Studying abroad helps students grow, learn and prepare to work in a global economy. To increase participation, Purdue now offers qualified undergraduates up to $5,000 for a semester or academic year program — and nearly 29 percent of Purdue students studied abroad in 2018. In the College of Agriculture, 40 percent of students participate in over 400 programs abroad — but that wasn’t always the case. Alumnus Christian MacKinnon and senior Patrisha Hartley share how study abroad has shaped their lives. By Emily Toner
CHRISTIAN MACKINNON BA '96 AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION
BA '96 AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION
Christian MacKinnon grew up in the Cold War era, but the Iron Curtain fell while he was a teenager, and he enrolled in the College of Agriculture soon after. MacKinnon envisioned himself traveling as a college student and thought he might wander the well-traveled roads in western Europe, to cities like Paris and London. However, the intrigue of seeing a former Soviet state drew him to an opportunity to spend summer 1993 at the National Agricultural University in Ukraine. His study abroad experience allowed him to visit farms still managed with communist principles. He sat next to a wheat farmer driving a combine and chatted about how Soviet politics had impacted agricultural yields.
In the early ’90s, it was rare for College of Agriculture students to incorporate international travel into their studies. Traveling abroad connected MacKinnon to his fellow undergraduate students. “You were like a unicorn. You’d meet someone else at a party who had traveled and it was almost like you and that person were alone in the room,” he says.
He’s glad he took the road less traveled and says it changed his perspective in ways foundational to who he is today. “I gravitate toward jobs that allow me to travel,” MacKinnon says. “I’ve visited close to 40 countries and every populated continent.”
He and his family have even lived abroad, spending four years in Mexico and six months in Costa Rica. MacKinnon and his wife are raising their five children to travel early and often, opening their minds to the diverse ways of thinking that MacKinnon learned to prioritize after studying abroad.
“You learn that there are other perspectives — other ideas and other ways of living.”
PATRISHA HARTLEY CLASS OF '20 ANIMAL SCIENCES
CLASS OF '20 ANIMAL SCIENCES
When Patrisha Hartley enrolled in the College of Agriculture, studying abroad wasn’t on her to-do list. She had no idea that over the next four years she would travel to three continents, where she would refurbish a classroom in one of Colombia’s oldest villages, work on a silk farm in Laos and study aquaculture in the Netherlands.
It all began to unfold when her freshman roommate invited her to join a spring break service-learning trip. That one-week trip to Colombia opened Hartley’s mind to the possibilities of other study abroad experiences. Her next stop was a two-week program in Laos at a silk farm that provides key jobs for women in the local economy. Hartley helped with silk production from harvesting mulberry leaves to feeding silkworms to dyeing the delicate fabric. A scarf from the farm hangs on her wall in West Lafayette.
Ready for more exploration, Hartley spent a full semester abroad in the Netherlands at Wageningen University & Research. In her courses there, she noticed a strong focus on environmental sustainability. “It made me more environmentally conscious and self-aware of impacts I can influence in agriculture,” Hartley says. “I love to talk in my Purdue classes about what I learned about sustainability in the Netherlands.”
Now a senior, Hartley is proud to serve as an International Ag Ambassador for the college. She helps other Purdue students understand how and why to incorporate studying abroad into their own degree programs.
“There would be quite a bit missing from my Purdue experience without study abroad,” Hartley says. “I met the majority of my friends through study abroad; it’s a great way to make close connections outside the classroom.”
“Friendship is one of the main things I’ve gained from studying abroad.”
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