In 2015, as a soon-to-be college graduate from Iowa State University, I distinctly remember wondering if putting my career on hold and moving halfway across the world to work in agricultural development was the right decision. After spending a year and a half in Ghana, West Africa with AgriCorps, I knew I had made the right choice. With the strong network of Returned AgriCorps Fellows, I have had the wonderful opportunity to talk with a handful of prospective Fellows, wondering the same thing I was wondering in back in 2015. Can the workforce wait?
- It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity
As corny as it sounds, it’s true. How many times in your life do you expect to be presented with the opportunity to make a true, valuable difference in the field of agricultural development? Trust me, it doesn’t come around all that often. There is such an immeasurable value in submerging yourself in a culture completely different from your own. I met so many wonderful people with whom I continue to communicate and build relationships with today, despite the thousands of miles between us. There is such a need for agricultural education in developing countries and so many prospective Fellows with a great deal to offer.
- Applicable agricultural work experience
AgriCorps presents their Fellows with the opportunity to gain hands-on work experience in a variety of areas in the agricultural industry. AgriCorps Fellows work with local farmers in the field, teach agriculture concepts in the classroom and establish 4-H clubs. In addition to gaining a variety of technical agriculture skill sets, many skills gained by working as an AgriCorps Fellow are transferable in any workplace. Personally, I felt I gained a greater sense of independence, creative problem solving skills and the ability to work in cross cultural situations.
- It’s harder to leave a career once it’s started
There have been a handful of AgriCorps Fellows that have completed their Fellowships after spending a few years in the working world. However, I personally believe it is much easier to move halfway across the world immediately after graduation before becoming established in a new career and home. Furthermore, AgriCorps offers a unique opportunity to “try it before you buy it” in a variety of career opportunities. For example, many AgriCorps Fellows have discovered their true passion for teaching, even though they did not get an education degree in college. Others, who may have completed an ag education degree, may discover they enjoy working in the field with local farmers better than teaching…and that’s okay. The beauty of AgriCorps is that you get to work in a variety of roles with a relatively short time commitment allowing true passions to be revealed in a real work setting.
- It won’t hurt
Many prospective Fellows worry that putting their career on hold may hinder their chances of finding their dream job in the future when in all actuality, it will do just the opposite. Don’t get me wrong, if your sole purpose for serving as an AgriCorps Fellow is to build your resume, then you have come to the wrong organization. You need a whole lot more than the desire to build your resume to successfully serve as a Fellow. That being said, prospective Fellows need not worry that doing something like volunteering 11 months of their lives doing meaningful and purposeful work in agriculture will negatively impact their career. When I returned to the United States in December of 2016, I found that my experiences in Ghana not only intrigued employers but also helped me stand out in a wide pool of job applicants. While serving as an AgriCorps Fellow is so much more than building a resume, it certainly is a decision that will NOT affect any career in a negative way.
- You’ll never wonder “what if?”
Passing up on an opportunity like this can leave people wondering “what if?” The opportunities with an AgriCorps Fellowship and the amount of meaningful change a Fellow can incite is mind boggling. When I decided to take the leap and serve as an AgriCorps Fellow, I thought I would be the one imparting the knowledge, but in all actuality I was the one doing the majority of the learning. I learned so much about agriculture, working in cross-cultural situations, networking and so much more. I truly can’t imagine where I would be now with the experiences I gained working in Ghana.
So even if you are still on the fence, I urge and encourage you to just apply! You can always turn down an offer, but can never accept an offer for a job for which you never applied. Take the leap. The working world can wait.
Sarah Tweeten now serves as Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Office Manager in Worth County and as the Market Manager of the North Iowa Farmers Market. Sarah enjoys her multifaceted career with Extension and being able to continue to work with farmers and youth in agriculture.