AEAB Master's Student Matthew Coale Reflects on His Atlantis Program Experience

Professor Bruce Ahrendsen and graduate student Matthew Coale at the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra, Slovakia.
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Professor Bruce Ahrendsen and graduate student Matthew Coale at the Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra, Slovakia.

Although study abroad programs have existed at universities in the United States for over 100 years, only about 1 percent of all students enrolled in higher education in the United States make use of such resources. While several factors contribute to this low level of engagement, funding and knowledge about the availability of these programs are two key factors hindering students from pursuing this opportunity.

Matthew Coale, a graduate student in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, hopes to dispel the myth that only a select few have access to this transformative option by sharing his experience studying abroad in Slovakia through the Atlantis Program.

An agricultural business undergrad with a poultry science minor, Coale cites his enrollment in professor Lanier Nalley's course Global Community Development in Mozambique for giving him a taste of rural development. Through the guidance of several AEAB department faculty (and a background check and letters of recommendation), Coale opted to enroll in the Atlantis Program, a double master's degree program in agricultural economics from the University of Arkansas and in rural development issued jointly by five partner universities abroad. Coale had several accomplished partner universities to choose from, including Ghent University in Belgium and Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany, and ultimately decided on spending a semester in Slovakia's Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra. This decision was life-changing.

"With the option to go to Italy or Belgium available, the Eastern European country of Slovakia may not be in a student's purview; however, I had heard several good things about it," says Coale. "The Slovak University in Nitra," he continues, "is extremely receptive to foreign students. Thanks to the welcoming professors and community, I felt more like a part of a family than just a number."

With funding assistance from Erasmus-plus Program totaling over $5,000, Coale spent his spring 2017 semester abroad, spending five months total in Slovakia. While pursuing his studies, he was able to find time to enjoy the region, too. Nitra, the oldest city in Slovakia and home to the Slovak University, is in a premier location. A town in the midst of rapid economic growth, Coale describes Nitra as an "Eastern European Fayetteville." Living in a dorm with students from 28 different countries, Coale was immersed in diversity. His cohort explored the region, traveling to at least 16 countries between February and July.

Following his stay in Slovakia, Coale traveled to Sillico, Italy, in the Tuscany region, for the second leg of the Atlantis Program. While in Sillico, Coale gathered qualitative data for a case study project through the University of Pisa.

Reflecting on his experiences, Coale has several takeaways. "I had never heard about the Atlantis Program. It exists and is a dream come true. I grew up on a farm in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and most people wouldn't think this is doable," he said. "Students just have to look and ask for it. Funding is available, and faculty are willing to assist with the process. All I did was get the ball rolling, and by the end of the day I was going in the right direction."

Coale is currently back in Fayetteville finishing up his thesis, which focuses on quantifying the economic benefits of the public wheat breeding program in South Africa, under the supervision of Nalley.

Originally founded in 2008, the Atlantis Program has grown since its inception. Students from diverse educational backgrounds enroll in two terms at the University of Arkansas and two terms abroad. Students receive two degrees, a master's degree in agricultural economics and an international master's degree in rural development. The methodology consists of a combination of basic and specialized training in technical, economic and social sciences, a case study of one month, an individual master's thesis, and a high degree of student and scholar mobility. For additional details about the Atlantis program, please follow this link.


Ryan P. Ruiz, communications manager
Agricultural Economics and Agri business


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