Okeechobee teen visits Australia

Posted 2/14/24

An Okeechobee teen recently had the unique experience of visiting Australia.

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Okeechobee teen visits Australia


OKEECHOBEE — An Okeechobee teen recently had the unique experience of visiting Australia.

Jenna Larson, who graduated from Okeechobee High School last year, has been participating in 4-H, FFA and events in her church and in the community for many years.

In July 2023, Jenna was chosen as secretary of the Florida State Future Farmers Association. Jenna explained this is a type of internship program where they spend their time advocating for agriculture and developing youth leadership in young FFA members. They do a lot of community service as well.

Jenna plans to attend the University of Florida for an animal science degree with a concentration in dairy science and then come home to work on her family’s dairy farm.

As an FFA state officer, Jenna was given the exclusive opportunity to take a trip to Australia. “It’s a special trip because we go and tour farms around Australia,” said Jenna.

Seventy-five state officers from around the United States — four from Florida — participated in the trip. They had to fill out an application and then these students were selected. They all went through a cultural awareness course and leadership development courses before they left. They were in Australia for 10 days. They flew into Sydney and did some sightseeing and then visited several other areas, ending with Melbourne.

The teens visited dairy farms, beef operations, sheep, oranges, olives, cotton, etc. “We really did get a very unique and representative tour of Australia. It was awesome,” she said.

The program sponsoring the trip is called the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). Each year, they go to a different country or region. Last year, they went to Costa Rica. In the past, they have gone to South Africa, China, Spain and many more. This was the first visit to Australia.

“It was a great experience, very eye opening to see another culture,” said Jenna.

Jenna said people ask about animals the most when she tells them she went to Australia. “I expected most of the wildlife to be concentrated further away from where we were. But I would compare the kangaroo to deer in the U.S. In the sense that you would see them pretty much everywhere, but of course, not right where the central business district is. But, everywhere else. They will be in the suburbs. They will be in a pasture. Just hopping around.”

She went on to say that seeing an Emu there was like seeing a turkey here. You’d see a flock of them every now and then.

The more elusive wildlife they only saw in the zoo.

“We did probably the equivalent of driving from maybe Charlotte to New Orleans,” she said.

They had two charter buses and stayed in hotels. The hotels were different from what she was used to. She said rather than having two queen beds, they often had three twin beds.

She said Australia is a very clean country. They noticed this even in the most populous cities.

Another surprising thing she found was the Asian influence in their food and other things. “There has been a lot of Asian migration in the last few years,”

Everyone she met was friendly and welcoming. “It was funny being the one with the accent,” said Jenna.

Most Australians speak English with various Australian slang thrown in.

Jenna said she found it admirable that Aussies are taking a proactive approach to honoring the Aboriginal people who lived there before they did. "On nearly every tour we went on, tour guides paid respect to the tribe that resided there before they did," she explained. Even some restaurants and stores had signs indicating the Aboriginal group that lived there.

Australia exports nearly 70% of all their agricultural products, so it's crucial that they maintain good relations with all other countries, she said.

In the Australian Parliament, there is a depiction of an Emu and a Kangaroo, because these two animals cannot move backward, representing constant forward progress for the nation.

All in all, Jenna said she had a great time and felt like she learned a lot.

FFA, Australia, Jenna Larson