For a few years, Dr. Iuliia Tetteh, assistant professor of agribusiness, has dreamed of creating and teaching a course on international agribusiness in the Department of Agriculture. Through her education and research, Tetteh has spent much time working with topics covered in this new course, which she created and offered for the first time during the fall 2021 semester. With her experiences in this area of study, Tetteh has been able to relate real-life scenarios to many concepts covered in the course. The course had 16 students enroll for its first offering.

Two of those students, Isaac Brockman and Emily Lopata, both seniors studying agribusiness, reached out to Tetteh to pursue an Honors Contract in this course to fulfill the Honors Program requirements. In collaboration with Tetteh, these students decided to take the main project of the semester, an analysis of a country and its agricultural industry, to the next level. Not only did they complete that comprehensive research paper, but they collaborated with an international student on this project.

Three people holding a flag
Isaac Brockman, Aizhan Kurmanalieva, and Emily Lopata

Tetteh and Matt Schwab from the Office of International Engagement facilitated a connection with Aizhan Kurmanalieva, an international student from Kyrgyzstan, who studied at Illinois State in the fall of 2021. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked country in Central Asia with a relative land size to South Dakota and a population about half that of Illinois. The terrain of the country is mostly mountainous, and much of the population resides in rural areas. Tetteh, Brockman, Lopata, and Kurmanalieva met in September to get to know each other and discuss the goals of the project. This conversation helped uncover many differences and similarities between the cultures of the United States and Kyrgyzstan and their agricultural sectors.

By hearing from Kurmanalieva, Brockman and Lopata were better able to understand the basics of Kyrgyzstan, such as communication styles and even the physical features of cattle and what that implies for the agricultural industry. This conversation allowed for a better perspective when conducting research for the project. As Brockman and Lopata began work on the project, they discovered they had some more questions about Kyrgyzstan. Rather than scheduling a formal interview with nothing but question after question, Lopata instead organized a pumpkin carving event for the group.

Kurmanalieva said, “Thanks to Emily, I tried to carve pumpkins for Halloween for the first time in my life.” She also mentioned that she grew up watching American movies and knew what jack-o-lanterns look like but had never made one herself. This event allowed Brockman and Lopata to ask some questions and receive answers from Kurmanalieva, all while having fun. The conversation covered topics like climate, politics, and education. Interestingly, a lot of what Aizhan had to say connected to points Brockman and Lopata were researching.

Three people holding jack-o-lanterns.
Emily Lopata, Aizhan Kurmanalieva, and Isaac Brockman hold their jack-o-lanterns.

At the end of the semester, Brockman and Lopata completed an extensive research paper on Kyrgyzstan and its agricultural industry. They created a presentation to share with the class, as well as some public outreach materials pertaining to the International Agribusiness course and the connection with international student Aizhan Kurmanalieva. Adding to their in-class presentation was a guest visit from Kurmanalieva herself, who shared her firsthand experiences as a citizen from Kyrgyzstan who has taken part in worldwide travel.

With respect to her participation in this project with Brockman, Lopata, and Tetteh, Kurmanalieva said, “They made my exchange semester in the United States unforgettable, and they are one of the reasons I fell in love with the United States.” Kurmanalieva also brought a traditional Kyrgyz hat, shirt, and snack to show to the class.

Reflecting on his experience, Brockman said, “Shortly after this course began, I started to reflect on different cultural perspectives and how they will relate to my career. Working with an international student has been one of the most valuable experiences I have had at Illinois State.”

During her class visit, Kurmanalieva shared that she would be returning to Kyrgyzstan at the conclusion of the fall semester. She noted that because of her positive experiences at Illinois State and in the United States, she hopes to return to the U.S. for a master’s program in the next few years. Brockman and Lopata both are overwhelmingly pleased with their experiences in this course and suggest the course to other students in this area of study.