By Mr. Brian Hill (Leonard Wood)December 3, 2019
Fort Leonard Wood's International Military Student Office was recently named the Training and Doctrine Command's best large IMSO of the year.
The award was presented Nov. 13 at Fort Eustis, Virginia, during the Army International Student Officer Workshop.
This is the first time Fort Leonard Wood's international student program has been recognized at this level. They are one of five post programs to be considered for the large office award, meaning they service more than 200 international military students throughout the fiscal year.
"I believe overall we have a wonderful working team," said Amanda Koren, Fort Leonard Wood's IMSO director. "We come together and work like a well-oiled machine. We are family, and we want the students to feel at home. All of us think that the best part of our day is taking care of our international officers, and so everybody gives 110 percent all of the time."
The broad objective of the International Military Student Training Program is to advance the United States' principle foreign policy objectives -- the building of democratic values, the promotion of peace and the fostering of economic progress. However, the day-to-day activities -- though seemingly sometimes tiny details -- make a big difference to the hundreds of military students from all over the world who train at Fort Leonard Wood.
"We take care of all of their needs while they're here," Koren said. "We handle their lodging, pay -- everything from their in-processing to their out-processing."
In addition, the IMSO maintains a field studies program, which provides varied ways for the students to learn about American culture while they're here.
"That's done through traveling," Koren said. "Depending on what course they're here for and how long they're here, it could be four days in Kansas City, a couple of nights in Oklahoma, Chicago, Memphis -- it could be a week in Washington, D.C."
For Capt. Sukyung Kim, here from South Korea attending the Engineer School's Basic Officer Leadership Course, the first few weeks of her stay were improved greatly by the program.
"American culture is very familiar in South Korea, but this still helped me a lot," she said. "I went many places -- this program is very helpful."
A visit to Missouri's state capital, Jefferson City, was one of the highlights so far for 1st Lt. Safa Hussein, from Arbil, the capital city of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, who's also here for EBOLC.
"It's helped me understand the American culture," she said. "We did many trips."
In addition to organizing cultural excursions, the IMSO also seeks out volunteers to become friendship ambassadors for the students while they're here -- at least once each month they get together with students to give them a typically American experience.
"Anybody can sign up and be a part of our program," Koren said. "It can be as grandiose or as small an event as you want. It can be as simple as a barbecue in the backyard on the weekends in the summer -- invite somebody over and let them experience that. You can't get some aspects of our culture without being at somebody's house and experiencing just the normal family stuff."
People interested in signing up should email firstname.lastname@example.org. Koren said they currently have about 50 volunteers.
"But we can never have too many," she said. "We get students who want to learn to hunt; some of them just want to shop -- go to every mall. We have some students who have multiple ambassadors -- one's their fishing buddy, one takes them to church, one takes them to sporting events."
Koren said the volunteers are not required to pay for anything, but that as a courtesy to the students, information regarding the cost of activities should be shared ahead of time.
One of the highlights of the year for both the students and the post community is the Know Your World event, which the IMSO has put together for the past 19 years. On that day, students from sometimes as many as 40 countries are given the chance to reciprocate the cultural knowledge they're gaining here by showcasing aspects of their own home countries -- be it with food, dance or just information on popular tourist sites.
"It grows -- gets a little better every year," Koren said. "It's just a wonderful way for our community in the middle of Missouri -- and we have a lot of people here who haven't travelled outside of the area, let alone outside of the country -- to experience all of those cultures."
The two-hour 2019 event at Nutter Field House drew nearly 600 attendees.
"The students get so much out of it, and the community gets just as much," Koren said. "It's a win-win for both sides."
Koren said she feels the work she does at the IMSO is the most rewarding job she could be doing.
"This is the best job the Army has because you are an ambassador to the world," she said. "You're here at Fort Leonard Wood, but you are touching the entire world."