Post seeks to improve foreign student sponsorship program

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Feb. 23, 2012) -- Fort Rucker is looking to get more involvement from Soldiers and Families, civilian and military, to expand its foreign student sponsorship program in which international military students are taught about American culture while they go through their training on the installation.

The sponsorship program is designed to allow American Soldiers, civilians or Families the opportunity to take on the responsibility of sponsoring an international military student in order to teach them about what life is like here in the U.S. as opposed to what is portrayed in the media, according to Joseph R. Fernandez, Field Studies program manager for the International Military Student Office.

"The mission of the International Military Student Office is to first train these foreign military [Soldiers] in [military training]," said Fernandez. "Along with their normal training, it's mandated by the Department of the State and the Department of Defense that we also train them in American culture, customs and institutions."

The IMSO works with the foreign military students to get them more acclimated to life here in the U.S. and help them broaden their horizons about misconceptions that many international students have when coming to train on Fort Rucker, according to the program manager. The IMSO will conduct field trips with the foreign military students to areas outside of Fort Rucker such as civil rights historic sites in order to show and discuss some of American history.

"That's where the sponsorship program comes in," he said. "Our trips are large groups, and American [culture] and values can be transmitted more easily and effectively on a more personal basis."

A lot of international students have a very sheltered view of how they see Americans since it seems that American Soldiers are willing to spend so much time away from their Families to serve overseas, according to Fernandez. Many people that see American Soldiers overseas never get to see the American Families and friends or any of American society or culture at large.

"When international Soldiers come here to Fort Rucker to train, all they usually see are the people that they work with while they are training," he said. "This program simply brings them into a [more social] or Family-type atmosphere."

Monthly social events are held at Divots restaurant at the Silver Wings Golf Course, which is a time for the new international military students to be introduced, but, according to Fernandez, it's not enough.

"The socials were originally for sponsors and to get more involvement, but we had too few sponsors and it's mostly military that attend [the social], so it doesn't show a very broad view of American life," he said.

Social sponsors can convey a different lifestyle other than that of the military life by inviting sponsored students to dinner in their home, inviting them to American sporting events, going to movies, shopping or sightseeing, said Maj. Michael R. Ivy, executive officer of 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment.

"It's a great way for international military students to see the U.S., and meet local people and their Families," he said. "It's a fun way for them to learn about the real U.S., not just what Hollywood portrays in films and TV shows."

Fort Rucker is behind the curve when it comes to the foreign sponsorship program, but together, with IMSO, is hoping to change that in the near future, according to Ivy.

"We're hoping to get the word out and let people around [Fort Rucker] know that the program exists and get them interested," he said.

"We have a constant inflow of international students from all sorts of different countries coming in and many of the students are only on Fort Rucker to train for a short period of time, which has made it hard to set up a good sponsorship program," said Fernandez. "However, there are some that will come for something like the Captain's Career Course that have been here for over six months, and those are the ones we would like to make sure we can get sponsored if they wish."

Many of the international military student's daily routine consists of getting up, going to work and going back to their home on Fort Rucker, according to Fernandez.

"That's the way a lot of the [international Soldiers] see their time here on Fort Rucker and we want to change that," he said

The international military students can ask to be sponsored if they wish, according to Ivy, but it isn't very likely that they will do so.

"That's why we're trying to make that link between the international students and [potential] sponsors," he said. "We want to make their experience here in America more enjoyable."

One of the main goals of the sponsorship program is to get some involvement from people and Families outside of the military, not just Soldiers on Fort Rucker, but also civilians and Families in surrounding communities, according to Fernandez.

"What we would like to see are people in the surrounding community get involved for the long-term," he said. It's difficult for many Soldiers on Fort Rucker to be sponsors because of their busy schedules, but civilians or Family members might have more free time to offer the program.

"Whenever [Soldiers] are not training, they are studying," said Eduardo Pineiro, IMSO program coordinator, "so it's very hard to get particular people to actively participate in the sponsorship program."

Having been a sponsor himself, Pineiro spoke of the friendships that the sponsorship program can build.

"Lasting friendships are built through this program," he said. "I sponsored a student from Egypt and he still writes me to this day."

"I was also a sponsor for a Moroccan student," said Ivy. "We still write to each other and he sends me birthday cards. We used to go to Mediterranean restaurants and my sponsor student would teach me something about the culture and we would have a blast.

"[Being a sponsor] is a selfless act, but it broadens the horizons of both the sponsor and the student," he said. "It challenges your assumptions and it's an awesome opportunity to break down stereotypes."

For more information about the sponsorship program or becoming a sponsor, call 255-2391.

Page last updated Thu February 23rd, 2012 at 11:00