Culture shock - of the best kind
March 21, 2012
FORT KNOX, Ky. -- If you move from Los Angeles, Calif., to Luverne, Ala., you'd experience it. Or if you travel from your home in Miami to Hazard Ky., you also go through it.
It's uneasiness, or a type of cultural awareness, to be more precise.
Not every place in the U.S. is the same. There is country living and city living; different ideas of religion and politics; and while we all might speak English, different areas of the country have different dialects and slang. And what might be a culinary delicacy in one part of the country is fish bait in the other.
Now, imagine that you are in another country -- the culture is different, the language is foreign, politics and religion are intermixed, and the value system is unlike anything you've known. You can't communicate, and when you do, there are gulfs of lost information and miscommunication. But the job you have been given requires you to work, live and speak with the locals in the area.
That's what Soldiers who work outside of the U.S do every day. Prior to 2001 the Army had not incorporated curriculum and guidance into its general preparation and training, so cultural ignorance worked against U.S. and host nation goals.
Today, thanks in part to a 2005 DoD document entitled "Defense Language Transformation Roadmap," the Army is creating basic language and cultural expertise in the officer, civilian, and enlisted ranks for active and Reserve components.
Enter CULP -- the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program -- an Army ROTC program designed to reduce miscommunication.
According to Ray Causey, the chief of the culture and language division at Cadet Command, CULP is designed to immerse Army ROTC Cadets in various languages, cultures and socio-economic realities so they can learn, through personal experience, about the places and people in the world they may be one day serving.
He also considers ethnocentrism versus universality an educational tool.
"I define the psychological concept of 'universality' to mean we, as human beings, are one big family, all in the same boat so to speak," Causey said. "As Soldiers become more culturally astute, they gain cultural understanding and an appreciation of other peoples. They become more aware that world-wide people seek peace, subsistence, happiness, etc."
While the program sends Cadets to different countries around the world for cultural immersion, it is actually a two-part program. The first part is made up of on‐campus programs that provide education in foreign languages and associated cultural studies. The second part is the summer overseas missions.
Those missions take Cadets, in groups of 10-15, to one of more than 40 countries ranging from Angola and Kyrgyzstan to Mozambique and the Ukraine for several weeks each year. While there, depending on the group's mission, they will work with other militaries, teach English to locals, attend foreign schools -- such as mountaineering -- or participate in humanitarian missions.
In fact, Causey said, a significant number of security cooperation events with Combatant Commands -- commands located overseas -- are CULP related. Those would include building partner-nation relationships which are key security operations objections.
Causey added that as a result of the missions not only do Cadets learn about other cultures, but they will become better leaders in the Army from the experience.
Sergeant 1st Class Ronnie Winberry, a military science instructor for Army ROTC at Valley Forge Military College, is one of the instructors who accompany the Cadets on their overseas missions.
Winberry said that he enjoys watching the growth -- both personal and professional -- that he sees in Cadets on these trips, and he added that he is rewarded on these missions too.
"I enjoy leaving my personal stamp on the development of Cadets from programs outside my own," he explained. "And I get to learn about other places I'd never plan on visiting or have the opportunity to visit. We also establish relationships with people in the host country(s) that (we) visit."
Winberry said part of Cadet development is the culture shock that takes place on CULP missions. The program prepares Cadets for exposure to people and customs that might be outside of their comfort zone.
"An important part of being successful in the Army is understanding we all come from different backgrounds and cultures. These types of trips help reinforce that by making Cadets live outside their comfort zone for three weeks -- a direct injection of a world vastly different from their own," Winberry said.
"Cadets also become familiar with that region of the world, and the hope is that they continue to learn about that region through relationships they establish while there."
Cadet Andrew Blum, who attends the University of Delaware, traveled to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2011. He explained that there are different levels of awareness Cadets gain on these overseas missions and seeing the conditions in which other people live is only one aspect.
"Every day was an adventure -- the country was a beautiful fusion of people, history, and nature overflowing with ideas, beliefs, and traditions," Blum explained. "But I quickly realized that through their eyes I was an outsider. The looks on their faces gave me insight to what they were thinking. Questions like, 'Who are you?' 'Why are you taking my picture?' 'What are you doing here?' 'Are we friends, brothers, or enemies?'
"It dawned on me, (during) one of the days we were shopping in the markets for souvenirs, that the money I just spent on an ebony wood carving was probably more money than the wood carver would make all month," Blum said. "After that I tried to be more aware of how I might appear to the locals and to better understand their way of life."
But Blum said that while the trip gave him good cultural insight to another people's way of life, it also taught him a few things about himself.
"The Tanzanians taught me how fortunate and blessed I am to live in the United States. Tanzanians are willing to give you the shirt off their back, and they work very hard to make a living and provide what they can for their families," Blum said. "It is hard to think there are kids in the United States that complain about doing homework when there are kids in Africa that pray someday they will come to America to learn or even be able to afford their own textbook.
"It is something that I try to keep in mind every time I come across a difficult challenge or even the simplest task and resort to the habit of complaining. We truly live in the greatest country in the whole world, so we should be thankful for the things we do have and never take anything for granted."
Lt. Col. Marc "Dewey" Boberg, the battalion commander, professor and chair for the Department of Military Science at Brigham Young University, said all the CULP missions have one thing in common -- a unique opportunity to learn a foreign language, and to live a foreign culture.
"That means living like the locals do, eating their food, and seeking to learn as much about their government, geography, dances, customs, beliefs and really striving to be a member of a new community," Boberg explained.
"They shouldn't expect it to be a vacation, but rather expect to work and create a true international experience where they are stretched to their limits in all things and can really learn about themselves and others."
Blum said that last year's experience was a life-changing one where he not only gained familiarity of another culture, but tested the leadership skills that he is developing in the ROTC program.
"This was a life changing and unforgettable experience that I have learned from, and will look back on for the rest of my life. Every single day of the trip was an adventure that challenged my people skills, leadership, decision making, creativity, morals, values, and comfort zones," he explained.
"This experience will definitely help me down the road. Our country has always been a melting pot and we will continue to diversify," Blum added. "Whether I am treating patients in the Medical Corps from around the world, or working within my community at home, I will have a better understanding of cultures and language throughout my Army career and beyond."
Cadet Hollie Siekierka, who attends Judson College in Marion, Ala., is traveling as a first-time CULP Cadet this summer and said she is looking forward to learning about another country without watching TV to do it.
"I am extremely interested in foreign cultures and how societies outside of the U.S. function," she explained. "I believe that this experience will give me a slight introduction to one of many different cultures that there are throughout the world, and an even broader way to communicate.
"I was advised to bring little gifts to exchange with (people) in Tunisia through my deployment and I was caught off guard, but excited, to experience something so little as how another culture gives thanks to one another. I really look forward to this experience."
For Boberg's part, he said he loves to teach and has enjoyed watching Cadets develop into better leaders while taking charge of a small group, and learning to work together as a team. He added that he values the Cadets ability to stretch their intellectual, physical, and spiritual capabilities and really improve in a short amount of time.
In Blum, and the hundreds of Cadets enrolled in CULP before him, Causey can see success in the CULP program.
"Diversity is a fact, and it is a fact of life for the American Soldier," Causey explained. "What's important is for (Soldiers) to realize the value of understanding other cultures and how to apply that knowledge to better protect (troops)."