Agriculture Coordinator: Maja Behrens

Maja, Greg, Ken

From the time that I was 13 years old, I wanted to go to the USA as I am originally from Switzerland and have grown up on a dairy farm. But since my parents would not let me farm, I completed a horticulture apprenticeship, next best thing, right?  I really wanted to see and experience something different, see the country and farming here. Without knowing a lot of English, I came to the United States on a CAEP agriculture program when I was 23.

Culture shock hit me hard. I knew that things in America would be different than in Switzerland, which is the purpose of participating on an exchange, but was not prepared for all of the cultural differences that I was going to encounter.

As my time in the program went on, my English improved. I found out that you can learn to speak English by reading the newspaper, talking with people, even watching TV is a very good tool. Learning English is like a puzzle; you learn a new word every day and it grows from there! The pieces don’t always fit together the first time but every day another piece falls into place.


Once I completed the program, I returned to Switzerland and found a job as a garden center manager. Being able to find a job immediately was that I spent time away from home and that I was able to communicate in English. These were two big reasons that I was hired as a manager.

CAEP was involved in a special project that I was able to participate in. So in the spring of 1994, I traveled to Siberia to check this project out and meet with the proposed applicants.

We worked with the applicants to prepare them well for the CAEP program, but also were looking into finding farming sites for these applicants that were promised some land by the Russian government upon returning from the US. We also planted some corn there. Кукуруза (Cucurusa) is corn in Russian, about the only word I can remember yet!

In September of that year I returned together with the 5 Russian trainees that were selected for the program we arrived in Minnesota and I became their CAEP Coordinator.

Being a CAEP Coordinator is not just a job, it’s a life style! Working as a coordinator at CAEP is great as I really love that I am able to work with different cultures from around the world. But not only that, I love to see how trainees participating on our program grow their personality, gaining confidence as each one has to overcome difficulties by themselves and therefore know that there will be no more boundaries for them.

Because of my experience, it is important to me that I am able to help trainees overcome the difficulties that they may arise during their experience on the program.

Remember now to ask questions, don’t assume!  Because of language and cultural differences, there can be so many misunderstandings.  Ask for information or you will not find out!  This is the number one mistake I made as a trainee. We all are from different cultures, speak a different language  and have different work habits, therefore we do things different; the only way we can understand each other is through communication.  There is no right or wrong way; there are only different ways of doing things!

Remember now: It truly takes quite a person to leave home and go to a different country, everyone one of you should be proud that you have taken this step, but no only that, the agriculture industry is an honorable industry to be in.

So enjoy your stay in the US and also have some fun!