UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a youngster growing up on a dairy farm in Perry County, Thomas Gabel's world didn't extend beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.
"It was hard for me to imagine making a road trip a couple states over, let alone boarding a plane and traveling to another country," said Gabel, now a freshman majoring in agricultural and extension education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
He had a change of heart, however, after learning about a monthlong experience in Malaysia that was being organized by the Global Teach Ag! initiative at Penn State.
"I could not think of a better way to kick off my first year at Penn State than by experiencing a new culture and learning about agriculture in another country," he said.
Gabel was among a dozen preservice teacher candidates and current teachers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan who learned about agriculture and agricultural education in July as part of the AgEd2Malaysia Human Development Project, a collaborative effort among Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and the Global Agriculture Learning Center at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.
The purpose of the professional development experience, funded by a U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant, was to develop globally minded agricultural education teachers by providing them with an immersion experience within the context of school-based agricultural education and university agricultural teacher-preparation programs.
"This was a unique opportunity to bring together agriscience educators from Malaysia and the United States to work together and, in the process, learn about each other's culture, agriculture and agricultural policy," said Melanie Miller Foster, assistant teaching professor of international agriculture in the college's Office of International Programs. She spearheaded the program at Penn State with Daniel Foster, associate professor and agricultural teacher educator in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education.