Twelve cadets from the University of Nevada, Reno Army ROTC program have been chosen to travel abroad this summer as part of the U.S. Army's Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program. The cadets were awarded the slots in the program through a competitive, national process that considers several factors, including applicants' grade-point average, physical fitness, an essay and other selection criteria.
"Our students did very well in this competitive process," said Major Michael Minaudo, chair of the University's Military Science Department. "This affords them with an opportunity to truly experience and become immersed in a different culture."
Cadets travel in cadres of approximately 20 students from across the country. The students will volunteer in a variety of countries, including Vietnam, Tajikistan, Singapore, Rwanda, the Philippines, Namibia, Mali, Honduras, Guatemala, Croatia and Cambodia. They will teach English to children, work with those who have disabilities, rebuild weak infrastructures and work with foreign militaries.
The U.S. Army funds the month-long program, which even includes a stipend for the students. Before deployment, the students will go through a five-day soldier readiness process in Fort Lewis, Wash.
Travis Salley, a junior majoring in music, said he applied to learn a new point of view. He will spend his summer in Singapore.
"It will provide me with a perspective of cultural and societal norms outside of my American way of life," Salley said. "I think it will also help relations with other countries. If they see Americans helping with humanitarian efforts, they may want to expand their efforts too."
In addition to the Nevada students participating this summer, Major Jerome Guerrero, assistant professor of military science at the University, will be participating. He will lead a cadre of cadets at Cape Verde, a group of islands off the North African coast.
"I am excited to get to travel to a new part of the world," Guerrero said. "As an officer, you may be asked to serve in a foreign country. This experience will give these cadets a broader cultural perspective. These experiences will make them well-rounded and good Army leaders. It teaches the cadets empathy for other cultures and religions."
Second Lieutenant Ryan Spinuzzi-Nichols, an alumnus of the University and ROTC program who studied international affairs, was the first cadet to participate in the program when it began in 2009. He worked in China, where his primary objective was to teach English.
"That experience was extraordinary," Spinuzzi-Nichols said. "We were brought out to a village in the middle of nowhere to visit a school. The entire school shut down and put on a marching parade for us. We were the first foreigners they had ever encountered."
Ethan Witt, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, traveled to Mongolia last summer. He worked with Mongolian military cadets, teaching them English. He also took the time to see how their culture differed from the United States.
"If you make an attempt to understand another person's culture, then you can earn a measure of their respect," Witt said. "They, in turn, will attempt to learn about your culture and reasoning."
Brandon Castinado, a sophomore majoring in secondary education, will travel to Tajikistan to participate in the program this summer, where he said he hopes to be pushed out his comfort zone.
"I have always been interested in doing humanitarian work, so I decided to jump in," he said. "I think it would be an honor to show other cultures how Americans really are, rather than the way the media seems to portray us."
Austin Hamilton, a junior political science major who will participate in Honduras this summer, said he understands why the military places such a heavy emphasis on cultural understanding.
"It provides future officers with a different point of view on life," he said. "Most cadets usually have an American-dominated perspective on the world."
Past participant Spinuzzi-Nichols agreed.
"The most important thing I learned while I worked in China is that the American culture is not the only one out there," he said. "It's merely one of thousands."
ROTC Cadet Catherine Stokes a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism.