The journey to Europe did not start July 16th 2016. It didn’t begin with Yu, Nazia and I visiting Chicago. It didn’t start with Nicole’s email requesting for our spring classes schedule on March 1. Neither did it start with Sally’s pre-departure presentation. For me, it began long before the commencement of the Spring semester. It started with a conversation I had in the Fall of 2015 with a former economics grad student Moses – a member of the SDSU IFAMA 2014 team who went to South Africa. In the chat, Moses gave me a detailed account of their fun-filled trip and encouraged me to join the team in 2016. My research revealed IFAMA 2016 was going to be in Denmark and this whet my interest as I yearned for a taste of the IFAMA experience. In this article, I will endeavor to share with you a detailed account of my experience. And to say the trip was great will be an understatement. It was AWESOME!! Join me as I relive and share my IFAMA experience!
I knew the trip was slated for the summer 2016 so I waited for an official announcement of the event from faculty. This didn’t happen until an email calling for participants popped up. I applied to be a part of the team late fall.
On March 1 2016, Nichole sent another email asking for our spring class schedule and to set up a time for a class meeting. At this point, preparations were underway. After a series of pre-trip meetings, mock case presentations and Sally’s pre-departure presentation, it was almost time for a trip of a life-time. However, for three members of the group who are international students, extra paperwork was required to give us clearance to Denmark. I must hasten to add that Evert was instrumental in ensuring this was done in a timely manner. To obtain our visa’s to Denmark, all three of us had to visit the Chicago office of the Danish Consulate. Yu Chen was there first. Nazia and I followed a few days after and went through an ordeal with Grayhound bus. Delays and layovers were hectic but gave as an opportunity to explore other cities. Final travel documents delayed our visa process but thankfully to God we received our passport with our visa’s just in time to make the trip. Up until this moment, we had doubts about the trip.
Nazia was first to break news of her visa receipt (insert picture). Yu and I received ours’ a day after. At this point I knew we were going to Europe finally!!!
We left Brookings south Dakota at 9am for Minneapolis in a red van. (excited? Yes I was!). We had lunch at 11am in Minnesota and drove for about 2 hours to the St. Paul’s Airport in Minneapolis. Since we arrive at the airport at 2pm and our flight to New York JFK airport didn’t leave until 5:35pm we had enough time to relax and dehydrate.
It’s 4pm and boarding starts in about 30mins. The flight tickets personnel called out “passengers Nazia Azim and Evert Van der Sluis, please approach the check-in counter”. Evert had no issues but Nazia did! They required from her some additional clearance document. This scared me, so I followed her to another Delta kiosk C to get the issues sorted out. We were asked to
go to another delta kiosk at area F to get the issue rectified. Evert opted to go along with Nazia. so I stayed with the group. I became extremely scared when the attendant told us we needed at most 3mins to board else the flight doors will be closed. At this point, every member of the team was aboard except for myself, Yu Chen, Nikole and Tim as we waited anxiously for Evert and Nazia. I thought to myself, “this can’t be happening not after everything we had been through”. As I pondered anxiously, the two finally showed up and hweeewww!! We could heave a sigh of relief. Nazia document left some of us a bit worried but was sorted out. “Anytime you travel internationally, there’s always going to some of these problems”, Evert said Lol
Flight was delayed for 10mins. The flight from Minneapolis St. Paul’s airport to JFK lasted 4hours approx.
We got to JFK New York at 9:03pm. After visiting the bathroom and grabbing bites to eat, we got on board the Delta airbus to Copenhagen at about 9:20pm. This was a 7 hour 27mins long flight. While aboard, we snoozed off most of the time except for the intermittent meals and small in-flight distractions. Others chose to watch in-flight movies. I soaked the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton for the most part of the flight and did read as well. I said a quite prayer, took a selfie with the group on the flight and said to myself, “Denmark, here we come”
Day 1 Friday June 17
The flight to Copenhagen arrived at 12:26pm. Evert after making sure that all member of advised that we obtained some Danish currency and went on to purchase our train tickets. I converted $60 to 500DKK thinking that was enough but it wasn’t. We boarded the train at 1:40pm to the Danish Agriculture cluster center where we had a scheduled meeting with Mr. Jan Laureant-The director at the council. We left for our hostel at about 3:40pm. A 15 mins drive to Flemingen Alle where Dan Hostels was located was quite interesting. Checked in at the hostel at 5pm. The ladies and Nicole shared a one room, boys shared one and Evert and Tim also shared one room.
We later had dinner at the central business district in Copenhagen about 7:30pm and hanged out with the boys till about 11pm. This was the end of Day 1 of our Europe Trip
Day 2 Saturday June 18
Woke up at 6am took baths getting ready for breakfast at 7am. We packed our bags, toured the city of Copenhagen for about an hour or two. I enjoyed the boat rides, saw Hans Christian Anderson’s house, little Mermaid and Copenhagen Cliff Diving competition. These were fun to see. We took a train from Copenhagen to Aarhus. The journey was about 4 hours. We arrived at Aarhus at about 8pm and we checked in at the Cabinn Hotel. Preparations were now underway to the IFAMA case study completion the next day.
Day 3 Sunday June 19
All participants of the IFAMA case study competition were geared up for the event. We arrived late at competition briefing as we got lost trying to locate the particular building at the VIA university. After receiving all the materials needed, the cases were handed to all the teams. South Dakota State presented 3 teams unfortunately none made it out of their categories to the finals. This made some group members unhappy. But hey! Ce la vie. Win some and lose some!
