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04/29/2013

Atlantis Scholars Forge Political Ties Abroad

Even when it comes to food, college life in England proved to be different to Erik Burrows, a SUNY Cortland senior political science major who spent his spring semester at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in England.

As an aspiring politician Burrows, of Syracuse, N.Y., is a keen observer of local and international customs.

“I was able to venture out to find a place to shop for food, no meal plan,” Burrows remarked. “(I) had it pretty good at Cortland. Coincidentally I wound up at Asda, which is owned by Walmart. I cannot get away!”

As a little taste of home, U.S. students can buy the American staple: Twinkies, which cost two pounds — the equivalent of $3.20 apiece.

“So they exist abroad,” Burrows continued. “Only nuclear war can destroy them and, well, some hungry people.”

Burrows and fellow senior political science classmate Blaithin Loughran of Pearl River, N.Y., along with three international students enrolled at MMU — Redji Kercyku, Victoria Nevin and Paulina Lupa — received competitive Atlantis Program scholarships, funded through the United States and the European Union, for the 2012-13 academic year.

The Atlantis Program, created primarily to reflect the cooperation between the U.S. government and the European Union, offers an international hands-on learning experience for students who plan to pursue a career in government or public service.

The program, granted to select universities, awards each recipient $5,000 — or the equivalent amount in somewhat more valuable Euros — to defray living and travel expenses.

 The students travel abroad to take classes, receive experience as an Atlantis Scholar group through leadership training and internships, and are provided with the opportunity to interact with public administrators — all while earning full academic credit.

Atlantis Scholars in England

Two political science majors are shown canvassing a community in Great Britain this semester to build support for the Member of Parliament John Leech. They are Erik Burrows, shown in the back row on the far left, and Blaithin Loughran, in the center foreground, with Leech standing to her right. 

For the past four years, students have participated from SUNY Cortland, MMU, University at Buffalo and Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania.

Both Cortland seniors spent their spring semester attending class at MMU and interning for British Liberal-Democrat John Leech, a Member of Parliament for Manchester Withington since 2005.

“Our job was to assist with building a volunteer and apprentice network to raise more money and support for the election in 2015,” Burrows said.

While exploring the ins and outs of the Parliamentary system, Burrows and Loughran also experienced new customs and education methods.

 “I have learned about the English culture,” said Burrows, who updated a weekly blog about his time spent abroad. “It is not all that different from ours besides some phrases and a less formal classroom environment.”

“I've also found it to be quite informal,” agreed Loughran. “The students call all of their professors by their first names and have a pretty friend-like relationship with all of them. Erik and I even went to dinner with three of our professors last week and had a great time.

“I really do love the city of Manchester,” she said. “It is incredibly easy to get around, and the people are really nice.

“But I do of course miss Cortland very much and am looking forward to getting back and seeing my friends and all of the faculty that helped me get over here.”

Along with gaining new experience in international politics, Loughran left her mark on Manchester in other ways. An accomplished musician specializing in traditional Irish music, she was featured on a Manchester radio station while abroad. At home, she is part of a traveling and recording musical group. 

While in Europe, the American students explored London and Paris and traveled through France and Norway.

 “We got on the Eurostar train to Paris, which took almost three hours, where we passed under the English Channel,” said Burrows, describing his trip in his blog. “Cross that off my bucket list and one of the seven modern wonders of the world!”

Redji Kercyku, of the United Kingdom, said he celebrated his 21st birthday while attending SUNY Cortland. That night, he ran into a German exchange student who ironically happened to share the same milestone birthday.

The three MMU students spent their fall semester at the College, and are currently interning at the New York State Assembly in Albany. Presently, Kercyku is an intern to New York State Assemblyman David Gantt.

Distinguished Service Professor Henry Steck, the SUNY Cortland chair of the Atlantis Program and a political science professor, said he is pursuing at least another year’s extension of the College’s four-year program grant, which runs out this year.

“I anticipate that the many students who have been involved in this unique opportunity will one day help strengthen the bond between U.S.-EU political affairs,” Steck said.

For more information, contact Steck at 607-753-4807.