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Mark Sullivan
This is an experience I could never have had in a classroom, and especially not without taking the leap to travel to another country and immerse myself in another way of life.

Profile: Mark Sullivan

Undergraduate Student

Growing up on a farm, Mark Sullivan always knew he wanted a career in agriculture. As he considered his options at the University of Illinois, he realized that agricultural and consumer economics would provide both career flexibility and a multitude of campus opportunities. One opportunity he took advantage of was studying abroad in New Zealand.

“My study abroad experience had three parts,” Mark says. “The first was a fall class, while I was still on campus, on horticulture exports. The spring course included a two-week trip to New Zealand, touring production, processing, and shipping facilities across the country. I then split from my class and moved in with a family on a dairy farm. I lived and worked there for a month while also travelling around to explore other farm operations. Finally, I took a full semester of classes at Lincoln University in New Zealand, along with traveling and meeting new people.”

In the two weeks with U of I classmates, the group visited agricultural operations producing cherries, potatoes, kiwis, and more. They also got to meet with New Zealand government officials to learn about issues facing the country’s agriculture industry. Then Mark moved on to meet his host family.

“After a few days of getting adjusted, I started doing odd jobs around the farm—some tractor work, helping move cows, getting to know the irrigation system. Before you knew it I felt like I was home,” Mark says. “My host parents lined up opportunities for me to work with a variety of other farmers, so I helped with a wheat harvest on a hill-country farm surrounded by sheep, cattle, and deer, then ran a catch cart for rye grass harvest on a cropping farm.”

Although Mark thoroughly enjoyed all the farming tasks, his favorite experiences were at the dinner table, learning about the New Zealand culture and listening to stories. Then during his semester at Lincoln University, he ended up buying a car to travel the country with some of his new friends.

“We travelled some of the windiest, scariest, coolest roads I have ever been on,” Mark says, “and saw some of the most beautiful sites I could ever imagine, including locations for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. On top of our independent travels we took class field trips to see dairy and beef farming, forestry, orchards, and so on. The agriculture of New Zealand gave me a connection to home.”

Mark was impressed by the way of life of New Zealand farmers and by the country’s widespread respect for agriculture. Farmers work to keep their farms not only productive and profitable, but also sustainable, clean, and beneficial to their neighbors. For example, farmers give up pastures and water access for animals to put grass strips along rivers and creek beds, keeping the water cleaner.

“Although New Zealand may have a thing or two to learn from America about internet access and cell phone coverage, I think we have just as much to learn from them,” Mark says. “These six months have given me the opportunity to sit back and take an outside view of what is possible in farming—not just technology and bigger equipment, but using old ideas combined with the new to maximize what we have at our disposal. This is an experience I could never have had in a classroom, and especially not without taking the leap to travel to another country and immerse myself in another way of life.”