Foreign journalists are more like me than they are different from me

Several weeks ago I was privileged to lead a group of international agricultural journalists on a tour of Central Texas. They were in the state for the annual Ag Media Summit, a conference we use to recharge our batteries, learn new skills and remind ourselves what wonderful jobs we have.

This year The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists held their annual meeting in conjunction with ours. As part of that meeting, we offered farm and ag industry tours across the state to show folks from other countries a little bit of how Texas farmers do things.

Our tour stopped at a small cotton gin, a cattle breeding facility, a farmer co-op, a winery, diversified farms, Texas A&M research facilities at College Station and Thrall, a large grocery store in Austin and a cattle ranch near Cameron. Earlier, we did a one-day tour to a horse farm, custom beef operation and a diversified farm just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

My Central Texas group included journalists from Finland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Belgium, and Canada, also two Texans and one Oregonian.

I speak no Finnish, Slovakian, French, or Dutch and struggle a bit with Canadian, aye. Most of our guests spoke English — enough to communicate. Most spoke at least two other languages: French, German, Swedish, and Russian. Most started learning English in elementary school. I felt ignorant. I know enough Spanish to order a beer and say thank you. Same with French, both of which I studied (?) in either high school or college.

The close proximity of many European countries requires multilingual education. English has become crucial for international business. Perhaps we should do more to include language and cultural studies into our education system. It couldn't hurt.

I was proud, however, to show off Texas agriculture, and I was especially proud of the hospitality, graciousness and patience of the various hosts who explained their businesses.

Farmers John Malazzo, down near College Station; Gerry Kasberg, Birome; Ed and Billy Carlson, near Taylor; and Bob Beakley, near Ennis, took time to explain the intricacies of cotton, grain and cattle farming to journalists who asked probing questions about tillage, fertility and government programs.

Research scientists and folks with various industries were equally gracious and equally patient with folks eager to learn about American agriculture.

I learned a lot from the international journalists, too. We spent most of three days together on a bus. We ate meals together and spent time exploring Austin's legendary 6th Street. We talked about politics, popular culture and about how similar our jobs are, whether we're working in Helsinki or Dallas.

We talked about families and what we do in our spare time. I discovered that several places in Europe might provide excellent opportunities to fish. I learned that their kids play soccer, ride horses and skate — a lot.

It gets cold in Finland and Slovakia; 20 below is not uncommon in the long winters. That's 20 below on the Celsius scale. A young woman from Canada said her area sometimes gets to 40 below, Celsius. Too cold for me!

We treated these international visitors to a typical Texas summer, 100-degree days and high humidity down near College Station. They took it in stride, much better than I would have fared at 20 below.

I asked a few about their return trips home — length of flight times, when they'd get back to their jobs and normal lives. One couple informed me that they had a nine-hour flight from DFW to Helsinki, arrival about 9 p.m., then a four-hour drive home.

I wondered why not book a hotel in Helsinki and drive home the next day? “No,” Leena Pakarinen told me. “We haven't seen our children for two weeks. We just want to get home.”

I'd have done the same thing. So I figure folks in Finland, Slovakia, Belgium, Holland, and Canada and I are a whole lot more alike than we are different — they're just able to tolerate cold weather.

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