Written by Brianna Saucier
Over the summer, four students from Cedarville traveled to three different countries through the Army ROTC Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program (CULP).
CULP is a competitive program exclusive to Army ROTC cadets that survey applications for any foreign languages spoken, as well as physical fitness scores and academics. They compete and later team up with people from across the United States. It is a study abroad experience, paid internship and military training all wrapped into one.
Junior Andy Arreguin, sophomore James Barber and seniors Joshua Swimm and John Costello took advantage of this opportunity. Though they went through the same program, the students had vastly different experiences on their respective month-long trips to Argentina, Brazil and Thailand.
Barber and Costello traveled in separate teams to Bangkok, Thailand. The two got to take classes at a Thai military academy, climb a seven tier waterfall, ride elephants and a water buffalo, visit Thailand’s national park, rappel off a tower, and see the world’s largest Buddha. They also learned Thai fighting and planted rice, and spent ten days teaching elementary students the English language.
Despite planes being delayed for hours and previous teams getting suspected food poisoning, both students spoke highly of their experiences.
“It was a cool opportunity to experience an predominantly Buddhist nation which contrasted with mine,” Costello said. “It was pretty eye opening and much different from what I have experienced in the states.”
Barber also explored Thailand, and, as a freshman, was one of the youngest cadets in the program. The highlight of his experience was visiting the elementary school, playing soccer with the kids and teaching them American games like Simon says and duck duck goose.
“These kids ended up loving us and playing with us and having a lot of fun,” Barber said. “It was one of my favorite memories seeing those little kids standing on the sidewalk smiling and waving. I would give them a high five and they would get all excited. They loved getting up on our shoulders and [making us] run around.”
Meanwhile, over ten thousand miles away, Swimm was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where his base was just two miles from the beach. Swimm attended Brazil’s military academy, rode horses, played polo, and taught English to the Brazilian cadets. During their time off he was able to conduct morning workouts on the beach and see famous landmarks like Jesus the Redeemer and Brazil’s WWll memorial.
Swimm also got to witness Brazil’s military equestrian department in action. This department’s military training included a land navigation portion where cadets had to find GPS coordinate locations while on horseback. The horse and rider would even swim out into ponds to get to them.
The entire trip almost ended prematurely, however, because of an oil strike. No gas was available and no cars were on the road for three days. Fresh food deliveries couldn’t be made and several airports didn’t have fuel for plane flights during this time.
“People were actually calling for a military intervention to make the government pay people more so they would actually help the economy function,” Swimm said. “There was a small chance we would have to evacuate … but we stuck it out since we had a few weeks left.”
Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Arreguin was also living in the South American culture. His visit included an obstacle course at the Argentina Military Academy, simulated weapons training, farming, riding alpacas, playing soccer with Argentinians, touring the U.S. Embassy, training at the Mountain Warfare School for a week, and rock climbing the Andes Mountains.
Arreguin also got to visit the Pink House, which is Argentina’s equivalent of the White House, and meet the Foreign Affair Officer for Argentina .
When he wasn’t partaking in a steady diet of empanadas and Mate herbal tea, Arreguin said his favorite part of the experience was meeting individuals from both Argentina and across the U.S., building relationships with them, and getting to compare their culture and military to his own experiences.
Whether they were on the beach in Brazil, the mountains in Argentina or climbing waterfalls in Thailand, all the students talked about how they enjoyed their experiences.
“[Overall] it was very humbling because there was a time we were 8000 feet up in the sky in the Andes Mountains and seeing the entire city below us,” Arreguin said. “It was cloudy and snowy, cold, wet and miserable but it was really neat to know that we serve a God that created all of this. You think you’re all hot stuff, but then moments like this remind you that God’s beauty is in his creation.”
Brianna Saucier is a sophomore English major. When she is not being carded by Gamestop for looking fifteen, Brianna enjoys crime novels, soccer, taking photos, and rollercoasters.