Members of Atlanta’s international and diplomatic community spent an evening in Athens Thursday — one of 10 stops on their three-day International VIP Tour throughout Georgia.
Twenty-eight members of the Georgia Consular Corps, representing 26 countries, gathered at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries for a tour of the library and for a special dinner.
“We are proud and thrilled that they chose to visit UGA this year,” said Sean McMillan, director of economic development for the Atlanta office of the University of Georgia. “It’s an opportunity for us to strengthen our international relationships and show leaders from around the world the first-rate education that UGA students receive, as well as the cutting edge research that is underway.”
McMillan said the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), which is hosting this year’s event, has organized the annual tour since 1985.
The Consulate General of Canada, Steve Brereton, a tour member, spoke at the event, and he said UGA is one of the most important stops on the tour.
“Being here at UGA is really the highlight of the opportunities and the recognitions of what it means to be on the International VIP Tour,” Brereton said, “what we can learn from you and what we can see going forward, both in terms of tremendous business opportunities, in terms of tourism, in terms of just people-to-people diplomacy and the relationships we can build.”
The individuals in the Consular Corps, McMillan said, represent the Southeastern United States and promote economic, commercial, cultural and scientific relations and offer services to foreign citizens living in or traveling in Georgia.
“It’s an opportunity for them to see our state perhaps more intimately than they would be able to in carrying out their daily duties, which typically is within the Atlanta area or other cities around the southeast,” McMillan said.
UGA President Jere Morehead also spoke at the event, and he emphasized UGA’s focus on internationalization and its relationship with the business community of Georgia.
“One of the things that we’re most proud of at the University of Georgia is that we have a long and consistent record of public service and outreach,” Morehead said. “Which for us includes support for economic development in this state and linking the work at the University of Georgia to the work that goes on thought this state in our business community.”
John Parkerson, a tour member and Honorary Consul of Hungary, said the reason this event is important is that it gives international representatives in Georgia an opportunity to build relationships with different areas of the state.
“This year’s tour, as a matter of fact, is probably the best one that I’ve been on,” Parkerson said. “This is the fourth tour that I’ve been on. Each year, we go to a different part of Georgia, to a different area. Last year for example we were in south Georgia. I think it’s very important for us because we represent governments that are interested in trade, development and commerce.”
He said he is able to use this as opportunity to help businesses in Georgia maintain ties with Hungary.
“In Hungary, there’s several Georgia businesses that have a pretty large presence there, and I like to assist them in maintaining the good relationships between this area and Hungary,” Parkerson said.
McMillan said UGA chose the Special Collections Library for the members to see for multiple reasons.
“If you look at the intent of the tour, it’s an opportunity for a community to be able to showcase special things that are unique to the community that tie cultural connections and/or international connections that would be interesting to this particular, very diverse international group,” McMillan said. “The Special Collections Library, with all of its rich information and the fact that Peabody’s are hosted by UGA and housed in the Special Collections Library, addressed the request for something that is very unique culturally.”
Jennifer Frum, UGA’s vice president for public service and outreach, said UGA is honored to host this stop on the tour.
“We are very fortunate to have the VIP Tour visit UGA this year,” Frum said. “This is a unique opportunity for us to show international leaders UGA’s high-quality education, research and outreach programs and the significant impact they are making around the state.”