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International experiences bring global perspective to AgEcon student’s work

Editor’s Note: This story was written when Halee Fisher was a junior and Laura Barrett was a senior. Fisher earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics: applied agricultural economics in 2023. Barrett earned her bachelor’s degrees in applied agricultural economics and agricultural communication in 2022.

Living in the middle of the Amazon rainforest for four days was one way Halee Fisher challenged herself to step outside her comfort zone as a freshman. The reality of riding a boat down the Amazon River, fishing for piranhas, hiking through the rainforest, and visiting an indigenous tribe overwhelmed her when she visited Peru as part of a Purdue-sponsored international experience.

“Once we got into it, it’s almost like you’re living in a dream,” recalled the junior in agricultural economics: applied agricultural economics major from Millersburg, Indiana. “I can literally tell people I lived in the rainforest for four days.”

Halee Fisher in front of the Purdue Memorial Union Halee Fisher loves the adrenaline rush she gets from traveling. The junior in agricultural economics: applied agricultural economics major from Millersburg, Indiana, says that traveling to countries like Peru force her to leave her comfort zone and grow. Photo by Brooke Lueking.

The dream-like feeling she had in Peru is something Fisher said she experiences every time she travels internationally. The adrenaline rush she gets as she leaves her comfort zone at home and immerses herself in new cultures continues to fuel her love for international agriculture. For Fisher, traveling internationally in college was no new experience; however, it continued to challenge her in unexpected ways.

Prior to her freshman year at Purdue, Fisher got a taste of international agriculture by living in Mexico for eight weeks as part of a prestigious and competitive internship program. At 18, she was fully immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture.

“I was on a plane by myself for the first time, and I did not know much Spanish,” she explained.

As soon as she arrived, Fisher realized that her two years of high-school Spanish had not prepared her to live and work in an environment where everyone spoke fluent Spanish.

“It was my first complete cultural immersion. No one really spoke English, and you just had to learn,” she said.

Initially overwhelmed by the huge language and cultural barriers, Fisher quickly adapted to her new environment. By the end of her internship, she overcame both barriers and said she made meaningful contributions to the socioeconomic research in which she participated. She also emerged from the experience fluent in Spanish.

After she returned to Indiana to start her freshman year of college, Fisher began to realize that she thrived in new environments where she challenges herself. Her time in Mexico sparked her interest in international agriculture and her passion for international development and food security.

Those interests drew her to a College of Agriculture study abroad trip to Peru over winter break that focused on food security and engagement. However, once Fisher got closer to leaving, she realized how different this opportunity would be. At the callout meeting, she learned she was the only freshman going on the trip.

“As a freshman, I came into that classroom so scared,” she explained.

Fisher said she was intimidated to be surrounded only by older upperclassmen. Along with being the youngest student on the trip, she was also nervous because she did not know anyone else going to Peru.

But Fisher’s passion for learning about international agriculture was deeper than her fear. She took a leap of faith and signed up for the experience. Little did she know, she would soon emerge from the trip with not only with a deeper love for international agriculture, but also a community.

Fisher said the most valuable souvenir she brought home from Peru was her new best friend (and now-roommate) Laura Barrett, a senior double-majoring in applied agricultural economics and agricultural communication from Rockford, Ohio.

“We didn’t talk to each other the whole class time,” Fisher explained about their relationship before leaving for Peru. “But we sat together on the bus, and we immediately clicked. We ended up being best friends and roommates ever since.”

The friends bonded over a love for travel. Fisher and Barrett’s traveling adventures did not end on the plane ride back from Peru.

“Now, we’re both kind of traveling buddies together, which is really cool,” Fisher said. “Originally, we were going to study abroad during the spring semester of last year. We were supposed to study abroad in Austria together, but unfortunately that couldn’t happen because of COVID.”

Fisher and Barrett did get the opportunity to travel together to Washington, D.C. They both had public policy internships that led them to live and work in the capital last summer. There, Fisher fell in love with the policy side of international agriculture.

As Fisher translates her passion into her future, she knows that her international experiences will be valuable in her career in international agricultural policy.

“When it comes to ag policy, I think it is so important to have first-hand experience,” she said.

Fisher explained that she hopes to gain as much of a global perspective as possible in college to prepare for her future. Traveling to different parts of the world and experiencing it for herself will help her make policy decisions that are culturally appropriate and in-line with what the people who live in the countries actually desire. Fisher feels that her study abroad experience has deepened her love for international agriculture while challenging herself along the way.

“When they were like, ‘You’re going to Washington, D.C.,’ I was like, ‘Oh, I can do that! I lived in the Amazon rainforest and Mexico,’” she said. “Study abroad prepares you to be adaptable and always on your feet,” she said.

Fisher plans to expand her experience by finally studying in Austria next fall. She hopes to continue to grow her love for international agriculture through her future opportunities to travel and immerse herself in different cultures.

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