Small Town meets Big World
By Kathryn Schiliro
Published in Southscapes Fall, 2015
Erin Burnett comes from Sale City, a small, rural community of less than 400 people in southwest Georgia.
She stepped foot off of U.S. soil for the first time through the People to People Student Ambassador Program, traveling to Europe. She later went to China with a group from her high school.
Within two weeks of arriving on the Athens Campus of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences as a freshman, Burnett was in the CAES Office of Global Programs (OGP), asking for their assistance in traveling abroad.
“I feel it’s really important for freshmen to figure out what they want to do and go to see people to help them do that,” said Burnett, now a third-year agricultural communication major.
In fall 2013, Burnett was awarded The Arnold International Fellowship, one of the college’s highest honors. This three-year, $5,000 fellowship funds at least two international experiences, but requires at least one to have a significant service-learning component. Recipients must also have completed the college’s International Agriculture Certificate.
“The Arnold International Fellowship is the highest international scholarship awarded by CAES,” OGP Associate Director Vicki McMaken said. “Our fellows consistently amaze us with their dedication to global engagement and service. Erin is no exception. We are so proud of her and can’t wait to see what her future holds.”
Burnett and 18 other CAES students traveled to Uruguay during spring break 2014 to learn more about sustainable agriculture in the country.
This spring, Burnett became a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. A national, congressionally funded award, the Gilman International Scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Recipients receive up to $5,000 for international academic programs or internships.
Burnett boarded a plane this summer, this time to South Africa. The study abroad program, through UGA’s Center for the Study of Global Issues, took Burnett, 25 other students and two professors to Stellenbosch, South Africa, for four weeks.
Beyond the exotic wildlife and the surrounding vineyards, Burnett gained insight into the human experience through exposure to the South African story, its history and its people.
“In South Africa, they have this concept, ‘ubuntu,’ and basically it means ‘I am because you are.’ It’s the concept of community and the way South Africans live their lives,” she said.
The trip involved service, fulfilling her Arnold Fellowship requirements, as well as academic study. After morning classes at Stellenbosch University and lunch, Burnett and her UGA classmates went into the nearby Kayamandi community to work with underprivileged children in an after-school program.
It was there that Burnett learned of the concept of ubuntu.
“In South Africa, everybody shares,” she said, explaining that sharing is necessary to academic survival for school-aged children. “Ten children share one eraser, school books, pencils. Everything is communal because no one could afford to have everything by themselves.”
Exposure to the region’s agricultural heritage grew in the after-school program. Many of the students in the program were children of area farmers.
“Basically, South Africa’s agricultural export is wine and that wine is grown on the Western Cape, where I was. It’s a remnant of the Dutch coming in and settling that area—they brought wine grapes with them,” Burnett said. “Most of the children were children of farmers who worked in the (nearby) vineyards. I chose this trip because it had a strong agricultural base, and I really like working with children.”
After their four weeks in South Africa, the UGA group explored Zimbabwe and Botswana for about six days. “It (travel) will change the way you see the world, and it will make you very thankful for what you have,” she said.
Burnett’s travels continue as she goes to UGA’s Costa Rica Campus for a six-month photojournalism internship starting in January 2016. “I know that I want to continue to travel for personal growth, but being so invested with the Office of Global Programs has inspired me, and I’m considering trying to do something like that for a career,” she said. “You get to help make kids’ dreams come true.