Academy International Programs open new worlds

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rachel Hammes
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
During their four years at the Academy, cadets are presented with many opportunities, whether it's a chance to jump out of an aircraft or apply for a Rhodes scholarship. Beginning their second year at the Academy, cadets have an opportunity to participate in a semester abroad at a foreign college, a semester exchange at a foreign service academy or a Cadet Summer Language Immersion Program through the Office of International Programs here.

"I think being familiar with other cultures - especially Middle Eastern culture right now - is so important," said Cadet 1st Class Chloe Donoho, cadet in charge of the spring 2015 cadet outreach for international programs. "Learning how they live and how to communicate with them is such a great experience, and being able to break through the language barrier while still being respectful is so important. I think having the courage to explore is important for officers."

Donoho spent three weeks in Morocco in 2013 through CSLIP.

Lt. Col. Paul Howe, director of International Programs, said positions for overseas exchanges and semesters abroad are highly competitive.

"In 2015, we had over 600 cadets apply," he said, explaining cadets must meet minimum requirements concerning their grade point average and athletic fitness to be eligible. "We also talk to the air officers commanding and get formal input for many of the programs - especially the semester exchange programs. From the AOC's perspective, 'Is this cadet ready to go abroad? Will they represent the Academy well? Will they benefit, and will the Academy benefit from sending them?'"

Cadets participating in international programs can visit a wide variety of foreign countries, including Chile, Morocco, Canada and Germany. Cadets on exchanges can attend academies in France, Germany, Chile, Spain, Canada, Japan and Singapore.

"We expect them to go to every class, just like here," Howe said. "In an exchange program, we expect them to engage in all the military components of that. So there are expectations, but we try to phrase it in the idea that these are fantastic opportunities, and these are the expectations that accompany them. It's a way for them to grow outside the Academy setting, and to translate what they've learned here to a different environment. Their language skills grow, but I think they grow as people as well."

Maj. Victor Colon, deputy director of the International Programs Department, feels cadets grow from the experience in a way that will ultimately help them in the Air Force.

"Cadets don't get a foreign experience at the Academy unless they go overseas," Colon said. "When they actually see it, it opens their eyes."

Colon said the bonds formed between countries and academies through exchanges and semesters abroad will prove useful in the future.

"I don't think we'll ever go to war by ourselves again," he said. "We will always go in some kind of allegiance, and those who have met and become friends through exchanges will find each other once they get there. And because they've had that experience together, they can show a respect and an awareness of each other's cultural traditions."

Lt. Col. Rich Dodge, chief of the Franco-German language division here, agrees that participating in an exchange can have far-reaching effects.

"The French exchange was one of the most rewarding programs I've participated in during my Air Force career," he said. "In addition to expanding my knowledge of the French culture and language, I also began professional and personal relationships with French air force officers. The combination of the knowledge I obtained and the friendships I made has opened many doors for me during my career. For example, as a captain working in a NATO airborne warning and control system squadron in Germany, I was selected to take the lead for preparations for a training exercise that would take place in France. As I spoke with the French base operations personnel about using their facilities to support the exercise, they were definitely impressed that I was willing to speak their language and that I knew a bit about the French air force. This kind of thing goes a long way as we work together with our allies to accomplish our common goals."

Despite the difficult entrance specifications for semesters abroad, exchange programs and CSLIP, Donoho encourages her fellow cadets to apply.

"There are certain requirements you have to meet, but if you have even the slightest interest, work toward it," she said. "Come up to our department on the fifth floor of Fairchild - there are so many foreign officers willing to give you advice. It's an amazing experience, and it's one I think everyone should have."