People travel the globe, eat food in different places, from different cultures, with different people. Eating is an essential act of life no matter where you go. The majority of food eaten in developed countries is mass produces by multinational such as Nestle, Kraft and Unilever and distributed over the globe. Despite this food globalisation, every country has their own set of eating habits, beliefs, production and regulation.
The best way to gain a better understanding of how your own food and nutrition related environment works is by investigating and experiencing other food cultures. But how do you do this? Yes, we can tell students how it works in other countries, but you cannot smell it. We can show them pictures of other food cultures, but you cannot taste it. We can explain rules and regulation, but you cannot ask questions to the actual ministry of health. We can read about food choice of high school students, but we cannot talk to these students. Or…….we can select 25 students and take them on a 25 hour flight to another country, were they can smell, taste, talk to the ministry of health and interact with high school students. This is what we call ….an international study tour.
After a rigorous 2 year preparation, we selected 25 students who took part in the first international study tour of the school of exercise and nutrition sciences at Deakin university. Students paid for their own and academic staff expenses and we made sure they would get a once in a lifetime experience.
On 16 of November 2013 we left Melbourne airport for the Netherlands. A small country (about 17% the size of Victoria), but with a great reputation in the area of food and nutrition. The Netherlands is the second largest food exporter in the world. It is the home of the Wageningen University, which consistently scores in the top 3 best universities in the world for Food and Nutrition. A country in which government, universities and food industries work together in joint programs to ensure that top science supports product development and vice versa.
In the two week study tour we visited 26 sites, amongst which a variety of universities, one of the most innovative hospitals in the area of clinical nutrition in the Netherlands, the ministry of health, schools, research and public health institutes, food manufacturers, farms and beer breweries. The students gained access to places which are normally securely fenced off for outsiders. Strict security and passport checks at the ministry of health and RIVM made us realise that these places are special, very special.
The days were busy and started as early as 6 am and ended around 9pm, but students were truly enjoying it. They interacted with locals, asked questions at the highest level of the government, tasted, smelled and experienced another culture and most importantly they started to understand their own Food and Nutrition culture better. The study tour gave students career perspectives. “Seeing this great food science, I know for sure that I want to study hard to get to this level”. “The hospital was amazing, I work in a hospital myself, but was never allowed on the Intensive care unit. Yet, during the study tour they showed us everything, I am so excited.” “Now I know for sure, I want on exchange and widen my horizon”.
All partnering organisations in the Netherlands now know what Deakin University and especially the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences stands for. We have already been invited to take part in a European grant application as a result of this study tour. Many students really want to do an international exchange trimester or do further study. Messages and photos are posted on Facebook which are able to reach thousands of students who are interested in food and nutrition.