Pandemic adds to experience of a lifetime for Kent State Salem grad
SALEM — When Christopher Thompson prepared for a horticulture internship in Ghana, he knew it would be an experience of a lifetime. What he never expected, however, was how that experience would be turned upside-down by a world-wide pandemic.
Thompson is a recent graduate of the horticulture program on the Kent State Salem Campus, earning a bachelor’s of applied horticulture degree this spring. He also holds an associate of applied science degree in horticulture, with an urban forestry concentration, from the Salem Campus.
While completing his degree requirements, Thompson understood that he needed to complete an internship and it was a discussion with his aunt that led him to Ghana.
“My aunt is one of the founders of Celmar Travel and Tours, based in the U.S. and Ghana,” he explained. “When I talked to her about my internship ideas, she and the rest of the Celmar Ghana team designed a custom internship for me, based on my interests and course requirements. I asked at the right time since their internship placement program had just launched.”
Thompson completed his internship at three locations in Ghana, including Gold Coast Fruits Ltd. In Amasaman; various cocoa and palm farms in Assin Fosu; and Sugar Land Ltd. In Dorfor.
His internship was originally scheduled from early February through early April but ended in late March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic ended my internship in a very surprising way,” he noted. “By the time I got back to Accra from my internship at Sugar Land, Ghana had closed its borders to all travel coming into and out of the country. I boarded the second to last repatriation flight back to the U.S. after signing a $2,000 loan with the U.S. government as a requirement to board the flight.
“Before I left Ghana, there were people who had contracted the illness, so, as a precaution, restaurants were closed; markets were cleaned with disinfectants; people were wearing face masks; and, before entering a shop, you were required to wash your hands at a hand-washing station set up at the door. Ghana was very proactive.”
Naturally disappointed that the internship was cut short, Thompson still appreciates the experience and being able to study horticulture and culture in another country.
“I greatly enjoyed my time in Ghana. The people were friendly and accommodating. The food is delicious and the weather is superb,” he said. “I was able to learn so much about the different food crops and plants in the area, as well as make many new friends.
“The vegetation in Ghana is prolific. Even in crowded cities, trees and bushes abound in the smallest corners of space and still produce large fruits,” Thompson shared. “Seeing houseplants that we can only enjoy indoors in Ohio growing as focal points in front yards is very interesting. Walking through forests of cocoa trees and seeing the cocoa pods growing on the trunks and branches of the trees is a strange and exciting experience. Seeing bamboo forests tower over the rest of the landscape truly is a sight to behold.”
Thompson said that he spent a great deal of time taking notes and trying to understand how the workers’ roles and responsibilities benefit the crops and the companies for which they work. He said he tried to learn as much as he could while being an active and participating member of the work crews at the various companies he visited.
“I believe that this internship helped me become a more well-rounded person and expanded my knowledge about the different types of jobs and roles that people can play in the horticultural and agricultural industry”
While Thompson traveled back and forth to a farm near the capital city of Accra, he stayed with family friends at their guest house and, when he left the big city to work at the more remote farms, he stayed in hotels closer to those locations.
The cultural differences were many, but Thompson noted two that were quite unexpected.
“One of the biggest differences that I faced was the constant music and noise that is heard throughout the various cities and town,” he related. “It is not uncommon to wake up to the sound of an outside loudspeaker playing music or the local news as early as 5 a.m. It took some getting used to, but I eventually adjusted.
“Another cultural difference was time management,” Thompson continued.” People are often not on time for scheduled events, so it can be frustrating when you’re waiting on someone to show up and they’re late.”
Another surprise for Thompson were the “tro-tros,” or communal cabs that can seat up to 15 people, depending on the size of the car.
“The mate (announcer) yells out the stops from the side of the car while it is in motion. It is up to you to discern where the tro-tro is going and then signal for him to stop so you can get on,” he explained. “It was a confusing process at first, since the mate will abbreviate the different destinations, but, after the first few experiences, it got easier. I liked them because, if you missed one that was going to your destination, another would be passing by shortly.”
Thompson obviously intends to pursue a career in the forestry, horticulture of agricultural industry, while also continuing to learn, hone his skills and earn relevant professional licenses and certifications.
“I want to put my education and experiences to work in a field I’m passionate about,” he said. “I look forward to working in an environment with like-minded people and expanding my knowledge and competencies as we work toward common goals. … My goal is to become a valuable asset to the company or organization I am employed with, as well as my community.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic cut short Thompson’s first visit to Ghana, he said he has plans to return.
“I do plan on going back to Ghana. The environment and the feeling of the country is so different and unique compared to what I am used to,” he said. “I loved my time spent with people I met, and I could see myself staying for an extended period.”
— Submitted material