The Beauty of Being Human

Faces: Jehan Segal cover

Jehan Segal | Agricultural Sciences | Portland, OR

Wageningen Exchange Program | Ecampus

The Bigger Picture

I'm writing this from the Netherlands, where I'm in my last few days of a study abroad program, looking out from my window over Dutch pastures. I grew up overseas, so looking at the world through an international perspective has always been something my parents taught me to value. It's been amazing to study agriculture in such a different light and to make connections with people from across the globe. The United States is a huge force in the world (even here, many of our discussions end up surrounding American news), but it's not the only place that's of agricultural value. It can be easy to center ourselves too much and lose sight of our place in the bigger picture, or of our responsibility to those around us.

Opening its Doors

I didn't know what to expect coming into this program, still wading through the uncertainty of a global pandemic. There were so many unknowns, even up until a few days before I stepped on the plane; whether the borders between our countries would be open, whether the schools would recommend us to stay home, whether our entire stay would be lock-downs and isolation. I feel incredibly fortunate. As soon as I arrived here, step by step the Netherlands opened its doors. I've been able to travel and make friends with the most amazing people, attend cultural events like Carnival and Kings Day and celebrate with a country taking a breath of fresh air for the first time in two years. My classes here have taken me to dairy farms and food forests, and I've caught trains to countries where I don't even speak the language. It’s been challenging and absurdly fun – a complete wake-up call after these years of stress and stagnation.

Tangible Flexibility

As an e-campus student, it's been really important to me to supplement my online education with hands-on experiences; fortunately, learning online has also allowed me the flexibility to do so. Last year, I was lucky enough to spend the summer in Northern Michigan where my family lives. Every day I would wake up and do my schoolwork for my summer courses, then bike over to my friend Michelle's farm, where she mentored me and helped me apply my education with my own hands in real time. I would spend the day potting tomatoes in the greenhouse or mulching garlic beds, and she would ask me about what I was learning and help me identify and expand it all around me. I would get to go home with my basket full of rhubarb or sugar snap peas and swim in Lake Michigan, feeling the way my lessons were unfolding around me. I built raised beds for my parents and took soil samples at friend’s houses, and in turn, I was able to share all of these things with my classmates online. Connecting my education to my surroundings has been the best teaching tool for me; my education feels more tangible and real than ever.

Farming, Baking, Sharing

I think that I'm a really tactile person, which is not only reflected in what I study and enjoy for work (agriculture and farming) but also in my hobbies. My partner and I love to go on hikes together, chasing wildflowers up the Columbia Gorge or getting our boots muddy exploring new waterfalls. At home, I love to cook and especially to bake. I see farming and cooking as two sides of the same coin; creating food for other people is a special gift in this world. Being able to share the things you love doing in such a tangible way- through a cake or a really perfect pint of strawberries – is a simple and marvelous pleasure. When the pandemic hit, I was pushed to find new things to do, and I delved deep into making art. I love to draw, to paint with gouache, and I love using film photography to capture daily life. Creating art allows me to look at the world in so much more detail than I would otherwise. For my most recent course, I've spent the last few weeks drawing crop species, practicing identification. It's such a perfect combination of what I love: to delve deep into the details of the natural world around me, and to create something with my hands that is not only beautiful, but also helps me to expand my knowledge.

Respect Who You Are Today

I turned 25 a few weeks ago and my friends here in the Netherlands asked me if I had any advice to share. After some consideration, this is the advice I realized I try to live by: the best thing we can do for ourselves is to meet ourselves where we're at. It's okay to not have everything figured out yet. I've taken many steps to get to where I am now; I was a creative writing major at another school, I've worked as an assistant pastry chef, I've been passionate about and pursued a million different things. All of the paths I've tried for myself – even if they didn't end up working out for me – have taught me lessons, given me knowledge, and brought me where I am now. As a society, we put so much pressure on doing things the "right" way; leaving high school, making these huge decisions about the rest of your life, and sticking to them. We have preconceived notions of what success and happiness look like. In reality, none of that matters. I think that being a queer person has helped me learn this lesson; there is no "right" way to be a person, student, or professional. We are creatures that are constantly changing, learning, and transforming; that is the beauty of being human. Punishing yourself because your life or your choices don't look like someone else's isn't good for you. I believe that the best thing we can do for ourselves is treat ourselves with respect and find joy in whatever stage of life we’re experiencing.