CDT Zach Wagner participated in the ROTC Cultural Understanding and Language Program (CULP) in MAY 2010. He traveled to Ghana, Africa where he worked in the Emergency Department Ward and taught English to first graders. Spending three weeks working in a hospital and teaching English in a third world country while spending time with cadets from all around the United States was an excellent experience for CDT Wagner.
I learned how to deal with difficult situations while working in the hospital. For example, while working in the Emergency Ward a six month old baby came in with cerebral malaria. The family came into the hospital and asked me multiple times speaking in their native language, Ewe, to save the baby, thinking that I was a physician. I tried to relay the concerns to the physician on staff but he was not interested because this type of situation was a regular occurrence. In the end, the baby was put into the "room" where terminally ill patients are placed to die. There were many different situations similar to this that helped teach me better intercommunication skills that will be useful in the future.
I also taught first grade at one of the local schools. The first day I walked into the classroom the teacher introduced me to the class and then left, and I never saw her again. It was my job for two weeks to help teach the children English. I did not speak their native language, so communicating to them was difficult. Luckily, we had several people at our "home base" who spoke English and Ewe, so on my free time I learned basic Ewe phrases in order to better communicate to the children. To try and keep the children motivated I brought them each a pencil and paper every day. The school did not provide any writing materials so the children were ecstatic to have a pencil and paper. Over the course of two weeks, I was able to teach the children how to write and sing the English alphabet.
Traveling to Ghana, Africa was a rewarding experience that will stay with me for a lifetime. I came away from the trip with a more global perspective on a different culture which will certainly help me as a future officer.
CDTs Mary Fantazia and Dominique Anduaga-Arias went to Moscow, Russia through CULP. CDT Fantazia describes her experience as a trip of the lifetime and life affirming:
This was my first time traveling outside of the United States. My eyes were opened to a whole new world that I had never known and would never have known even existed. Not only has this trip sparked my interest in other cultures and languages but it has sparked my passion for life and what a career in the Army has to offer.
Before this trip I was not sure about my decision of joining ROTC and becoming an Army nurse. Today I am set on serving a full career of twenty years in the Army as a nurse. This trip completely changed my attitude about the Army. I was able to meet cadets from all over the world who were passionate about serving their country and who inspired me to see what I was missing inside of myself. I experienced different styles of leadership which I was able to apply at my own school upon my return. I experienced a different culture and for the first time felt what it was like to be a foreigner unable to communicate with the people around me. I have an appreciation and one hundred percent respect for anyone who is able to speak another language and for anyone who immigrates to another country. In one month I was able to learn so much about myself, who I really am and what I want to become. This trip changed my life in so many ways and I feel so fortunate that I was able to experience such an opportunity.
CDT Anduaga-Arias, who has lived the past few years in Belgium, was surprised at the cultural misconceptions that she encountered even within herself:
Russia was unlike any culture I had experienced. The people/culture, food, and language were all extremely varied in comparison to the multiple European countries which I had lived in and visited. Being exposed to yet another variation in culture helped me to appreciate the vastness of the world and its differences. Often, it is easy for a person to get caught up in one way of life and to create a framed image of reality.
Before going to Russia, I had my own biases about how the people would act and how I would be treated. I imagined the Russians to be secretive, disgruntled, and angry people. What I found was the complete opposite. Out of all my travels in the world, Russian people are some of the most nationalistic and prideful beings.
Overall, on this trip, I gained a great appreciation for the variations in cultures and the vastness of the earth. I was able to leave the comfort zone of the world I was used to and see the world in a different light. I learned that biases are often unfair and mistaken, that national pride shows great unity in a country, that food can be prepared in a multitude of ways, and that languages may be supremely different in dialect, spelling and pronunciation but at the end of the day, we are all the same people united to the unified purpose of seeking to live life in the most full way possible.