This article, written by Yash Bhika, was originally published in The Red & Black.
When Summer Burnett’s name is called out before every Georgia women’s soccer home game, she does her hang loose gesture to the fans. The gesture can be traced back to her roots.
Burnett, who is a fifth year senior and was born in Makakilo, Hawaii, keeps her traditions with her as she plays in the South.
“I’ve seen her with a lei on after the game, so she brings some of her culture over and some of her traditions here,” Georgia head coach Billy Lesesne said.
Her journey to Georgia is unique because she never considered playing in the Southeastern Conference until her senior year of high school. During that time, Burnett was still uncommitted and was looking to continue her soccer career in California or Oregon.
But during one of her games, she found an unlikely connection to Georgia.
“One of the referees used to coach in the SEC, and he’d ask me where I was going to play,” Burnett said. “I told him at the time where I wanted to go, and he said you need to go to the SEC.”
After that, she got connected with some of the Georgia coaches, and she committed right away.
The decision to play so far away from home was made easier because around the same time her mom got a job at Hawaiian Airlines.
Her mom’s position allowed her to have free travel anywhere around the United States.
“I’m just lucky,” Burnett said. “Since freshman year, [my parents have] been able to come to as many games as possible.”
When the time came to actually come to Georgia, she admittedly had difficulties adjusting to the time zone and humidity.
“I am like a professional time clock person with my body at this point,” Burnett said. “I’ve drank coffee and other things to get my body back to the sleeping schedule I need,” Burnett said.
Burnett’s home town in Makakilo, Hawaii, has a population of around 18,000 people, about half as many as the number of students on Georgia’s campus.
The amount of people came as a shock to Burnett, who was used to being close with everyone back home.
“Anywhere I go at home, I swear I can always find someone that I know, or have a connection too,” Burnett said. “I think that is part of the reason I came here, so I could be on my own and be independent and start fresh.”
When Burnett is on campus, her teammates rave about how she has an infectious and fun spirit.
She tries to bring a welcoming atmosphere anywhere she goes.
“The Aloha Spirit is just being welcoming, and treating my teammates like they’re family because that’s what they really are to me,” Burnett said.
Coming from Hawaii, Burnett gets plenty of questions from her teammates about her home. They often ask her questions such as what is her favorite thing to do back home, which Burnett quickly answers with surfing.
However, Burnett also takes this time to teach her teammates about her culture.
“A lot of people don’t know that there is such a thing as being Hawaiian, and that surprises me that people don’t know that,” Burnett said. “They don’t even know that we have a culture, or how we were taken over by the United States. I do like educating people about that.”
Some of her teammates get the chance to experience the Hawaiian culture first hand. During spring break, Burnett takes a couple of her teammates back to her hometown, a tradition which started four years ago.
Burnett takes her teammates sight seeing and surfing.
“I think the best thing is when I take [my teammates] home is seeing how much they appreciate it,” Burnett said. “When I brought my teammates out no matter if it was raining or not they just saw the beauty in everything, and I think that always opens my eyes to the place that I call home.”
When she is back home, Burnett loves to indulge in Poke, which is raw fish that is diced up in cubes, and served with a bed of rice.
“That is one of my favorite things to eat at home especially on a beach day, so when my parents come up often times they literally bring frozen fish for me,” Burnett said. “They do crazy things for me.”
Just as her teammates appreciate her culture, Burnett has begun to acclimate herself to some southern delicacies as well.
She enjoys eating shrimp and grits, but has grown fond of Chick-fil-A.
It doesn’t matter to Burnett if she is surfing the waves back home, or making tackles during the game, she has found her home away from home.
“I don’t regret [coming to Georgia] at all it was the best decision of my life,” Burnett said. “I love this school and the people.”