Student Stories: Internship immerses Ag Ed student in India

November 23, 2010

University Park, Pa. — Jenna Moser had a pretty good idea of what to expect when she arrived in India for her two-month-long internship last summer -- she had done some research on the standard of living in parts of the country -- but still she found herself unprepared for the squalid conditions she would witness.

But looking back, the opportunity to work with a giant in Indian agriculture stands out as much for the Philadelphia native as the poverty she saw. Moser was personally mentored by Professor M.S. Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist known as the "Indian Father of the Green Revolution," in honor of his success in the development of hybrid rice.

Moser, now a freshman at Penn State majoring in agricultural education with an international agriculture minor, spent the majority of her visit to India at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai. She also travelled to Kannivadi and Tamil Nadu, for various conferences or work-internship experiences.

The internship opportunity came because Moser, then a senior at Walter Biddle Saul High School in Philadelphia, was named a Borlaug-Raun Intern. The Norman E. Borlaug-Raun International Agricultural Science and Technology Internship, offered through the World Food Prize, is aimed at fighting global hunger.

Moser was one of about 130 students who attended the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa, last year, and many of the attendees applied for the Borlaug-Raun International Internship Program. She was one of more than 30 students to be called back for interviews.

Moser completed her interview via Skype and was selected as one of the 16 Borlaug-Raun 2010 interns.

The Borlaug-Raun International Program "helps developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing scientific training and collaborative research opportunities to visiting researchers, policymakers and university faculty," according to its website.

During the internship, Moser studied maize production, and particularly the participation of Indian youth in agriculture. "I liked the idea of studying maize because corn is a staple food in America," Moser said. "And I wanted to pay particular attention to Indian youth in agriculture, because I believe agriculture is the most important industry.

"If there are not a lot of youth involved in agriculture, then I have to wonder, who is going to feed India's expanding population of more than 1 billion people in the coming years?"

Moser had some experience doing farm work at Saul High School and through her 4-H club. She was taught to grow and harvest crops through her school's community supported agriculture program, and she also learned how to take care of livestock.

Moser was dismayed by the living conditions in parts of India. She saw many things that shocked her -- people urinating in the streets because not all homes had toilets, naked children running in public, filthy cattle roaming in the road with no place to go, and a young girl who was wearing shoes that were so big she could barely walk in them.

"I just cried, and I wasn't sure what to think," said Moser. "When I went there, everyone I saw had a lot less than I did. It was hard to see that."

But she was emotionally touched by how well she was treated in India. "When I saw my living quarters, I was a bit overwhelmed by how generous the Indian people were," she said. "I had three rooms to myself -- a sitting room with a computer, refrigerator, fruits, a couch and two chairs, an actual bedroom, and a bathroom.

"I actually think I would have preferred sleeping on the floor; anything would have been better than to know that I have more than what others had," she said, noting that she saw many people sleeping on floors.

The whole trip was an eye opener for Moser, who vowed to better appreciate her life in the United States. "One young woman I know has 50 pairs of shoes," she said. "People here can afford to fight over things that don't matter at all. They just don't have the concept that there are greater and more important things out there.

"My trip made it hard to come back home and hear people take what they have for granted and complain about simple things."

At the end of her internship, Moser said that she did not want to leave India. "I didn't want to come home yet," she said. "I felt like I belonged there."

She noted that her friends and family in India called her "thangachi," which means "younger sister," and that she would miss this warmth. "It was the greatest thing I've ever done," Moser said. "It changed my life."


  • Jenna Moser poses with children in the village where she stayed. This was the first time she wore traditional Indian garb

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 23, 2010