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Guest Opinions

Diary of an IFYE Dairy Girl

Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster member Rachel Martin just returned from her two month International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) to the U.S. The trip saw the Northern Irish farmer’s daughter leave Belfast on June 8 and return on Aug. 9, traveling through a total of 12 states in a bid to learn about agriculture and culture in North America.

“I was supposed to meet my first host the next day.  Sure, I had seen her photograph, but there was still something daunting about the thought of meeting a stranger at a train station 6,000 miles from home to go and live with them for three weeks.  The train was running late, and I was worried about whether my host would even be there. Besides, what if they were mean or creepy?  Counter to my worries Josie, my first host, turned out to be very friendly and welcoming.  After all, she had volunteered to look after an international delegate and show them a little about her life and her work with 4-H in her county.”

During my trip, I met and stayed with several families, learning about life on their farms and ranches. By staying with locals, I quickly learned a lot about the U.S., and not just the difference between chips, fries and crisps or the difficulties in ordering “proper tea” as opposed to iced tea. But thanks to the in-depth learning experience provided by the exchange, I learned about family life, social faux pas, rocky mountain oysters and much more than a standard tourist could ever have discovered!

During my trip I have seen first-hand many of the agricultural challenges faced in the western states.  In Northern Montana, I helped put out a hay field fire and just a few days later watched as hail tore up a year’s worth of hard work.  Unfortunately for the family, this was just part of farming in that area and something they had to be prepared for. It made me reflect a lot on the challenges farmers face at home, and while my friends at home often grumble about the “bad weather” and seemingly endless rain, I soon discovered that as food producers, our climate in Northern Ireland really isn’t the worst.

One of the most adrenaline-inducing experiences of the trip was helping the Smith family to herd cattle across McCartney Mountain in southwest Montana.  As a girl who was never allowed a pony when she was younger because they “tramp up the fields,” I found it interesting when many ranchers told me they find their horses to be more useful than their four wheelers. Whilst in southwest Montana I also drove machinery for a few days to haul bales to the stack yard and enjoyed the “work hard, play hard” mentality on the ranch.  Along with my host siblings Jacob and Elizabeth, I visited the Montana Folk Festival and got the drive-in movie experience – something I loved and wish we had at home!

As part of the program, I also met with 4-H children preparing their steers for the county fair, as well as another group of children who were practicing showing their sheep and pigs.  I also was lucky enough to visit the State Fair in Great Falls and to go to different types of rodeos, as well as seeing attractions such as Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Virginia City, Crystal Park and Glacier National Park.

My trip started in New York where I spent a few days doing all the super touristy stuff before I jumped on a train and travelled to IFYE Orientation in Bloomington, Ill. to meet with other international delegates before I went on to stay with families for the rest of the trip.  I would like to thank all my host families, IFYE, 4-H and YFCU for facilitating the exchange and making it such a success.

The IFYE program is an in-depth learning experience in which 4-H alumni and other young adults live with host families in other countries to increase global awareness, develop independent study interests and improve language skills. Programs vary from country to country, with some emphasizing an agricultural work experience, volunteering at an adult training centre or working with a local youth development program such as 4-H or YFCU.  

If you would like to read more about Rachel’s travels, check out her blog youngfarmerinthestates.wordpress.com.