Every summer, ROTC Cadets from across the United States are given opportunities to travel to foreign countries in order to gain cross-cultural experiences. As military ambassadors, they are prepping for careers as future Army officers, to grow stronger international relationships and American diplomacy.
Two teams totaling 19 cadets left Fort Knox, Kentucky, for Jakarta, Indonesia, June 1st, with the mission to teach English and American culture to Indonesian Army, Air Forces, and Navy enlisted and officers. Our efforts to teach English were at the request of the host country so when they are involved in NATO missions they can better understand and be understood. The teams were given reading materials ahead of time to help aid in understanding some of the basic customs and courtesies of the country, as well as helpful tips to go about teaching English.
After 26 hours of air travel, with one overnight stop in Incheon, South Korea, cadets finally arrived in Jakarta, where they experienced real life challenges that came with language barriers. From trying to get transportation and ordering meals to asking for directions, the two teams had to effectively communicate with local citizens to achieve their objectives. This included not only choosing English words carefully, but also practicing Indonesian words. In doing this, cadets learned about integrating themselves into other world cultures.
Some of the cadets were assigned to Jakarta’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) where seven pairs of cadets each taught classes. Every class ranges in English speaking ability, so it takes using different teaching techniques in order to best help their language development.
“Teaching at the MoD has been a great experience and one that I will never forget. Our daily lesson plans are our best way to start the lessons because they open up large topics for conversation. Indonesian students have genuinely improved their social and speaking skills far above my original expectations,” said Cadet Cameron Torres of Sacramento State University.
“My students were very interested in learning American culture almost as much as they wanted to learn English! It was very easy to teach them because their curiosity brought up many topics and questions that we could easily share about,” she added.
The students asked questions that even tested our knowledge of English grammar rules. Because we are native English speakers, we do not think about why we say or spell things the way we do.
“The students at the MoD are very enthusiastic when we are teaching class and always asking questions about American culture and slang words from different regions in America,” said Cadet Chris Nueva of Rutgers University, New Jersey. “Sometimes I feel like that they have a better understanding of grammar and vocabulary than I do!”
Not only has this teaching experience been beneficial to Indonesian military students, but it has also been beneficial to us as cadets. For some, this was their first time traveling outside of the United States. And it tested our leadership skills, organizational skills and our ability to adapt and overcome in different situations. Experiencing living in a foreign nation on the other side of the world is a great way to broaden everyone’s horizons in the 21st Century’s “Flat World.”
The remaining cadets taught at the Navy’s “Western Fleet Language Center” staffed by older navy personnel, as opposed to the MoD, which had a wide variety of ages. The language skill level at the Western Fleet was considerably lower than the MoD.
“It is quite difficult to explain [English] in depth because most are still having trouble speaking and writing,” said Cadet Kindu Muna from University of Guam. “The use of games and competitions with rewards at the end of class made it easier and motivated students to participate even more. They’ve never hesitated to ask interesting questions.”
Cadets teaching at the Western Fleet built upon their own cultural awareness – but sometimes found it hard to pick up on smaller details! Cadet Francine Babauta, who attends the University of Hawaii, addressed cultural sensitivities she faced by stating that, “though it was a great cultural experience and taught me how to communicate better, the language barrier was a constant challenge to work through. Nonetheless, it’s all a part of the experience of improving my language skills. I used body gestures to help explain my meaning while keeping in mind that certain gestures are inappropriate in their culture like pointing, (using the left hand, etc.) Local citizens attempted to understand my gestures with educated guesses, and I did the same for them. In the end, we established a communication method that worked because we both wanted to understand each other!”
“In order to improve their speaking capabilities, I held one-on-one conversations with the aid of an interpreter,” explained Cadet Kalepo Ugaitafa who is from Hawaii Pacific University. “While working with the better speakers, we employed mini-games that reduced stress and created fun competitions to break the monotonous classroom setting and develop friendships.”
This teaching opportunity was so important for us because it enabled both the Indonesian military and American ROTC cadets to understand each other and to appreciate one another’s cultures. In doing this, we built and will maintain “Facebook friendships” that will last into our officer careers and beyond.
Outside of the classroom, we went on cultural outings around Jakarta. One weekend trip was to North Jakarta to Old Town. Team 1 went to a port and toured around old historic wooden ships and Team 2 stayed around the town, and visited local booths selling wares. It was a very hot day and we arrived back at our hotel sweaty, dirty, and smelling like fish, but it was well worth the trip! Walking around seeing old colonial Dutch buildings and historical sites was eye opening.
In addition, most cadets attended a 170-year old, Dutch-speaking Protestant church service, a Catholic service in a cathedral, or a Mormon church service and came back talking about similarities and differences between American and Indonesian types of worship. For those of us with religious backgrounds, it was a comfort to know we were able to share spiritual experiences in common with our Indonesian friends, even if there was a huge language barrier.
Cadet Carl Bell (Brigham Young University, Idaho) expressed his views on the CULP mission in Indonesia thus far by saying, “My experience with teaching was eye opening– when I was the teacher, I had to insure that my students had a chance to learn something useful. So, I strived to always communicate that something of value was taken from any lesson.”
The U.S. Army also wanted to insure that we as cadets learned something valuable from our time on these CULP missions. Our cadets have been given life-changing opportunities to experience culture and daily life from a nation not our own, and both Indonesian teams will definitely leave having a better understanding, appreciation, and connection for these wonderful people and our new friends!