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Home from Ethiopia, Wildcats already thinking about returning

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Avery Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent a week serving in Ethiopia in late May. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns) Avery Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent a week serving in Ethiopia in late May. (Photo by Jeffrey Burns)
Within hours of landing in Ethiopia, Avery Williamson began to wonder what he had gotten himself into.

After a 13-hour flight, Williamson and his two UK teammates landed in Bole Bulbula, a village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city. They stepped off the plane, immediately distributing water filters to residents without clean water.

Williamson was excited about the athletic department-sponsored service trip before he left, but amid wholly unfamiliar surroundings, anxiety began to set in. By the end of his week in Ethiopia, however, it disappeared.

"The first day I got there I was really homesick, honestly," Williamson said. "I was ready to come back. But after being over there for a week, I wasn't ready to come back home."

In spite of some initial nervousness, Williamson embraced everything the trip had to offer. He allowed his perception of poverty to change when he saw the conditions in the leper colony of Korah. He didn't try to avoid seeing children as young as five years old begged for spare change or food.

"I was really surprised but the living conditions and stuff," Williamson said. "You see it on TV but until you really see it in person it starts to hit you. You start thinking about it and like, 'I could not live like this.' That is how those people live out their lives and they are accustomed to it."

By the time it was all over, he wasn't thinking about sleeping in his warm bed, changing into clean clothes or raiding a stocked refrigerator. Instead, he was trying to figure out how he could do more. Williamson, Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell spent much of the flight home to the United States thinking about finding their way back to the country that had so deeply affected them.

"I was really glad to go over there and be able to help," George said. "In the future, I would really like to go back and do some more stuff for the people in Ethiopia."

But before they can make a return trip, Williamson, George and Mitchell have to resume their normal lives as Kentucky football players.

All three will be seniors on new head coach Mark Stoops' first UK team. Summer workouts are already underway and they are all expected to play important leadership roles in 2013. That, in fact, is a major reason why their coaches tabbed them to make the trip.

"It is more people that are working hard and being leaders on the team that get selected," Williamson said. "I thought it was a big honor for me to get chosen because there have been some great guys that have went on this trip in the past and I was very humbled by it."

Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines went on the inaugural trip in 2011 and Mikie Benton, Matt Smith and Larry Warford followed last May. All five brought their changed perspectives home and used them to help guide their teammates. Williamson, George and Mitchell will now look to do the same.

Though his thoughts won't be far from the people with whom he built relationships in Ethiopia, George believes an increased awareness of how blessed he and his teammates are to have so many opportunities will make them even hungrier to capitalize.

"One of the things I took from this trip was being thankful and being appreciative for the things I do have," George said. "I've always felt that way about things being appreciative of what you have because there is always somebody that has it worse, but I feel like this opened up my eyes even more to that topic because some of the things I saw and experienced it was real rough to see people going through those types of things."

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