When Ernesto "eRnie" Prencke came to the United States for the first time in 1998 to visit his sister in Florida, it was love at first sight.

Prencke decided he must find a way to come back and live in the country he felt a closer cultural connection to than his own native country of Colombia. As the son of a Rotarian, Prencke discovered his chance through the Georgia Rotary Student Program and he was going to America as a guest of the Valdosta Rotary Club.

Prencke, now a 20-year-old sophomore at Valdosta State University, majors in business administration in finance. He lives in Centennial Hall on campus works at the front desk in Lowndes Residence Hall.

Prencke is from the city of Barranquilla located in northwest Colombia.

The outspoken young man finds some faults with his motherland. Prencke believes that since the new constitution, adopted in 1991, the Colombian government has lowered the taxes on imports at the sacrifice of letting the economy falter and raising outrageous taxes on Colombians.

He believes that former President Cesar Gavira sold out the country to earn a seat in the United Nations and that present President Alvaro Uribe, who is taking money away from health and education programs, is not doing much to help the people.

"Things are just not right there (Colombia)," Prencke said. "Here (United States) everything is just straightforward, things work how they are suppose to."

Prencke has known that his characteristics are more suited to American culture since learning about our country as a child from his grandfather, a commercial attach in the American Embassy in Barranquilla.

When Prencke's father enthusiastically suggested that his son apply for the GRSP, Prencke saw his chance to live in the country in which he knew he belonged.

In 2002, Prencke began the application process for the GRSP.

Since 1946, Rotarians in Georgia have promoted world peace through understanding by offering scholarships to international students for one year of study in Georgia colleges and universities.

Today, the program hosts 80 or more students each year. The cost for a Rotary Club to sponsor a student is more than $10,000.

For a student to be eligible, he or she must be between the ages of 18 and 25 and must not have previously studied in the United States. The student must be recommended by a Rotary Club in the host country and go through an extensive application process. This includes taking the SAT, creating an essay about the student's desire to study in the United States and submitting a recent picture, two letters of recommendation from teachers and a letter of recommendation from the student's sponsoring Rotary Club or Rotary District Governor.

The program provides a one-year scholarship from August until May that covers tuition, living arrangements in a residence hall, meals and books. The sponsoring club also meets other individual needs.

Prencke needed a bicycle to get to his classes from Centennial Hall, so the Valdosta Rotary Club purchased one. For safety and emergency use, the club will also provide him with a cellular phone.

While in the country, students are hosted by a Rotary family. During holiday breaks, the student may go reside with the family. Prencke's host family is a committee of Valdosta Rotarians chaired by Tyrone O'Steen. Committee members include Wanda Causseaux, Rev. V.L. Daughtery, Dr. Suzannah Patterson and Nick Valenti.

"eRnie is a stand-up guy," O'Steen said. "It has been a pleasure sponsoring him. Just hanging out with him is fun."

The GRSP is one of the Rotary Club's most prestigious programs. Each year a Georgia Rotary Club holds a conclave for all the GRSP students to meet and learn about the United States.

This year the conclave was held in LaGrange by the LaGrange Rotary Club from Aug. 26-28. Last year the Valdosta Rotary Club hosted the conclave.

The Valdosta Rotary Club was founded in 1919, and today it has about 130 members led by its 2005-06 president, Dr. Suzannah Patterson.

Prencke plans to continue his education in the United States after his Rotary scholarship expires in May of 2006. After graduation he wants to start his own outsourcing company in Colombia.

"Through GRSP, I have the chance to come to the country I have always wanted to live," Prencke said. "One day, I hope to take back what I have learned here and use it to improve my country. My thanks to the members of the Valdosta Rotary Club for providing me this awesome opportunity."

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