“The smells,” she replied immediately when asked her least favorite part of milking cows, cleaning out the barn, and tending manure-covered fields. Her favorite parts? Too many to name.
“At the end of the week, I didn’t want to leave,” says Ebtihal, who visited the farm for her Capstone Project, the two-week experiential learning program that Hun students must design, complete, and report on at the end of their senior year.
Other Capstone projects this spring included shadowing a surgeon, building a drone, and handcrafting a guitar from scratch. Students interned at Nike, developed an app, and critiqued Broadway plays. At the end of the two-week program, they reported back to teachers and classmates about what they had learned.
Ebtihal came to Hun two years ago with the help of the prestigious Crown Prince’s International Scholarship Program in her native Bahrain. For her final project at Hun, she wanted to experience another type of American community besides the one she was so comfortable in at school.
“I love the experience of meeting new people and seeing new cultures,” said Ebtihal,
who will head to the University of Pennsylvania next fall to study engineering. When she asked her older sister at home for ideas, her sister found the farm online. Ebtihal was captivated by the idea of exploring a place so different from her urban, Middle Eastern roots.
And so in May she found herself at Country Cousins Farm
, owned by Stan and Sharon Horning, in Watertown, New York, that provides working stays. She said they were particularly excited to have her there. “They were so excited to have someone from Bahrain there,” she noted. “They introduced me to everyone.”
When she arrived, Ebtihal was taken to the barn, where fifty milking cows, and their manure, live.
“The smell was so bad, the first day, I thought, ‘What am I doing here? I need to go back to Hun!” she said. “But you get used to it.”
After one day of observing and learning about the cows, Ebtihal was put to work. Awake every day at 5 a.m., she did morning chores, including feeding the cows, learning to milk them with machines, and cleaning out the barn. (For convenience, Ebtihal decided to take off her headscarf while doing chores at the farm.) The whole process was repeated at 3 p.m., after which she helped let the cows out for grazing for the night. A visit by the veterinarian allowed Ebtihal to see an ultrasound of a cow in utero. And she learned to drive a tractor while spreading manure on the fields where corn and hay for feed grow.
“I was surprised that (Stan and his son) know every single cow by name,” she said. “They are really passionate about their work. They work very hard, but no one is complaining.”
Conversation over hearty meals revolved around the farm, and evenings were for watching movies, playing board games, and other family activities, with bedtime at 9.
“I didn’t even have time to use my phone,” she said, noting that she, and her hosts, usually looked at screens just twice a day. “They spent more family time together.” Her hosts also took her to their church, where she was impressed by the music.
“By the last day, I wanted to stay longer; it was so peaceful, and such a nice change,” remarked Ebtihal. “The experience was so much more than I expected. I learned that farming is really, really hard work. And I learned how to live a simple life.”