The Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program: Cadet Steony Borromeo

Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) in Cambodia, Summer 2012

By MS III Cadet, Steony Borromeo

After returning from Airborne School the summer before my MS II year, I considered other programs and schools I could attend while in ROTC. Although I'd heard about CULP, I did not seriously consider it because I thought, “What are the chances of being able to participate?” Our Gold Bar Recruiter told me enough information about Cultural and Language Incentive Pay (CLIP) to pique my interest. She offered to gather more information on the subject, and get back with me. She did, but also provided information about CULP. I looked into it, but did not want to bother with the whole application process. One night, I checked the date and realized it was nearly the deadline to submit the application for CULP. I still had the mentality of thinking I would not be given the opportunity, but decided to just start the application process, and if it was long, I would probably not finish it. To my surprise, I was done within minutes. A few months later, long enough for me to forget I'd even applied, our Professor of Military Science emailed me I'd been accepted, and was going to Cambodia!

The process after that was…long. There were many deadlines to meet with passports, quiz completions, visa application, immunizations; the list went on. Luckily, I was on time with the deadlines with a few bumps along the way. I received my teammate’s names and dates of departure to Fort Knox, Kentucky and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was thrilled about the whole experience, and knew I would not be disappointed.

Mid-June, I arrived Fort Knox. We conducted Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP), which included receipt of our Common Access Card (CAC), learning more about the country, finalizing last minute documents, and more immunizations. My team was only supposed to be there a few days, but we ended up staying for a week extra, because of a few who had trouble with their passports. Our date of departure was pushed back twice, and we thought we would never leave. It was not a complete waste of time though, because in that extra week we all got to be very close. Since our stay at Fort Knox was extended, our time in country was cut short, and only four individuals could stay an extra nine days. We had a hat draw to determine the four who would stay. Our cadre leader informed us at least one female had to stay, and by default I was chosen, as the other two had plans upon their original return date to the US. Names were drawn, and the last three were chosen.

After a whole day of flying and layovers, we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, late at night. We met up with an American teacher, who taught at the university where we stayed and taught. It is called the National Defense University, and is where individuals in the Cambodian military go to specifically learn English. Other foreign country’s military also attend this school, including Vietnam, China, Laos, and Thailand. We were shown our rooms and bathrooms. There was no electricity or working toilets available at night, and no air conditioning in the rooms, except in the conference room where we convened before class and during the lunch. Our rooms or barracks were shared with the Khmer students. We had mosquito nets above our beds, and there was little space to move around, but we made it our own. Our quarters definitely reminded us of what we take for granted in America, and yet, the Khmer people were the happiest and friendliest people I have met.

The first week we were paired up and assigned to the class we would be teaching. Classes were divided by most English speaking proficient to least. I immediately volunteered for the lowest class, because I wanted to get the most experience I could out of the trip. We conducted Physical Readiness Training (PRT) with them, and created a PT plan. Eventually, they were able to conduct PRT on their own, but we still had a PT plan for them. The first day in class was used for introductions. Remembering to speak slowly enough for them to understand was a challenge. We were given books from which to teach. My partner and I tried to get through one lesson a day. The typical timeline for our class was a two-hour block of instruction, a fifteen minute break, two more hours of instruction, an hour for lunch, then two more hours for class. During the lunch and break, the Khmer students regaled us with questions about class, America, ourselves, and by taking pictures. They just wanted to hear us speak English. Every Tuesday and Thursday was a lab day, and was long. The Khmer wanted to learn about first aid, so the first week we taught them different buddy carries, the second week we taught steps of evaluating a casualty, and the third week we let them demonstrate everything we'd taught them.

For lunch and breakfast, we ate at their cafeteria. We finished around 1500 most days, so this allotted us time to leave campus and sightsee, escorted by two Khmer students chosen to assist us with directions and translating. It was beneficial for the students as well, because they got to practice their English one-on-one, instead of trying to fight for a chance between 50 other students in the class. We ate dinner out in Phnom Penh, and went to nearby markets. Each weekend, four lucky students were selected to spend the whole time with us. We went to Siem Reap, which had Angkor Wat and Sihanoukville, beautiful tourist beaches. We also went to many museums and tours in each city, which were geared toward the genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s.

When it was time to say our goodbyes, I did not expect to feel such an attachment to the Khmer people, or my team members. I made friends for a lifetime, a humbling experience I will never forget, and learned a lot through this program. It is definitely beneficial for anyone who gets the privilege to participate!

(CULP) in Cambodia, Summer 2012

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