Trip to South Africa expands ag experience for Hitchcock-Tulare grad


At the beginning of the year, South Dakota State University sophomore April Hamilton got to go on the trip of a lifetime.

The Hitchcock-Tulare High School graduate was one of 83 FFA members nationwide who took a 12-day trip to South Africa to learn about the country, its unique crops and livestock, and its agricultural practices.

As the name implies, the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers was only for current and past state FFA officers. Hamilton served as state secretary in the 2017-18 school year. The competition was stiff to be part of the trip.

While in South Africa, the FFA state officers ate a 14-course meal to experience African cuisine. Courtesy photo

“I heard through the grapevine that it fills up really fast, you have to be able to fill out your application within less than five minutes,” said Hamilton, who is from Hitchcock.

The trip generally goes to a different country each year, but this was the last of a string of excursions to South Africa, she said.

It wasn’t Hamilton’s first international excursion. She said she had the opportunity to spend a month in Norway during summer 2016 as part of an exchange.

Hamilton had to miss the first week or so of classes this semester, but said her professors were very understanding, and it helped that she gave them advanced warning.

“They were all very open to it. I offered to do some homework before I left, too, not that I really wanted to — just to make it a little easier on myself when I got back,” she said.

Workers at Hoekstra Fruit Exporters. Courtesy photo

There was eight weeks of online coursework before the trip, which started in earnest with everyone gathering in New York for a couple of days of orientation, Hamilton said. Then it was off on a 14-hour flight to Johannesburg.

The first outing after landing was to the Apartheid Museum and to the Nelson Mandela monument.

“There we kinda got to just learn about this history a little better — have a better understanding,” Hamilton said. “I think that definitely set the mood for the rest of the trip.”

Then travelers made the trek to Pretoria, where they visited a farm where cattle, goats and crops were raised, Hamilton said.

“That was interesting to see how it’s so similar, for me, for my agricultural background, it’s so similar, but yet completely different in how they do things, just because of their weather and how the plants and the crops grow over there,” she said.

They got to visit two game reserves where they saw animals like sables, elephants, giraffes, zebras, water buffalo, cheetahs, lions, leopards, warthogs and ostriches, Hamilton said.

Ostrich eggs can hold up to 130 pounds each, so April Hamilton was able to easily stand on two.

They got to visit an ostrich ranch, and check out the giant bird in all phases of life.

“We got to sit on an ostrich, we got to hold a baby ostrich as well, so that was really exciting,” Hamilton said. “One egg can hold 130 pounds.”

One thing that impressed Hamilton about South African agriculture is the drive for constant improvement. It’s common for agriculture students to spend time abroad to learn new techniques and strategies.

“They keep up to date with everything because they’re bringing all of these resources and input from other countries back to where they live,” she said.

The FFA group got back to the States in mid-January after 12 days in South Africa.

Hamilton said she would love to do a longer exchange, if possible.

“I feel like you learn a lot more being able to be in depth with a few individuals,” Hamilton said.

While she’s not sure what she wants to do for a career, she said she wants to work with youth in agriculture.

“I would love to be something in Extension or 4-H or FFA — helping out kids being able to find their passion,” Hamilton said. “But I don’t necessarily want to be inside the classroom.”

Half the visiting FFA group at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Courtesy photo