Corey Fortin (Agribusiness and Animal Science, ’06) is a KSU alumnus and recipient of the Distinguished Young Alumni Award for his work managing international development programs in Uganda and around the world. He credits his international career to his time spent studying abroad. Fortin originally spent a summer in Prague at the Czech University of Life Sciences (CULS) during his undergraduate program at KSU and this experience was what pushed him to continue the international trend. After graduating from KSU, he spent almost-8-months in Belgium as part of his graduate program. These experiences helped him set his sights on an international career and he hasn’t look back since. We caught up with him to learn more about his study abroad experiences and how they influenced his personal goals and his career path.
Could you talk a little about your study abroad experience? How did you choose your program, and what were you looking for in an experience abroad?
My majors at K-State were Agribusiness and Animal Science. The Agribusiness degree program has an international option, which required four semesters of language and a study abroad experience. I considered several study abroad programs, but I had some friends who had studied at universities in Prague, Czech Republic, and I had heard nothing but great things about the academic programs, the people, the architecture, and the culture, so I decided I would give it a try. I completed a summer program at the Czech University of Life Sciences, and it was fantastic. It was the spark that started my career in international development.
Honestly, I really didn’t know what I was looking for in a program, and I think when you are an undergraduate that is okay! I had spent a couple of weeks touring southern Europe after high school, and I loved the experience of exploring new countries and cultures. Naturally, we are a product of our everyday environment. It is so easy to get caught up in Facebook, Twitter, cable news, or the political talk of the day. Those things serve an important purpose, but they are all someone else’s pre-packaged ideas. I think one of the most important things that you can do is experience something completely new. Travel is the perfect way to do that! Students should have the courage to step out of their comfort zone and explore a new culture, meet people who think differently than them, get lost in the “old town” of a city, stumble on fantastic new restaurants and foods, and learn about the history and architecture in another country. I think students are their own best investigators—they shouldn’t only rely only on second-hand knowledge from other people, they should develop first-hand knowledge for themselves!
What were some of the highlights from your time overseas?
I loved meeting up with people from other countries! Whether it was a stranger who struck up a conversation in a bar or meeting old friends, getting to know people from another culture not only helps you learn about some place new, but you also learn about your own culture. You are able to contrast ideas and concepts and this helps you challenge your current way of thinking! It encourages personal growth. I’m also a big foodie and love to try all sorts of new foods, and I love stumbling upon a little restaurant and trying the local fare.
As you look back, can you see your personal goals or your career path changing because of study abroad?
Definitely! A couple weeks’ trip is one thing, but after a summer in Prague and then nearly 8 months studying and researching agriculture and rural development in Ghent, Belgium, during grad school, I knew I wanted to find an international career. I started to apply for jobs in international business and international development. I graduated in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn, so it took a while to find a job! Luckily, I was able to work as a full time research assistant at the University of Arkansas while I searched for my dream job in international development!
When applying for jobs after graduation, did you find that your study abroad experience gave you any advantages compared to those who did not study abroad?
Yes—because many of the jobs were international in nature, they required study or work abroad. But having an international experience on your resume is something that always sets you apart, no matter what job you are applying for. It demonstrates to employers that you are willing to take risks and that you are adaptable and flexible. So far in my career, strong interpersonal skills are the number one thing that employers require, and work/study abroad can demonstrate to employers an ability to work with many different types of people in a variety of situations.
What do you think is the value of an international experience in college?
For me it was absolutely invaluable. I would not have the career I have today without studying abroad during my university experience. Study abroad (especially over a longer time frame) changes how you view the world and encourages an unparalleled opportunity for personal growth. Even if you aren’t planning an international career, it will help you immeasurably in your early career and beyond.
Could you tell me a little about your current position with USAID?
I am an agriculture officer with the United States Agency for International Development. There are four Foreign Service Agencies that send diplomats abroad. The State Department, is of course, the largest, then USAID (we are in over 70 countries), then the Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture also send some staff abroad. I manage agricultural development programs that work with host country governments (the ministry of Agriculture in Uganda, for example) other donors (UKAID, the Dutch government, etc.), and of course host country private sector businesses and farmers. My job is to manage contracts and grants that achieve host country and USAID development goals. I have served at the US Embassy in Kenya and Uganda and will be at the Embassy in Afghanistan at the end of May.
When you first studied abroad, could you have imagined that this is what you would be doing now?
No, I had no idea when I studied abroad that I would end up where I am today, but I am confident that my study abroad experiences were big contributors to getting me here!
Do you have any advice for undergraduate students who are considering studying abroad but are still unsure?
My advice is go for it! If you are unsure or nervous, that is good! That is what encourages personal growth. I realize it can seem daunting and expensive now, but in my opinion it is one of the best investments you can make in your future.