NC State CALS student explores sustainable agriculture in Spain

Renee Long, an undergraduate student in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences studying agroecology and sustainable food systems, is originally from Chicago and has a passion for food and travel.

Before coming to North Carolina State University, Long worked as a professional chef in Chicago, where she discovered her love for food and agriculture. After years in this role, she moved to central Illinois to work on an organic vegetable farm while earning an associate’s degree at community college. Long moved to Raleigh two years ago to pursue her studies in sustainable agriculture at NC State. She is also a recipient of the 2022-2023 CALS Alumni and Friends Society Scholarship.

As a Program Specialist in the Office of International Programs at CALS, Long assists international research projects and fellows visiting NC State under the Cochran Fellowship Program.

“I love to travel and hope to add many more to my growing list of the 12 countries I’ve visited so far,” says Long.

One of her recent trips was to Valencia, Spain with the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Study Abroad program, combining her interests in food and travel.

Can you tell us more about your study trip abroad?

My trip was to learn about different farms and how they compete in local markets. It was a short two-week program, but we worked hard every day to make the most of our time.

Every day we had a conference in the morning and then we would go to a farm or business related to the conference that morning. I liked how this program was structured as the lectures gave a good overview to better understand what we saw in operation later in the day.

a coastal area of ​​Spain with palm trees and shops

We also had lunch with the speaker at local restaurants related to what we saw that day, which allowed for deeper conversation and relationship building. We had weekends and evenings free to explore the area, get to know the other team members and experience the culture.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

One of my best memories was being invited to our host at the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia. He graciously showed us some historical sites and then some of his close friends and family joined us at his home. It was an amazing experience to feel so connected to the people I had just met. Everyone was welcoming and kind.

I learned how to make a traditional meal called “paella” from his friend and proudly helped serve it to everyone once it was done. We spent the day playing football and pool games, eating delicious food, laughing, telling stories and dancing. That day, I felt like I had truly experienced Spain and the local culture that everyone was telling us so proudly about.

Would you recommend this study abroad opportunity to other students?

Yes definitely. I believe that traveling and learning about other cultures gives us a broader perspective on life: discovering how other people live, learning what they eat, and seeing how similar we all are.

Renee Long in a Spanish flower field

In this program, students experience the local culture without being too touristy. It is also a useful way to learn or practice your Spanish skills. I would say to students that this is a great opportunity to get out of their comfort zone, experience another culture and see how successful businesses work in Spain.

How has this trip prepared you for the future?

It gave me a different perspective on international agriculture and the possibilities of marketing products. I saw many approaches to food production that were different from what I was used to seeing in the United States. Many of the ideas I had were challenged in a way that made me think more critically about the future of food and the systems we currently have in place. I believe it has given me a renewed vision of my career goal and the motivation to continue to do well in my courses.

What advice do you have for other students considering studying abroad?

My advice would be to find a program and venue that really interests you. The more you invest in the trip, the more you will get out of it. Ask lots of questions, engage and connect with people.

The networking and connections that come from these trips can be very important if you take the time to invest in it. I would also recommend researching the location of the study abroad program before going to familiarize yourself with the history, culture, and food. It is also useful to know some of the native languages, even some sayings.

Ready to travel? Learn more about study abroad programs available to CALS students.