No matter where he goes, he finds a smile
By Derek Berkshire
No matter where Dane Chapman went, he was greeted with a smile. Malawi, South Africa, the Netherlands — in all those places, transcending all cultures, languages, and backgrounds was a person. And a smile.
“I really want to make people feel good and be happy,” said Chapman, a junior agribusiness: agricultural marketing major from Brookston, Indiana. “I want people to smile every day. And I think if I can live my life knowing I’m impacting people’s lives in a positive manner that I would consider myself successful.”
Chapman has traveled to and studied in several countries. Along the way, he found many differences in cultures, countries, and people. Despite these differences, happiness was the universal language that surpassed all else. A simple smile connected agriculturists no matter what their practices were. This realization, Chapman explained, began with a leap of faith.
Before his first trip to the Netherlands, he was filled with doubt. Will this trip be worth it? Is this just an expensive vacation? What will I leave behind? Despite that, he was excited to learn what the experience would bring.
“I thought I could gain more than I could lose by staying,” Chapman said. “That’s why I decided to travel around and seize all of those different opportunities.”
His experiences in the Netherlands surpassed his expectations, Chapman said, so he continued to take opportunities around the world. One opportunity took Chapman to Malawi, a country in east Africa, for an internship with Land O’Lakes. He said he saw what success looks like for farmers in the third poorest country in the world. Although their way of farming was different, they were just as skeptical as farmers in the United States. He said the farmers would not change their practices unless they saw the benefits first. For farmers in Malawi, they had to see the change to believe it.
He witnessed this skepticism firsthand while he traveled to potato and tomato farms around Malawi. In each community, Land O’Lakes International Development set up two plots side by side: one would grow the crop in the traditional Malawian fashion; the other would use new techniques. The team then invited the farmers to see the difference themselves. The farmers often sat in silence, staring at the dusty earth with smiles that communicated a thousand words.
“After seeing the impact of something as simple as a string being used to make more uniform rows, these farmers began to understand what we were trying to do,” Chapman said. “They had to see to believe.”
Chapman said these experiences with Malawian farmers really stuck with him. He was able to see the direct role simple innovations and changes in practices played in communities across the country. But he said it was his experience in the Netherlands that showed just how universal farmers’ attitudes can be.
“Agriculture is agriculture and everything is relative,” Chapman said. “When you’re comparing similar things, there is not a right way and a wrong way. Things are just different. Those differences are what help us move forward.”
In each country Chapman visited, he said he found different people and perspectives. Regardless of those differences, it was never easier to connect with people than over a shared meal full of smiles and laughter.
“There’s something about just smiling, having fun, and telling jokes,” Chapman said. “I was able to see smiles all around the world and I like that. I think a lot of people have a lot of reasons to smile, too.”