Jason Steward fired up his computer to check his email last year. One caught his eye. It was an invitation to go on a trip to South Korea with the Future Farmers of America. And although the email caught the Tomlin Middle School teacher’s attention, it was just for a fleeting moment. He had gotten many emails like this before.
“Usually, I delete them, because I don’t have time to go to Korea,” Steward said. “Especially for a month.”
And so this email, like so many others, was dumped in the electronic trash bin. But months later, he emailed University of Florida professor Dr. Andrew Thoron about an ag issue. Thoron answered his questions. He also extended an invitation for Steward to join the trip.
“I was personally asked,” Steward said. “That carried a little more weight.”
So, after much discussion with his wife, Steward left her and his two daughters and boarded a plane to travel halfway around the world. Before he left, he took a 10-week college class along with 20 other students who were either undergraduates or, like Steward, FFA teachers. The highlight, of course, was the field trip of a lifetime, however.
On June 14, Steward and the other students landed in Seoul for a monthlong stay. There, they stayed at one of the universities and took 20 hours of language. They also networked with agricultural professionals and were assigned the task to come up with a lesson plan on an agricultural issue. Each FFA teacher was paired with an undergraduate from the U.S. and another from South Korea. There was a language barrier, but it didn’t stop them from completing their projects.
“The hardest part was gathering all of the supplies,” Steward said. “We’re in a different country, there’s eight different lesson plans, and we all wanted something hands on. But, the Koreans were very good at going out and getting what we needed.”
Steward and his team chose the topic of breaking down a candy bar from its ingredients and identifying the country of origin for each. They were able to present their lesson plan to students at local high schools that focus on agriculture.
“The kids are pretty respectful,” Steward said. “They all wear uniforms. They were excited for us to be there.”
He has brought the lesson plan back to his own classroom in the U.S., too.
Steward didn’t spend all his time in South Korean schools, however. The group was able to sightsee quite extensively. They saw three different palaces, the Korean Demilitarization Zone and tons and tons of museums.
“There’s lots and lots of history,” Steward said. “They have a museum for everything. Even a school we went to had a museum of its history.”
But, Steward’s favorite spot was a tea plantation. Rolling hills were covered with lush green tea plants. The group walked to the top of the mountain after they were told they could see the ocean from up high. Either they were lying, or it was too cloudy.
After all the traveling, Steward had used a bullet train and public transportation in Seoul.
“I was extremely impressed with the transportation,” Steward said. “Now it was not easy trying to figure out where to go. There’s literally a city underneath a city. Some places were six or seven stories underground.”
Another aspect that caught his eye was the country’s agricultural practices. Although there are a lot of similarities between South Korea and the U.S., there was one big difference.
“They teach more about sustainability,” Steward said. “This is a country the size of Indiana with 50 million people. It’s not very uncommon to see squash, tomatoes or some kind of vegetable production on the sides of the roads, ditches or in-between buildings.”
Contact Amber Jurgensen at [email protected].