Training Overseas: Seeing the world from a new perspective
Written by Cadet Thomas Fritz, MSIII
This summer I was afforded the opportunity to participate in the Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Program (CULP). In a nutshell, cadets that are selected for this training opportunity are sent outside of the continental United States, usually to a developing country, to participate in humanitarian work or foreign military relations. In doing this, we’re exposed to a culture far different from our own. Personally, I’ve looked at life a bit differently since returning from my CULP trip; seeing life in a developing country has shifted my perspective a bit, and I know it will make me a better leader in my future as an Army officer.
The trip I participated in had a foreign military relations mission. I was sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina with a group of 19 other cadets with two O-4 cadre as supervisors. The focus of the trip was to work with leaders of the BiH military and gain and understanding of not only their military structure and function, but also of Bosnian culture as a whole. During the three weeks we were in the country, we learned the language, ate the food, experienced the customs, and assimilated ourselves as best we could. Even though we generally stuck out like weeds in a rose garden, the people were friendly, and eastern European culture is similar enough to our own that we were able to get by.
It was partly the culture that helped me gain a new perspective on the world. Bosnia is an extremely poor country, with an unemployment rate nearly 45%, still recovering from a crippling civil war nearly 20 years ago. The scars of that war are too numerous to count—from the bullet holes in the sides of buildings to the land mines that still scatter the landscape. The lines blurring ethnicity, religion, and politics are stunning to a person who was raised in a country revered for its freedoms. It wasn’t until I was thrust into that situation that I realized just how many freedoms we as Americans have, and I cherish them much more now.
Overall it was a fantastic experience. I made some of the best friends I could have ever hoped for, and saw more than I ever expected to see. I had a lot of fun in situations I never expected to have fun in. Even though the bulk of our time was spent working with their (very small) military, often enough we were able to let loose and really experience everything that the country had to offer. I don’t regret it a single bit and I would happily go again in a heartbeat.