growing regions – Mediterranean, continental and mountainous.

O’Connell and Fox said Croatia has a deep connection to food and farming. Farms there tend to be small – 4.5 to 6 acres. Agriculture accounts for 10 to 30 percent of Croatia’s employment, with the more generous estimates including the many small family farms, which are two thirds of the country’s farms. Major agricultural crops include corn, wheat, grapes, apples, potatoes, sugar beets, eggs and poultry.

The country still harbors scars – including land mines — from the war for independence in the 1990s. In July 2013, Croatia will become the 28th country in the European Union, a sign of progress and acceptance that pleases most Croatians.

For their study abroad proposal, O’Connell and Fox said that it would be possible for students to spend a semester – probably spring, due to comparable academic calendars – at the University of Zagreb. Many courses are taught in English to attract international students. Graduate student research and faculty exchanges are also possibilities.

A proposed three-week summer intensive undergraduate horticulture/crop science study program would begin in Zagreb, at the university. Students would spend a week there, visiting farmers’ markets, research stations, nearby farms, and cultural sites.

Next, the students would spend three days in eastern Croatia near Osijek, visiting agronomic research sites and agritourism attractions. Students would also spend some time here learning about the country’s war for independence.

Aaron with sausages
Aaron Fox is shown with sausages that are being cured the traditional way.

The following three days, students would visit the coastal region near Split and the Adriatic Islands to focus on Mediterranean crops including fruits, vegetables and vineyards. Croatia’s wine production has a long history, though the country’s vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera blight of the mid-19th century. Part of this regional tour would include a look at the historical epidemic that destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards and how the country is rebuilding the wine industry.

Finally, the group would spend three days in the Istrian peninsula bordering northern Italy, known as the “Tuscany of Croatia.” Ornamental production, wine, olive oil and marketing efforts would be the focus this region’s visits.

The tour would include travel days to get between regions and visits to two Croatian parks: Plitvice Lakes National Park and Kopački Rit National Park.

A group of Croatian faculty and students from Strossmayer University of Osijek, a partner institution of the University of Zagreb, who were visiting N.C. State also stopped by for the students’ seminar. The group was here on a one-week exchange to learn about N.C. State, visit Washington, D.C., and farms in the Piedmont and on the coast.

To read more about the experience, visit blogs that both students created for the trip.

Suzanne O’Connell’s blog:

Aaron Fox’s blog:

-N. Hampton

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