Enjoying the discomfort zone

29.08.2023 The thought of writing a personal story for a national publication is a nerve-wracking concept, but BFH-HAFL BSc student Stefan Roth explains why he’d do it all again. 

Stefan Roth helping to clean the beds of the silkworms in Bulgaria.
Stefan Roth helping to clean the beds of the silkworms in Bulgaria.

Stefan Roth calls from a beachside camping ground outside of Rome, but he’s not on holiday. He’s doing field assignment research as part of his BSc in Agriculture, International Agriculture. 

His posting has been very different to the field assignments of his colleagues. This summer, instead of being stationed in one country, like the others, he’s travelled all over Europe in search of silk. 

So far, Stefan’s interviewed people in the sericulture industry in Switzerland, France, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and now Italy, with plans to go to Slovenia before returning home in late September or early October. 

This variety of experiences prompted his thesis supervisor Nancy Bourgeois Lüthi, Head of Group International Agriculture at BFH-HAFL, to suggest writing a story from the field. Last Friday, his article was published in BauernZeitung. 

“I'm not the type of guy who, let's say, would have volunteered to do this,” he said. “I don't write much in my free time. I’m not the one writing diaries or something like that. 

“But I thought ‘Why not try?’ Maybe, sometimes, it's good to be pushed a little bit, or to push yourself, to do something out of the comfort zone. I'm happy that I've done it, yeah. 

“Later on, the experience could be helpful when you have a small business, or something like that, and you have to create the website and then you also have to regularly write things so that people are interested in what you do.”

Maybe, sometimes, it's good to be pushed a little bit, or to push yourself, to do something out of the comfort zone. I'm happy that I've done it. 

Stefan Roth Student BSc Agriculture

The writing process

Stefan’s thesis is on “Assessment of sericulture as a sustainable agricultural niche production for small-scale farmers in the European context.” He had known about the newspaper article since the start of July, and finding time for both writing assignments was on his mind. After visiting a family in Romania, he knew he’d found the article’s starting point and then the words flowed freely. 

“It’s different than compared to writing a scientific report, like a bachelor's thesis, because it's more like a personal story,” he said. 

“I found it nice to write a bit differently. In a scientific article, every sentence has to be referenced and sourced, but this was more like writing an essay about experiences. 

“And then I found a good starting point – the visit to a family in Romania which I really enjoyed – and got into a flow.” 

He emphasised the importance of starting early and not leaving writing to the last minute, an issue for many students.  

“I had a bit of spare time, and the visit was still fresh in my mind,” he said.

“I think it could be very stressful if you don’t know what to write about – I remember it from school when we had to write an essay but sometimes it was easy because you had an idea, a good idea, and then you had the flow. 

“At the beginning I didn’t know what to write, so it could have been like that, but when I was writing it, in the end it only took me an afternoon because I found the entry point. 

“I can imagine that it can be really very, very stressful if you wait until the end to submit it. I began thinking about it all in advance, and I think that was a good decision, especially for something like this that is published and everybody will see it. If you do that at the last moment and then at the end you're not happy about it, that would be very unsatisfying.”

Silkworms about to spin their cocoons.
Silkworms about to spin their cocoons.
Traditional hand loom, for weaving traditional textiles in Romania.
Traditional hand loom, for weaving traditional textiles in Romania.

Positive feedback

For Stefan, the whole process was positive – the help from Nancy and the newspaper staff, as well as feedback from colleagues, friends and family. The published article was shorter than what he’d submitted, losing a whole section about the history of silk production in China, which was disappointing but understandable, he said. 

“It’s nice to see it (in print), of course, and also Nancy and those from Swiss Silk seem to be quite happy about the result as well. So having feedback like that is nice. 

“Also, I could share the article with friends because sometimes they have no idea what I do. I mean, I tell them a bit about what I do, but it's not the most typical work, so sometimes it's difficult to explain. 

“Now they can see and understand a bit more about what I’ve been doing all these months. So this article is also a bit, in part, for family and friends too. 

“Of course, many others will read it, but at the end, I think, there is no reason to be afraid.” 

He encouraged other students to write about their experiences, and not be daunted by the prospect of writing for a publication.  

“If you write something which is not, let's say, good enough, the newspaper people will help you,” he said. “They contacted me in advance and said if I needed help, they would be more than willing to provide that. 

“So, I think the whole process is safe, and for me it was a good experience and I think I would do it again. It was a nice collaboration. 

“Honestly, I'm quite happy with the article and I might frame a copy and hang it on the wall somewhere … or at least in one corner, a bit hidden, yeah.”

Read Stefan Roth’s BauernZeitung article here (in German)

Find out more

Subject area: Agriculture + Forest, Life Sciences + Food Science