My experience as a 2012 IFAJ Alltech young leader

I decided one post on my experience attending the conference of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) was not sufficient. So you get two posts, gentle readers.

Here’s the backstory, my friend Lisa Guenther was the 2011 Young Leader and attended the IFAJ conference last year in Guelph . She was the one who urged me to apply, and I will always be grateful to her because I had an amazing experience.

Once again, this post can’t really sum up my experience but I will give you some highlights.

I spent a week in Stockholm as a tourist before going to the bootcamp (aka the Young Leaders Program). I made my way to my new hotel, and had some time to recharge before meeting the other young journalists. I was really nervous to meet everyone and a bit intimidated.

The 11 young journalists from the boot camp program were paired up with the Master Class, comprised of journalists from the developing world. The Master Class included 8 men from various African countries, a woman from Brazil, and a woman from Ecuador. Being partnered with them made our boot camp experience even more enriching.

One first official session was a meet and greet at the Royal Academy of Swedish Forestry and Agriculture. We did a food quiz and ate food from all over the world. Some of us learned how to eat Swedish crayfish for the first time, and we taught a man from Tanzania how to eat a strawberry.

The next day, both the Boot campers  and the Master Class participated in workshop sessions. We talked about ethics in journalism, trends in ag journalism, and the ethics of food production and were guided in our discussion by experienced journalists and people working in these fields. Our discussions were eye-opening and fascinating, and it was a chance for us to learn firsthand about each other’s experiences. I always find hearing about personal experiences is one of the best ways for me to learn. I also think combining the young leaders and the journalists from developing countries was a stroke of genius. I found it particularly enriching, as my background is in development and I’ve done some development work in Asia. It was a real eye-opener for me to hear what some of the African journalists have to deal with on a daily basis.

We topped off our first day with a boat cruise. It was also my birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a birthday than to spend a day discussing something I’m passionate about and hanging out on a boat, drinking wine and eating good food with some new friends.

The second day featured another full day of workshops, which included one session on working as an international journalist, and one session on creating a personal brand. We also got to tour the offices of LRF media, (a major agricultural publishing company) or the offices of SVT (Swedish public television, like CBC in Canada) This was followed by a grocery store tour. I was glad to see that at least 4 of my fellow young leaders were as intrigued by grocery store tourism as I am! We got a chance to see three different models of grocery stores- a coop, a big chain and a specialty boutique. The experience at the coop was the most interesting to me, since I’ve done a lot of work with cooperatives in my development work, and take the model for granted.

Many of us capped this day off with a visit to Ice Bar, a Stockholm tourist trap. It features a bar completely made of ice. You buy a ticket, which allows you a drink (or two) and a stay for about 40 minutes. The bar, which is kept at -5C, provides you with gloves and an attractive winter poncho, and you can hang out, drink a cocktail out of a block of ice and take pictures. After we left, I exclaimed I couldn’t believe  I paid money to stand in -5C when I could do that in winter in Canada for free.

The next day, we met up with the rest of the Congress for the IFAJ conference. I’ll get to that part later.

Meeting other young ag journalists and the master class was incredible. I really enjoyed hearing their stories, and learning there are young people doing what I do all over the world. Some of them, like me, didn’t have an ag background prior to working in ag journalism. Others came from farms or were still working as farmers. We had knowledge about different crops, different work-related issues to deal with and differing use of social media.

In addition to our talks in the classes, I really enjoyed the informal discussions with the other participants. I enjoyed talking about issues in South Africa with my South African counterpart, and learning that Australia’s mining industry is similar to the oil and gas industry in Alberta. I also enjoyed learning about popular culture, personal experiences and the similarities and differences between all of our countries. For example, I had never talked with a person from Slovenia before I attended this conference and I learned a lot about the country. Thanks to my experiences at boot camp, I now know more about Argentina’s economic crisis and what happened there in 2002. I feel like I have people that I can email from all over the world if I have questions about their countries, or about agriculture in their countries. I enjoyed talking to all of them, and am reminded of them when I encounter something in my daily life that reminds me of my experiences in Sweden.

All of us bootcampers mentioned several times that we really enjoyed our group. We got along, and I think we all generally liked each other. I’m not going to say intercultural communication is not without its challenges. There were 11 people with differing opinions sitting around the table. We were all from different cultures, where certain things are discussed and other things are not. What is appropriate or commonly believed in one culture is not always appropriate in another. For example, in Slovenia, you don’t take a picture of someone when they are eating, especially if they are a politician!

I’m also politically liberal (not super common in agriculture, generally) and I talk a lot, and I wanted to make sure I was being accomodating and open to all my fellow participants. Some of the journalists were working in their second language, which I expect was challenging, as I found the experience mentally exhausting and I am a native English speaker!

There were things I learned that fascinated me. One is that people from all over the world find it pretty easy to understand a Canadian accent, because it is similar to American accents, which everyone hears on movies and television.

Another special experience were my talks with one of the people I met at the boot camp. Andrew is a farmer from Illinois, and his wife Karlie is the editor of the IFAJ newsletter. Andrew is everything I’m not- American, Republican, and Christian. We had opposing views on a variety of topics. Yet we spent a lot of time talking to each other and debating. I believe this was possible because of mutual respect, individual passion and a willingness to learn from other people. I told him at the end of the week that I’d learned a lot from our talks and enjoyed them, and I honestly did. This was a great learning experience for me!


In short, the entire boot camp experience was eye opening and inspiring, and made me even more passionate about what I’m doing with my life. I could write more, but this is already the length of a book 🙂

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