From the South Farms to the Netherlands


By Mara Shapiro

Mary Dickerson has always loved animals. This summer, however, she will combine this love with adventure while working for a dairy farm in the Netherlands.

Dickerson, sophomore in ACES, is the first and only University student to be accepted into the ACES in the Netherlands Summer Internship program. She will be abroad May 17 through August 21 with the company, Stichting Uitwisseling, which allows students from America, Africa, Canada and Australia to participate in dairy farm production. While she is there, she will stay with a local couple and their five small children in Oudewater, Netherlands.

“It’s a very hands-on program. It’s brand new, too. I’m trying to get involved with the different parts of Animal Sciences,” Dickerson said. “There’s research, wildlife, horses, and companion. This is research.”

Dickerson said she will be comparing the dairy farm industry in America with that of the Netherlands.

“I’m going to be milking a lot of cows,” she said.

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She also said that she will be looking for ways to improve the United States’s dairy farming system based off of her observations in the Netherlands.

The U.S. government is funding her trip, so Dickerson will be obtaining her work Visa prior to her leave. During her first month in Europe, she said she will be studying the company, learning about milking and operating equipment as well as disease testing. During her second month, Dickerson will be evaluating the herd of cattle.

“When you take care of animals, you’re supposed to catch the problem before there is a problem,” Dickerson said. “You should know if a cow is sick before it shows the signs.”

Dickerson said she will also study the hoof trimming process and cows’ feed intake.

“It’s a first-hand experience instead of a typical classroom experience,” Dickerson said.

In sixth grade, Dickerson said she started working at her local animal shelter and fell in love with the work.

“I really wanted a dog, which brought me to the animal shelter. I started volunteering after,” Dickerson explained. “A lot of the animals are sick, and I interned at the animal clinic. I also really loved chemistry in high school, and I did a program through the humane society.”

Because of her love for animals, majoring in animal sciences was the perfect match, Dickerson said. In addition to classes, she works in the Swine Lab in the Animal Sciences Laboratory under Animal Sciences professor, Dr. Hans Stein. Dickerson also loves to travel, which is why she applied to study abroad.

Dickerson said when she walked into the office of Meredith Blumthal, the director of ACES Education Abroad office, last December, she had no idea what her study abroad plans would be. Then the Netherlands program popped up.

Blumthal explained that Stichting Uitwisseling, also known as the Agency for Agricultural Exchange, has 65 years of experience in placing and training students in agricultural and horticultural companies in the Netherlands.

Blumthal thinks that studying abroad will enrich University students.

“Study abroad allows students to learn to appreciate things at home that they may have taken for granted and develop a greater sensitivity to and interest in international matters,” Blumthal wrote in an email. “Students can improve language skills, cross cultural understanding, and the ability to adapt to change. It pushes people outside their comfort zones and can often be a time of growth and challenge for students.”

Helping Dickerson along with her study abroad internship is Dr. Walter Hurley, professor emeritus of animal sciences. In order to get academic credit for her internship, Dickerson signed up for Animal Sciences 398, Experiential Learning, and got Hurley as her faculty advisor. Hurley said that he has overseen many study abroad students, mostly over the summer, but Dickerson is a special case.

“She’s a pioneer from our campus. We’re excited to see what she learns and what value she gets from it and if we should recommend it to our future students,” Hurley said.

Although Dickerson said she is excited and nervous about the upcoming experience, she is still undecided with what career path she will follow. While she loves companion animals and is considering becoming a veterinarian, she said is also contemplating research or studying wildlife. Though she does not normally work with farm animals, she is eager to go on her internship. Plus, they provide her with a bike, she said, which is great for an environmentalist such as herself.

“I don’t know many people who get to go on a study abroad internship,” Dickerson said. I’m a people and an animal person, and I get to work with both. I will get to learn stuff that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn back at home.”

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