Experiencing the world through CULP

Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program allows future U.S. Army officers to experience the world



First came the morning runs on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, then an African safari followed by driving Land Rovers on the white sand beaches of Senegal. Next came hiking and barbecues in the pristine mountain ranges of Kosovo, shopping at local markets and attending a traditional Islamic wedding.

SDSU student Spencer Biermann enjoyed all of these experiences before his senior year of college had even started.

Biermann, who participates in ROTC at State, has the Army’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency Program—or CULP program—to thank for that. He journeyed to Senegal in West Africa and Kosovo in Europe as part of CULP contingents.

Army ROTC students can travel to one of more than 40 countries through CULP, and Biermann is one of a handful of State students who have taken advantage of the opportunity.

International travel can be a valuable educational experience, especially for college students. Traveling abroad allows students to gain responsibility, independence and an appreciation for life in another part of the world.

“CULP gives students an opportunity to see a new culture while also experiencing what it’s like to go overseas as part of the United States military,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Schultz, head of Army ROTC at State.

Students who complete the ROTC program enter the Army as second lieutenants and can find themselves stationed overseas. CULP gives students a taste of life in another culture to better prepare them for experiences later in their careers.

Biermann, a senior from Hamburg, Minnesota, is pursuing a degree in health, physical education and recreation. He hopes to become an infantry officer and said he thinks his experiences in the CULP program will help him in that role.

“With the nature of current military operations moving toward more unconventional and multinational operations, my experience in working with other nations through CULP will leave me well-prepared to lead,” Biermann said.

That’s because traveling with CULP taught Biermann how to work with other soldiers and interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds—both important qualities of military leadership.

Students who wish to participate in CULP apply during their sophomore year of college. The student selects his or her preferred countries, and the monthlong trips are scheduled during the summer. According to the Army Cadet Command website, 1,200 students nationwide traveled as part of the CULP program in summer 2013, and the goal is for half of all Army cadets to participate in the program.

Humanitarian work is often a main component of the students’ time abroad and usually involves teaching English to local military personnel. Biermann said he also spent much of his time “visiting schools, speaking at English book clubs, doing grounds maintenance at an orphanage and landscaping at a lakeside park.”

Cole Doherty is a senior who traveled with the CULP program to Spain during summer 2012. The Brookings native called his experience “priceless,” and added that it benefited him in many ways.

“It broadens your understanding so much, especially meeting the people,” he said.

His time abroad also helped him gain the confidence to interact with international students and faculty when he returned to Brookings, Doherty said. He now enjoys meeting people from other cultures and learning about life in other parts of the world.

Schultz encourages students to apply for the CULP program. “The number one thing is seeing another part of the world and realizing there is more out there than Brookings, South Dakota.”

Hanna Larsen

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