University of Idaho Students Experience Taiwan Agriculture and Japan's Airport
Written by Bill Loftus
For Doug Kippes, Japan's reality hit as the group walked down a street in Narita near Tokyo, and he leaned against a building to look into a window. "That building actually pushed me back. It was kind of shocking but I didn't feel like my life was in danger."
The airliner carrying four University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences students and two professors was on approach to land at Narita Airport on the afternoon of March 11. The pilot changed course and announced that a large earthquake would require a change in plans.
From that moment the travel plans for the short-term study trip to Taiwan's National Chaiyi University and a week-long study of agricultural systems there got complicated. Quickly.
Still, as the group met as a class for the first time after arriving home March 21, it was the time in Taiwan and the hospitality of National Chiayi University there that dominated the conversation and the memories.
The two professors, horticulturist Bob Tripepi of Moscow and fish geneticist Matt Powell of Hagerman, had visited Taiwan five and four times before respectively. Their experience in international travel and calm approaches helped the students cope with the uncertainty, said Doug Kippes, a junior from Buhl studying biological and agricultural engineering.
"The students got a semester's worth of experience during those 10 days," Powell said.
Shea Nesbitt, an agricultural education student, said the delays provided an unexpected chance to witness Japanese culture and to compare it with Taiwan. "I think people here were more worried about us than we were," she said.
After a night at the Sapporo airport and two additional days in Narita, a suburb of Tokyo, the group completed its scheduled week-long tour of Taiwan agriculture and returned home through Seoul, Korea.
"The time in Taiwan gave us a chance to see a different agricultural system, which I expected," Kippes said. "One of the things I didn't expect was the experience of being in Taipei and seeing so many people in such a small area. It started me thinking about the future and about how agriculture will have to adapt to feed everyone as the world's population grows."
For Sarah McAdams, a junior studying agricultural education, the trip led to two insights on personal level. "I went there liking Asian food and I grew to love it," she said. An illness during the trip also led her to appreciate Taiwan's health care system that provided excellent care, a bed in a clinic, a couple of medical tests and medication for a total bill of $60.
Tabitha Sonnen, a senior majoring in food and nutrition - dietetics option, found a mushroom soup she could love, too. She also proved herself a master of the art of haggling in the jade district of Taipei's night market.
National Chiayi University's President Ming-Jen Lee met with the group four times and hosted dinners twice during the six days on Taiwan. Sonnen said, "He was very gracious and seemed to enjoy the chance to talk about the good old days he spent in Moscow," where he earned his doctorate in forestry from the University of Idaho.
President Lee and National Chiayi University impressed her both for their focus on research and the opportunities it offers students, and also for the university's partnerships with industry. "I think we could learn a lot from what he's accomplished," Nesbitt said.
The World Vegetable Center, one of the stops on their tour of Taiwan's agricultural facilities, also impressed the Idaho students for its outstanding collection of tropical produce and its focus on improving harvests to help feed the world's population.
For Bob Tripepi, the professor of horticulture on his fifth trip, and his third with students, to Taiwan, their reaction was no surprise. The center's array of plants still surprises him each time he visits.
Other popular stops included fish farms devoted to tilapia and eels. The students knew they weren't in Idaho anymore as they watched with fascination the feeding of a pond of writhing eels. And learned that the sale of one pond of the unfamiliar fish financed the purchase of the owner's upscale home, Powell said.
Robert Haggerty, the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences international programs director, said the cultural and the agricultural experiences the students gained during the most recent trip and the two preceding it are exactly the point.
"Our partnership with National Chiayi University allows us to help students gain experiences that transform the way they see and understand the world," Haggerty said.