We also sat in some of the professional presentations by several speakers at different parallel sessions
Day 4 Monday June 20
This was day 2 of the IFAMA conference and the venue was at the Radisson Blu Hotel. The general session and session V of the parallel symposium were slated to take place. The general session and keynote discussion on “How can Europe contribute to Food security by 2050” was of particular interest to me. Before this was a keynote roundtable on Sustainable Water, Nitrogen and Energy use in Agriculture. This session had Margrette Jonknam-Corporate R&D director for Friesland Netherland, Marcus Frank-BASF crop protection Germany, John Hollick-President, Conserval Engineering Canada were the discussants and moderated by IFAMA CEO Francesco Braga-University of Guelph, Canada.
As mentioned early on, the general session and keynote discussion on how Europe can contribute to food security attracted lots of attention and questions. The discussants for this session included Phil Hogan-the European Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development. In his keynote address, commissioner mentioned that, “As the world population increases, there is the need to produce more food and good food” and that research and innovation was key to food security. To him “farming and agribusiness goes beyond providing food and feeding the world”. “An agriculture system that is built for the future cannot be built overnight”, he admitted. Brexit and its effect on agriculture policy in Europe were amongst numerous questions discussants dealt with.
The highlight of the night was the Dinner with the local Danish families after the Student case study finals. Kylie and I were in the same assigned to the same family. Marcus- a middle aged sea man- drove us to his home were his wife -Pia, step daughter- Sarah and her boyfriend-Martin waited for our arrival. We were treated to Greek and Danish food, drinks and very highly intellectual discussions on foreign policies, Donald Trump and China . The family were awesome.
Day 5 Tuesday June 21
Departure from the Cabinn Hotel was at 5:30am- yes it was that early. The hotel attendants packaged our breakfast with the graceful charm of Tim after Evert’s request was denied. We were on board the train again, this time to Bremen in Germany. However, we went through, Flensburg and Hamburg. After a five-hour journey, we arrived in Bremen. We visited the oldest coffee roaster in Germany. Munchhaulen Kaffee is a third generation family coffee shop and has operated in Bremen since 1935. We saw and tasted the different types of coffee and listened to a presentation on the origins of those different beans.
One thing I learnt was that the sweet aroma of the coffee bean develops at different stages of roasting. Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia are the top three coffee exporters. (Yes! for all my coffee lovers you now know). The historical elegance of city of Bremen could never be missed. Bremen had so much history to share dated back to the 16th Century. An interesting guide gave us tour of city –visiting the chocolate shops and historic places. I watched the Euro2016 game between Spain and Croatia later that night at the hotel.
Day 6 Wednesday June 22
We visited Krone, an agriculture tractor Manufacturer in Spelle on the Germany border with Netherlands and later Emsflower in Netherlands, the largest greenhouse and flower producer in the world. Emsflower is owned by Bernie koenel and a fascinating thing about this green house was that flower seedlings were planted and transported by highly automated machines. Isn’t that Cool?. Dinner at Emsflower was awesome and our tour guide Hemmerman was exceptional.
A visit to 3N bio energy renewal center was an eye-opener to me. Especially, the approach employed by 3N ensuring environmental sustainability and the challenges involved.
Ethan, myself, Evert and Yu walked back to the hotel. We had an African dinner at the African Sky Hotel which included crocodile and ostrich meats.
Day 7 Thursday June 23
We checked out of the African Skye Hotel at 7am. On our way to Netherland we stopped at Aurich for a guided tour at Enercon, a wind mill manufacturing company. In my opinion, the Enercon tour was the longest and most exhausting tour. In Groningen, we were privileged to have a walking tour of the city with Evert’s sister and brother-in-law. We departed from Groningen at 6pm for Schiphol Airport from where we boarded a bus to Aalsmeer . Yu and I had very interesting conversation with different people on the train. Eric Clark was left behind and joined the group an hour late form Groningen. At Aalsmeer, the group visited a grocery shop to grab a bite to eat. Eric and I went to and Italian restaurant. Gina Floridia and Bob served us and made our night.
Day 8 Friday June 24
We visited a flower auction in Holland. FloraHolland is the largest flower auction in Europe. The experience was amazing. It was nothing I had seen before. The presentation by Urban Greeners entrepreneur Koen at the Floride 2022 venue was quite revealing. The horticulture industry has a lot to offer in my opinion. And oh the Boat house was nice. Later that night, we all went to Amsterdam and after a little tour of the city and had dinner. After dinner, the group split up with the boys going one way and the rest the other.
Day 9 Saturday June 25.
An early walk with Nicole, Maggie and Tracy to Anne Frank’s house was fun. We were asked to come back later at 5pm. We then decided to take a boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam.
The Rijks Museum was our next stop. Right at the entrance were a group of street musician playing to the delight of passersby. Indeed, the harmonious tune of Pachelbel’s canon could not be ignored. I was fascinated particular because I thought the group played so well. The Canon was stuck in my head all day. At the Rijks Museum were outstanding collections of art from the 1700 century. We met Evert and Tim at the museum and had lunch together at a Greek restaurant. We later went down to the Anne Frank house. The experience was overwhelming!
Later that night, members of the group went their separate ways to see the night life to the city Amsterdam. The Red light district and coffee shops were the highlights. Not to indulge but to have a sense of why those places attract a lot of people.
Day 10 Sunday June 26
We checked out of the hotel early. Evert, Kylie and Nichole went to the catholic church in Amsterdam and joined us at the Schiphol Airport later at about 11am. Evert went to visit his family for 3 more days. Eric Clark also stayed in Europe for 3 more days. The rest of the group checked in at the airport at about noon. By 1:30 pm we were on flight back to Minneapolis, US.
This was the summer vacation I so needed. A memorable and one-of-a life-time trip. A big thanks to the SDSU economics department and the faculty – Evert, Nicole and Tim- who made sure the trip was successful.
See you on the other side.