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Expanding horizons and knowledge sharing - my Fulbright experience

Fulbright has been operating as a successful program for many decades, it may sound familiar to many, worldwide. In this blog post, I share my personal experiences with the YPARD community, in the hope that some of you will be encouraged to apply. 

January 15, 2019 became a memorable day for me, because I received the email, beginning with the following sentence: “Congratulations! On behalf of the Fulbright Commission, I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected for a Fulbright Research Award…”.  After some rounds of selection and a personal interview, I was nominated to spend four months at Ohio State University in the Fall semester of 2019. 

The program was brought into life by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. The government of the United States supports exchange programs of foreign and US participants in many areas, including the sciences, arts, public service, government and business. The exchange visits aim to increase the mutual understanding between the people of the US and other countries.

With this scholarship, I got the chance to work together for a few months with one of the most prominent group of process system engineers at Ohio State University, which provided a unique professional experience.  

Process Systems Engineering (PSE) is not a commonly known term, so let me introduce it and especially its connection to agriculture and environment, shortly. Methods and tools of this field were originally developed and applied for the design and operation of traditional industrial processes. However, thinking about the rapid development of precision agriculture, it is obvious that these processes require also comprehensive engineering design and operation. Affordable sensors, cameras, etc. provide a huge amount of data, and their interpretation and utilization could support efficient and more sustainable production. However, the decisions about the development of agriculture, integrated with the ecosystem, need also the consideration of the material balances of the complex processes. It is the point, when the traditional and recently developed and proved methods and tools of PSE can be adopted and applied, effectively. Nevertheless, the application doesn’t stop here. Environmental processes (connecting soil, water and atmosphere with agriculture) also need a cleaner and more sustainable solutions (e.g. rational use of fertilizers to protect watershed areas). 

I have been also working in this field for years, and according to my personal experiences, especially the next generation of farmers are particularly susceptible to innovative solutions. Considering that my applications focus mainly on agricultural and environmental processes, I had a chance to build contacts also with experts, working for digital agriculture. I think that these personal connections are extremely important for future work, and it was just the beginning. I can’t wait to continue the common work.

Beyond professional experiences, it was much more. It was a really intensive and manifold personal experience. To integrate yourself into a quite new environment, to step out of your comfort zone, to establish a temporary, minimalistic living environment were other kinds of challenges. Thank God, all sorted quickly. I can say that the patience and helpfulness of US people help to accommodate yourself to the new situation. 

Columbus, my host city (and the whole Ohio state in the Midwest of US), is an important part of an agricultural point of view, historically. Considering the dense population and the emerging challenges in agricultural production together, the region has to focus on the development of agriculture more seriously in the future. At the World Food Day 2019 at Ohio State University, speakers emphasized in the opening remarks that there is still a place for improvement in Ohio State to make agriculture more resilient in the future. As an inspiring case, Franklinton community gardens were introduced in the event. These community gardens were established in 2007 by a committed and passionate young guy to demonstrate a multi-household model of home-scale urban gardening, taking advantage of the disadvantages in an inner-city neighborhood. Fortunately, there are quite a few such gardens around the state for today that contribute to providing healthy and safe food for the population.

Every Fulbright participant is considered as a cultural ambassador of his/her country, so it is also an important part of the stay to participate in as many events as it is possible. I’m sure, it was really one of the most enjoyable parts of my stay. I had a chance to visit not only the various cultural and informative programs but also the events of local Hungarian communities.

During the preparation phase before starting, we heard from everyone that it would be a life-changing experience. Indeed, looking back for the past months, it really was, and I can't be grateful enough for this opportunity. 

Picture credit: Monika Vargas