Four FFA leaders from Washington state recently returned from a 12-day educational and cultural experience in South Africa.

State reporter Kelci Scharff of Cheney, treasurer Sydney Klaveano of Pullman, vice president Mollee Gray of Medical Lake and secretary Taylor Enns of White River participated in the 2018 International Leadership Seminar for State Officers, an annual international opportunity through the National FFA Organization.

The trip allows FFA members to experience a foreign culture, learn about international agriculture and become more knowledgeable about the global marketplace, according to a Washington FFA press release.

Seventy-four past and present state FFA officers representing 24 states left the U.S. on Jan. 4. The group traveled throughout South Africa while surveying the agricultural landscape. FFA officers met with U.S. Embassy officials to learn about U.S. and South African trade relations; toured crop and livestock operations; met with business and industry leaders; and explored a private game reserve that is home to lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. The group also met with fruit exporters, abalone producers and others.

The experience was truly once in a life time, the officers reported.

“It was interesting to see how extra virgin olive oil was made — I use it often to cook, but never realized how complex the process is,” Klaveano said.

The trip included opportunities they would not get to see in Washington.

“Getting to see the different types of animals on the safari was truly thrilling as I’ve only ever seen them in the zoo,” Gray said.

“The embryo transfer facility that we visited interested me as it is a potential career option for me,” said Scharff, who raises cattle.

“The indigenous plants in South Africa were extravagant, as we use many of them here as medicine,” Enns stated.

“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,” Eric Nelson, program manager with the National FFA Organization, said. “This seminar exposes students to culture and food production practices beyond what they are accustomed to in the United States.”

Before departing the U.S., the students completed eight weeks of online coursework related to cross-cultural adaptability. The program was made possible by corporate sponsors Bunge North America and John Deere. Students shared their experience throughout their trip on Twitter and Instagram.

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 653,404 student members who belong to one of 8,568 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The organization is also supported by 345,812 alumni members in 2,051 alumni chapters throughout the U.S.

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