Seven ROTC cadets at Buena Vista University spent three weeks abroad this summer learning about other countries’ cultures and military forces as part of the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) Program.
“The CULP Program is designed to give our cadets a better understanding of cultures and military from around the world so that they can return to campus and share with other cadets,” says Capt. Jared Gledhill, assistant professor of military science and officer in charge of the ROTC program at BVU.
The BVU students, all juniors, and the countries they visited are:
- Mason Nielsen, an exercise science – human performance major from Central City – Vietnam
- Matt Gross, an elementary education major from La Porte City – Cambodia
- Alex Seaman, a business management – human resources major from Spencer – Cambodia
- Nolan Sampson, a business management major from Cherokee – Korea
- Deni Peters, an education major from Lake Park – Tanzania
- Michael Thielen, a business management major from Harlan – Malawi
- Corey Hannula, an exercise science – human performance and athletic training double major from Maplewood, Minn. – Bosnia and Herzegovina
The students were selected for the CULP Program on the basis of their grade point average, physical fitness and participation in the ROTC program. As part of the program, students spent a week of readiness training and team building at Fort Knox and three weeks in the host country.
“The trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina was a very rewarding experience in not only trying to understand the unique culture that Bosnia has, but also in attempting to understand a military force that is growing and trying to adopt doctrine that has been instituted and is partly based off of the United States military,” says Corey, who also participated in the program in 2011 in Guatemala. “We were able to see many different military bases throughout the country as well as meet with many of their military leaders who briefed us on the training they were conducting as well as what their future goals were with their training.”
Beyond learning about the culture and military practices of Malawi, Michael says the experience influenced his professional goals. “I am now more open to being stationed on military bases in other countries.”
Michael says the experience also gave him the opportunity to connect with ROTC cadets from around the U.S. “I enjoyed interacting with all the recruits and getting to know them on a personal level. I made some really good friends.”
Although the underlying focus of the CULP program is cultural immersion regardless of the destination, each trip has its own distinct purpose. Some trips are military-focused with the objective to develop a better understanding of the host country’s military operations. Other trips support non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and involve conducting humanitarian services.
Deni’s CULP experience, a humanitarian mission that involved teaching English to students, broadened her perspectives. “The education system is completely different in Tanzania,” she says. “There were three classes ranging from ages three to 12. Pencils were sharpened with knives, and attendance wasn’t mandatory. Since I am an education major, the education systems were shocking to me. There were no standards, zero technology in the classrooms, and the focus was on the complete memorization of facts.”
“I have a lot of respect for the people of Tanzania and other third-world countries,” adds Deni. “They have so little, but they are still proud and live very happy lives.”
Mason’s trip also involved teaching English, but only to officers from all branches of the Vietnamese military. “I enjoyed every bit of my experience in Vietnam,” he says. “It showed me how different other parts of the world are. I think everyone should partake in some sort of trip like this if possible. I feel like I can be a better leader because of my experience and also because I was around other cadets and cadre members and was able to learn from them, too.”
As a future educator, Matt says his time in Cambodia instructing military personnel about the English language, culture and military tactics was very rewarding. “Getting to see the Cambodians’ reaction to learning something new was amazing! It’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s the reason that I am majoring to become a teacher.”
Gledhill hopes the experiences had a lasting impact on the cadets. “For many of the students, this was their first opportunity to leave the U.S. and work with people who are not from the U.S.,” says Gledhill. “I hope they now have a new level of understanding and can add to the discussion in all of their classes and can refer back to what they learned this summer for the rest of their life.”