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Dutch dairy students milking authentic relationships at UWRF

José Verbeek, Kas Elferink (left), American student Theresa Lusk and William Van Mourik visiting Lusk's horse over Easter weekend in La Crescent, Minn. Photo provided by Theresa Lusk.

Falcon News Service

April 18, 2018

Not knowing a single American student on campus, three Dutch students arrived at UW-River Falls in January with plans already made for May to spend a few weeks exploring places in America such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and possibly Texas before returning to the Netherlands on June 3.

However, at some point in March, they changed their plans to include a week long trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Huron. There, they plan to spend six days at a retreat with dozens of American students from UWRF who the Dutch students became very close to during their short time in the U.S.

Though they have developed numerous forms of authentic relationships with various students all over campus, the Dutch credit their change of plans, in particular, to UWRF junior Theresa Lusk, who established a natural connection with the Dutch  early in the semester. In addition to introducing them to all of her friends on campus, Lusk also invited them to her home in La Crescent, Minnesota, for Easter weekend.

“My parents really wanted me to come home (for Easter), and they knew about the Dutch, so they said, ‘You should see if they have any place to go for Easter,’” Lusk said. “So I asked all three of them, and they said that they had no plans, so I was like, ‘Well, you’re coming home with me – that’s the plan.’”

While at Lusk’s home, the Dutch not only got to spend Easter with an American family but also learned how to saddle and ride the family’s horse. Another thing they had not done before, which they now joke about, is hanging their socks on the deer antlers that are mounted on the walls of Lusk’s basement, where they slept.

“It was really kind of special,” Dutch student José Verbeek said. “I really liked it there, and the family was really nice to us. It was a really good weekend.”

Lusk is a biomedical major and all three Dutch students are dairy science majors. Not sharing any of the same classes with the Dutch, Lusk is especially grateful for the relationship she has established with them over the semester. Her hospitality is not too uncommon for UWRF students, according to Sylvia Kehoe, who serves as the UWRF faculty adviser to all three Dutch students.

“Our students here do a relatively good job of trying to bring these students into the fold,” Kehoe said, adding that it was particularly easy with these Dutch students because “they really jump in with both feet, and they interact.”

One of the things that has helped the Dutch students to interact is their slightly reduced credit load, according to Kehoe, who said all three of them were enrolled in 17 credits at the beginning of the semester. Each of them chose to take Kehoe’s advice in dropping a course, freeing them up to meet students such as Lusk and others.

Though Lusk herself is not a dairy science major, another student who the Dutch have gotten to know over the semester is UWRF sophomore Joshua Heer, who is majoring in dairy science and grew up on a farm with more than 3,200 dairy cows. For the Dutch, who come from farms in the Netherlands with the number of cows ranging from 80-150, they actually were not too surprised to learn about Heer’s vast herd.

“This is America, and here everything is bigger, bigger and biggest,” Dutch student Kas Elferink said. “So 3,200 cows – that’s America.”

Despite certain dairy farms in Wisconsin far exceeding the cow population of farms in the Netherlands, many of the farms there are much more technologically advanced than farms in the U.S.

“In the Netherlands, automatic farming is a little bit further ahead than the rest of the world. In the Netherlands, more farms have robots than, I think, any other country,” said Elferink, who admits to being slightly unimpressed by Kehoe’s recent lesson on “two-robot farms” in his lactation class.

In addition to making friends and learning about dairy production, the Dutch have also significantly enhanced their ability to speak and comprehend English.

“It was a big challenge here to speak English,” Dutch student William Van Mourik said. “I’m also not an outgoing guy, but I met a lot of people here, and my English improved a lot, and people are saying it.”

Although various friends have told the Dutch how much they have improved their English communication, Lusk said she thinks she has just gotten better at understanding them. “Your ears become adapted to their accent,” she said.

With both the Dutch improving and Lusk adapting, she has definitely spent a great deal of time with them over the semester and does not look forward to the day they have to return to the Netherlands.

“I want to stay in contact with them so bad. I don’t want to lose the close friendship that we’ve established,” she said. “This isn’t just a friendship that was just a one-time thing. I can see us being lifelong friends.”

This year, the Dutch were among the first to register for the May retreat to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a trip known as Chapter Focus Week, which more than 40 UWRF students attended last spring. Lusk and other friends will have a full week to spend time with the Dutch on Lake Huron before they are forced to say goodbye.

Following the retreat, the Dutch still plan to see various other sights throughout America.

“We’re still planning to go to San Francisco and L.A. and maybe even Texas,” Elferink said. “If we hadn’t signed up for Chapter Focus Week, we would have started that a week earlier, but that’s the only difference.”

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