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[NOV. 3, 2004]  URBANA -- In the summer of 1979, 37 college students from six major universities, including the University of Illinois, traveled together as they toured 16 European countries. One of those students was Garry Herzog, current owner of Prairieland Feeds in Savoy. Today, 25 years later, what difference did that trip make to him?

"Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to even go on the trip," said Herzog. "I wanted to work over the summer and save money, not spend it. But that trip had the most profound effect on my life. We visited 16 different countries. This was when Brezhnev was in power in the Soviet Union. Getting behind the Iron Curtain was an eye-opener. The students on the trip had no idea, no clue about the dynamics of what's going on overseas until going there, and then you see it."

Herzog was a student in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences the year he went on the trip to Europe. "We strongly encourage students to take advantage of the opportunity to do a study-abroad program for a semester or even for just a few weeks during their years here in college," said Steve Pueppke, associate dean for research and director of the ACES Global Connect program. "International travel typically has a profound effect on students."

Herzog said that the students on the trip were upper middle class and higher and that seeing how other people live made them grateful for what they have in the United States. "We are living fat-happy in this country," he said. "In these other countries they were looking for how to put food on the table. People were barely living. We take for granted having soap and deodorant. To them deodorant was a luxury."

The students toured collective farms that were state-owned. Herzog observed the lack of a feeling of ownership that affected how the crops were cared for. "It didn't matter if it was going to rain that evening. When it was five o'clock, everyone went home."

Herzog said that the key thing that happened to this group of students was that they became "supersensitive" to the issues of other cultures and countries. "It's hard to have compassion and empathy for others if you haven't had any exposure."

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When Herzog returned from the trip, he decided to add foreign language studies to his program at the U of I.  "I decided to double major in ag econ and German," he said. Herzog also took a year of French as well as some Korean and Serbo-Croatian. "Many Americans expect everyone to speak English because they don't speak another language themselves."

The trip also gave Herzog a strong desire to travel. "I knew I wanted to have a job that allowed me to travel, so I became a commercial pilot, flying a 767 to Paris and London for many years, and I've gone back to Europe for vacations five or six times."

The adult sponsors-chaperones on the trip, including Professor Upson Garrigus and his wife, Olive, were another influence on Herzog. "Up and Olive were a team," Herzog recalled. "They prepared us for the trip, having us over to their home several times prior to leaving. They showed us slides and taught us to be sensitive to these other countries."

Upson Garrigus died in the spring of 2004, but Herzog remembers him as defining the term "international ambassador."

"Upson taught us to say please and thank you," Herzog said. "He said, 'You will see other Americans on the trip and you will be embarrassed at the way they behave.' When countries rear their heads and say to America, 'How dare you?' Americans just don't understand how we look to them."

Herzog said that he believes there would be "no wars if we had more Garriguses in the world being international ambassadors."

And, to potential student travelers Herzog gave this piece of advice, "At this stage in your life, you have no dogs, no spouse, no mortgage, no job -- so go. It will be the biggest mistake of your life not to do it."

[University of Illinois news release]

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