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Abbie Cox ’21 is majoring in animal science, with a focus on dairy science. During winter break, she participated in an international study trip that traveled to China to learn more about the international dairy industry. Here, she shares some of her reflections from her time there.

Growth is only possible by leaving your comfort zone. I am currently looking out at calf hutches, free-stall barns and feed bunks. Not an unusual sight for a student pursuing a degree with a focus in dairy science — except we are in Tianjin, China, with the Cornell University Dairy Science Club (CUDS). 

Today we had the opportunity to visit two dairy farms. Both were very different in terms of facilities, size and ownership, but both united in their love of dairy, commitment to animal care and appreciation for feeding their respective population. I thought about a time three years ago when I had stood in a similar space in Madison, WI, during the Junior Dairy Leader program, also run through CALS.

I turned to my friend who had been on the same trip and asked, “Did you ever think we’d end up here?”

Here, in China. Here, working with students from the Chinese Agriculture University (CAU) to continue a partnership that is largely unknown in the Cornell community. Here, about to embark on a terrifying adventure. 

This trip has been one for the books. We began our journey by spending close to two days on buses and planes. The journey was long, but the experience has been invaluable. Exhausted, we all trudged through the airport, eagerly awaiting the beds in our hotel. Despite our exhaustion, we were greeted with a group of smiling faces and a sign that read “Welcome Cornell Dairy Fellows!” The hospitality and partnership that we already felt with the CAU students was incredible. 

The next day we learned about the vast history of CAU and were separated into our teams, with which we’d be working with for the remainder of the trip. Song Jing, one of my teammates, introduced us to her favorite dumplings in her favorite dining hall, and through this partnership, we began to understand just how much we had yet to learn about this country, this culture and their interactions with agriculture. 

Over the next several days we took more bus rides to visit dairy farms and processing plants, and we experienced  more new food and new places. We worked together with students who spoke a different language than we did to create a single, cohesive presentation. We combined disciplines that spanned all areas of agriculture in order to compete and improve each other’s skills and understandings of the Chinese dairy industry. 

Going into this trip, I was terrified. My friends and I would collectively fret over whether or not we’d like the food, how to use chopsticks, and would this experience be what everyone said it would be. But through every step of the way, the students at CAU have taken time out of their class schedules and put exams to the side in order to put us at ease, to teach us about the things they’re passionate about, and to show us a world that we would’ve never experienced had we stayed home. 

I can say now after completing the Dairy Opportunity & Challenge put on by CAU that I’ve formed partnerships and gained understanding that I never would’ve found had I stayed in my comfort zone.

I have presented an analysis of a Chinese dairy farm hand-in-hand with two CAU students in front of industry representatives from both the USA and China in an enthralling demonstration of unity between two very different nations. I have immersed myself in a culture entirely different from my own, through CUDS and through CALS, where the opportunities for growth are endless.

Three years ago most of us never thought we’d be looking out the viewing window of a dairy farm in China, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’ve never been happier to step outside of my comfort zone. 

Learn more about these international study trips, which have been offered by the Department of Animal Science for 25 years.

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