Student Stories: Alumna thanks College of Ag Sciences for preparation

Rewind to the year 2008: Only a college freshman, Nicole O'Block sits nervously in anticipation of her first Ag LEAP (Learning Edge Academic Program) meeting, in which she enrolled on a whim.

An associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences stood before the group and said, "Many people talk about college as being 'the best years of their life' -- I don't want that for you.'"

O'Block's ears perked up, and she was immediately intrigued. He continued, "I want your time at Penn State to be the best years of your life so far -- and that each year after, it only will get better."

Fast forward to the present. O'Block is living in Hanoi, Vietnam, teaching English and planning to move to a new country in the near future. She still is living by the dean's words.

The Harrison City native graduated from Penn State in 2012 with a degree in agricultural science. After experiencing the many facets of agriculture through her classes, she chose minors in international agriculture and in leadership development to help bring focus to her interests.

"I feel both of my minors have guided me toward working in developing countries and a future career in aiding others -- and even becoming a more ethically responsible person on a fundamental level," she said.

Studying abroad while in college was a top priority for O'Block. In fact, the Agricultural Administration Building's International Studies Lounge was her "oasis and inspiration."

She took a short course for each of her minors: one to France about international agriculture and another to Ireland for leadership development. For the entire fall semester of her junior year, she studied in Florence, Italy.

"Each of these experiences taught me something amazing about the country, the cultures and what I wanted to accomplish in life," she said. "There are many amazing things to discover out there, but the cost is leaving your comfort zone."

O'Block certainly left her comfort zone when she decided to move to Yangon, Myanmar, after she graduated. A friend and fellow Penn State graduate sent her a file that contained information about types of schools all over the world, average salaries and life in different cities. From there, she job-hunted and stumbled upon an opportunity in Myanmar.

Acclimation was the biggest challenge for O'Block when she arrived in Asia in March 2013.

"Suddenly, I was illiterate and an alien," she said. "I thought I was impervious to culture shock -- I just hadn't been far enough from home. But once the shock is over, the best thing is when the city 'clicks.'"

O'Block lived in Myanmar for three months before moving to Vietnam, where she has lived and taught English since May 2013. Although she acknowledged she still is terrible at speaking Vietnamese, the experience has been humbling, enlightening and wonderful.

"Because of the College of Ag Sciences, I developed as a person far more than what a textbook can teach," she said. "The guidance and support I'd received from the staff gave me the skills and confidence to set out on my own."

O'Block has continued to live by the dean's advice, and she admits wholeheartedly that, to this day, each year only has gotten better than the last.

Learn about the agricultural science major.

 

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Last Updated January 20, 2015