by Micki Panttaja
Sometimes the best way to fully understand something is to immerse yourself in it.
For University of Idaho Army ROTC cadets Steven Cleppe and Tae Hon Paschal, their summer cultural experiences were equivalent to diving in head first. Each spent a little over a month in a foreign country, learning about the local customs, improving language skills, and getting to know their military counterparts.
The opportunity came about through the Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program (CULP). Started in 2006, the program is designed to develop cultural understanding and foreign language skills in its young officers. In order to be accepted to the program, cadets compete through an application process. The limited numbers of slots are awarded based on several factors, including GPA, physical fitness, a written essay, and other criteria. Once selected, they go through a five-day readiness process to help to prepare them for various scenarios.
Cadet Cleppe, a freshman from Shoreline, Washington, was awarded a CULP slot in Bosnia.
“Before going to Bosnia, all that I knew was that they had a major conflict in the 90’s and that there were the second most amount of land mines still scattered throughout the country. Once I got in country, I realized that they have managed to clear a majority of the minefields, although there are thousands that still remain. Bosnia has a major tourism industry that is a big driving proponent of their economy. I never would have guessed that they were able to rebound so well from the conflict.”
As a Political Science major, he also was interested in the country’s unique system of government.
“I didn’t know that the Bosnian government is so complex and conflicting. We received briefings prior to leaving and that only began to scratch the surface. They have three presidents, one Bosnian, one Croat, and one Serb and they rotate power every four months. The Bosnians and the Serbs are not on friendly terms do to the war in the mid 1990’s. Not a lot gets done and there is still a big divide.”
In addition, Cleppe and his fellow cadets met with various military units and travelled throughout the country.
“Probably the most memorable moment was sitting in the water in Dubrovnik located on the Adriatic Sea. It is one of the most beautiful places in Europe to visit. Another memorable moment was learning martial arts with the Bosnian Military Police Brigade.”
In contrast to Cleppe – who had never been to Europe before, Cadet Tae Hon Pashal South Korean CULP experience was more about re-sharpening old skills.
“I was born there, and I regret not using the language every day and improving every day, . . . so by signing up for this program I am making myself improve on the language again.”
In addition to language skills, Paschal learned about the Korean military, did outreach activities with elementary and middle school children, and interacted with Korean officers and enlisted soldiers. Eventually, Paschal says he would like to be stationed in Korea.
“I want to live there and enjoy their culture.”
He also said this experience and being in ROTC complements his International Studies (IS) degree program.
“Being in AROTC enhances my degree track in IS by allowing me to add this in to my resume, which will hopefully make me an appealing employee to my future employer because IS is a broad major, people can do anything. Now being an AROTC cadet with IS major, it helps me by allowing me to take a foreign language class as part of my major and not as an elective - which can lead to greater use to the U.S. Army and hopefully a good candidate to be stationed overseas."
It is for just these same reasons that the CULP program established.
As the program’s website states, “Now more than ever, cultural awareness training is a vital component to the ROTC curriculum. Overseas immersions help educate future leaders in ways the classroom cannot.”
To learn more about the CULP program go to: http://www.rotc.usaac.army.mil/culp