KEYSER - Lainey Smith and Lexi Trickett, students at West Virginia University Potomac State College who both hold state offices with the National FFA Organization (FFA), traveled to South Africa this winter to attend the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO).

By Debi Swick-Cruse
WVU Potomac State College
KEYSER - Lainey Smith and Lexi Trickett, students at West Virginia University Potomac State College who both hold state offices with the National FFA Organization (FFA), traveled to South Africa this winter to attend the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). 
Smith, a sophomore from Red House, West Virginia, and Trickett, a freshman from Oakland, Maryland, are both majoring in agriculture and environmental education.
After an exhausting 18-hour flight, Smith and Trickett, along with 72 other state officers from 24 states across the nation, spent two weeks experiencing South Africa while also learning about their agricultural practices. 
“Our first whole day in South Africa was a day I will never forget!  We made our way to the Pretoria Boeremark farmers market around 5 a.m. where the smell and taste of new food was unbelievable, and the people were so incredibly kind,” said Smith.
While making their way toward a farming plantation, the group stopped for lunch where they were welcomed by women in traditional South African dress, who gave them a tour of traditional African huts.  As they continued their journey, they also toured a subtropical farm that produced bananas, avocados, ginger, and macadamia nuts. 
Their adventure resumed along the Panorama Route, which is full of spectacular scenery, including the Three Rondavels at the Blyde River Canyon, astonishing waterfalls, and the amazing beauty of Bourke’s Luck Potholes. 
The Potholes are tremendous geological formations created by water flowing through the land for many centuries.  After a quick rest in tents, the group ventured out for a three-hour game drive where they observed an assortment of wild animals, including elephants, giraffes, rhinoceros, leopards, zebras, and many others. 
“From the early mornings to late nights, South Africa has been a joy to explore,” stated Trickett.
In addition to learning about one of the main Boer goat farms in the area, the group also visited dairy, sheep, and beef farms, as well as a world-class embryo center.
 “Agricultural professionals and a speaker from the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria briefed us on current and future trends in agriculture in South Africa, trade relationships with the U.S. and other countries, and livestock operations with cattle, white rhinos and other African wildlife.  I’m really excited to be able to take what I’ve learned here, and at Potomac State, and apply it to future classes at the College,” said Trickett. 
Packing as much as they could into two weeks, the group explored the Inyoni Crocodile Estate, an apple orchard, a winery that also produces olive oil, a farm where they learned about the life cycle of abalone, and the Boulders Penguin Colony, a unique and endangered land-based colony of African penguins.
While visiting the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch, they discovered interesting facts about ostriches.  “Not only did we get to pet and feed them, but we got to sit on one too,” voiced Trickett. 
 “Our last full day in South Africa was bittersweet.  We visited Robben Island in Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life in exile.  This trip was just so much more than I thought it would be, but by the end of two weeks, I was ready for country roads to take me home,” said Smith.
“One of the most awe-inspiring sights in South Africa was to stand on Table Mountain, (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), which overlooks Cape Town and Table Bay, and witness the incredible views that God has created,” stated Trickett.
Smith also had the following comment, “Being able to stand on Table Mountain was breathtaking!  It helped me really put things into perspective on how little we actually are and how there is always a higher mountain to climb, in learning and in life.  It made me realize that the professors at Potomac State are helping me climb those mountains.” 
After immersing themselves into the African culture, Smith and Trickett returned home with many stories, but most importantly, they returned home with the experience of an extraordinary adventure during their first trip abroad.
Smith connected her experience in Africa to her college experience with the following observation.  “When we were getting ready to fly to Africa, we were given this quote, ‘Wherever you may be, be all there’ (author unknown) to help us focus on why we were going, but I think it’s also a very good quote to live by. Whether you’re on the other side of the world, on a once in a life time trip that you’ll probably never get to experience again, or in a 3-hour lecture class ... be all there. Every moment of life counts and you don’t want to regret missing out on something when you thought it was nothing,” added Smith.
The International Leadership Seminar for State Officers empowers state Future Farmers of America officers by providing them with a global perspective and comparison of agricultural practices in the U.S. and abroad.  According to Eric Nelson, program manager with the National FFA Organization, “We hope that through a structured experience like ILSSO, students will not only see the importance of agriculture on an international level, but understand it is essential to feeding the world.”
For further information about WVU Potomac State College’s agriculture, forestry or equine programs, contact Enrollment Services at 304-788-6820 or 800-262-7332, or at go2psc@mail.wvu.edu.