Ciprian Cuibus is the kind of farmhand everybody wants. He works hard, takes orders with a smile and has a true appreciation for the bounty of American life.
It isn’t surprising he’s from Romania either, given that few in our home-grown labor force would value an opportunity to work on a farm as much as he does.
The 23-year-old Romanian, from the city of Cluj in Transylvania, is in the United States thanks to the Foundation for Worldwide International Student Exchange (WISE Foundation). He was interviewed at the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
The WISE Foundation, an agricultural training program, recruits and screens international agriculture students and trainees who want to experience living and working on an American farm or agricultural operation. Trainees can help put in a crop, manage it and harvest it, as well as do simple chores around the farm and shop. But the bottom line is that they are hungry for the whole experience of American life.
Cuibus, who graduated in 2004 from the University of Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine in Cluj, learned about the training program from a WISE Foundation representative who spoke at the college. He applied for the program, was interviewed by WISE Foundation training manager Chris Clegg in March 2004, and was paired with western Kentucky dairy farmer Keith Elliott in June.
“I had worked on a dairy farm in Germany in 2003 (as part of a training program organized by the university), which helped prepare me to come here. They (the WISE Foundation) say you have to have a little experience.”
Cuibus grew up in the city of Cluj, but during summers away from school visited friends and family in the country. He developed a love for animals that made him a quick study on the farm. “I learn very fast. When I was in Germany, I didn’t have much experience, but in two or three weeks, I was driving a tractor and helping everywhere.”
He learned English while in Germany and further honed the language in the United States over the last eight months. “His English has improved a lot,” Elliott said.
Cuibus hasn’t decided where to pursue his career when the training program ends in June. He’d like to return to the Romanian countryside where his parents once lived and where he still has family. “Maybe I can go back and start a dairy farm of my own. In the village, the people are very old and will sell the land very cheaply.”
Or he could remain in the United States longer than the one-year training period. Elliott is trying to talk him into staying. “He’s working out very well. It’s been a great experience for both of us. He’s a great personality to work around. So many of the workers we’ve employed in the past don’t come to work, they come for a check.”
Cuibus is giving the offer some consideration. “I like the people in America. You can go up to anybody and ask a question, and they are happy to answer. When they notice my accent, they ask me where I’m from and want to know about my country. When people ask me who I work for, I say, ‘Keith Elliott’ and everybody knows him. In Romania, you can’t always trust people. It’s a big difference.”
The Romanian is getting used to major differences in the way that Americans put food on their table. “In Romania, you grow a lot of your food yourself, especially the vegetables. You buy your fruits. My family exchanges sunflower seeds for cooking oil, sugar and other things. Here, you buy everything.”
He doesn’t have time to raise vegetables for consumption like he would in his home country. He admits he could get spoiled “going to Wal-Mart once a week.”
Cuibus lives in a home near his host farm with another agricultural student from Bulgaria. “We have everything there, a kitchen and a television.”
He milks cows twice a day for Elliott, “in the morning and afternoon. I clean the barn, put hay out with the tractor, whatever Keith wants me to do.”
Dairy operations in the United States are a lot bigger than those in his homeland. “Keith has everything, tractors, every kind of tool you need. Many of the people in my country pay someone to work the land for them.”
If Cuibus does decide to return to Romania, his first priority will be to find a job on a farm. “This experience in the United States will be very important. People see that I have worked in Germany and the United States. It’s a big deal. I can work to maybe improve a farming operation there.”
His native country puts on farm shows like the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, “but we don’t have much cotton equipment. Farmers come from Germany and Austria to look at tractors and machinery and livestock.”
WISE was created in the 1980s by David Dahl, the organization’s executive director, as a non-profit, student exchange program. Three years ago, Dahl created the agricultural training program, bringing in students from international ag universities and placing them on American farms.
According to Dahl, the WISE Foundation receives hundreds of applications annually from foreign countries. He and Clegg, who is outgoing Southern Cotton Ginners president, from Phoenix Gin, Tiptonville, Tenn., go overseas to conduct screening interviews.
“WISE works really well in situations where the owner is the operator, where the student can work side by side with the owner,” Clegg said. “It’s an educational experience for the farmer, not just a cheap labor alternative. These students will roll up their sleeves and pitch in, and they are highly motivated to learn.”