Gage Smith, a native of Racine, Ohio, will soon be transitioning to Columbus to complete a bachelor’s degree in community leadership and Extension education. Through Ohio State ATI’s study abroad program, Gage took advantage of two trips to Ghana, which had a profound impact on his career goals and personal growth.
What led you to your first trip to Ghana?
In 2015, I did a mission trip to Honduras with my church. It was my first time out of the U.S. It really sparked my interest in learning about another culture, another way of thinking. And who doesn’t want to go to Africa – even though my knowledge of Africa was pretty much that there are cool animals like elephants and giraffes there. And I realized that’s what most people know about Africa – they don’t think of people.
You just completed a second, longer trip to Ghana. How did that come about?
I needed an internship and early field experience to graduate. The thought of adding up numbers in a business office or working for a co-op looking at corn seedlings didn’t click with me. They were too much like what I already knew in rural Meigs County, and I didn’t think it would challenge me enough. I had friends and connections in Ghana because of my first trip, so I thought “Why not do an internship in Ghana?” It took a lot of initiative and persistence on my part to get the necessary permissions, make sure what I was planning would satisfy the requirements, apply for funding and initiate a plan.
What did you do during your three-month stay?
I partnered with two schools and worked with an Extension agent there on the ground in Ghana to start two 4-H groups. I was very fortunate to be able to work with some people in Columbus. You can’t just go in and be like “I want to do 4-H because I did 4-H in high school!” You need to understand the context of their 4-H, what their programs are, what their needs are.
That was just one part, though. I worked on a number of rural development projects, primarily in the Volta region. There’s a move to diversify Ghanaian agriculture, to develop niche markets. I was working on a hydroponics project – troubleshooting the equipment, data collection. It seems like there were a lot of people involved in hydroponics at ATI, so it was really cool to see all these different disciplines come together – from horticultural science to ag commerce to Extension education. But what was most meaningful to me was being seen as a Ghanaian, not a “superior” American. Once a week, I caught a cab (an adventure in and of itself!), met up with our Extension agent, then walked five miles to visit all the hydroponics projects.