Paul Christ, retired Vice President, Economics and Risk Management for Land O’Lakes, applied his 26 years of Land O’Lakes experience to a recent volunteer assignment in Russia. As a volunteer in the USAID-funded John Ogonowski Farmer-to- Farmer Program, Paul traveled for two weeks in November–December 2006 to central Siberia to advise the Tomsk Department of Agriculture on strategic planning and development of their dairy industry. His knowhow covered the entire dairy value chain, from production to marketing. Still, Paul discovered that his Russian counterparts were most interested in the structure of the U.S. dairy industry. He delivered six seminars on this topic to urban and rural audiences, all of them followed by rigorous question-and-answer sessions. Though the weather was chilly, literally -17°F upon arrival, the Russians warmly received the exchange of information in the seminars. In a recent interview, Paul shared his views on being a volunteer:
Why did you volunteer?
I am rewarded by each foreign assignment. It is one of the most rewarding things you can do. I am much enriched by each assignment and receive more than I contribute. Regarding this particular assignment, I was always interested in Russia and had taken a course in the Russian language in the Army.
How did being a part of the Land O’Lakes organization positively influence what you bring to an overseas assignment?
Because Land O’Lakes is a major player in the dairy industry, I could answer all their questions about the U.S. dairy industry. Working at a broadbased organization such as Land O’Lakes gave me a range of experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
How did your trip benefit you personally and professionally?
In terms of professional development, as on other trips, I learned about agriculture in another part of the world and other ways of doing things. As for personal development, it was a confidence-building exercise.I was the only American around except in Moscow at the beginning and end of the trip. I had some culture shock but learned I could fit in and made a point of spending some time on my own without the interpreter.
Do you ever recommend to others that they volunteer internationally?
Yes, at social and professional occasions, I talk about my foreign assignments. People are intrigued by the stories. If others seem interested, I encourage them to contact Land O’Lakes International Development to fill out an application. I stress to them that it is a new cultural experience. You go into it needing to depend on others for help. By following the in-country staff’s advice on where to go and where not to, I’m glad to say I’ve never had a bit of trouble. My experience is that people are decent everywhere.
This article was originally written by Land O’Lakes.