Academy's international programs bring education, diversity to life

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
International education programs not only allow Academy cadets here to study different languages and cultures in different pockets of the world, but also allow them to cultivate foreign relationships that track back 45 years.

Through the Office of International Programs (DFIP) in the Academy's foreign languages department, cadets can apply to participate in foreign academy visits, language and cultural immersions, and semester exchange and abroad opportunities, to take their education from the classroom to the field.

This semester, 28 Academy cadets are studying at foreign academies and universities, while 21 international cadets are studying here through the semester exchange program. The newest exchange, codified last year, allows Academy cadets to study in Singapore. Other exchanges include Germany, Chile, Japan, Spain, and Canada.

"Our oldest semester exchange is with France, created in 1969," said Lt. Col. Paul Howe, Academy International Programs director. "We can send and receive eight cadets with the French Academy. There is a lot of trust placed on cadets going abroad for a semester. We continually work with cadets to mentor them as they leave, letting them know they're an important part of keeping that relationship going. It's important because these countries know what to expect when a USAFA cadet arrives."

The international programs aren't limited to a specific major, but some are more suitable for the programs, Howe said.

"These spots are very competitive," he said. "Right now we're in the selection process for next fall.  We hope to let cadets know before Thanksgiving if they were chosen or not. The cadets who apply for our programs sit down with their academic advisor to plan for a semester abroad, and have to meet certain military, athletic and academic minimums to even apply."

Howe said the DFIP works hard to use funding efficiently. 

"We're in a good state right now regarding our programs," he said. "Last year, 241 cadets went abroad on some type of international education program. Our funding went up a little this year and I think our numbers will be a bit higher than last."

Other programs bring international students to USAFA.  Currently there are 56 cadets studying here from 27 different countries as part of the four-year international cadet program. They apply through the U.S. Embassy in their home country. Once selected, international cadets arrive here for Basic Cadet Training and complete all requirements through graduation.

"Bringing international cadets here provides additional diversity within the Cadet Wing and in the classroom," Howe said. "International cadets are fully integrated into their squadrons. It gives members of each unit the chance to meet and understand someone from somewhere completely different."

In September, the Academy took part in Colombia Week, an annual event where over 100 graduates from the Colombian Air Force Academy visit the U.S., including the Air Force Academy to foster relationships.

"We had 120 here this year, including staff members," said Maj. Victor Colón, Academy International Programs deputy director. "They spent three to four days here attending classes and experiencing the Academy. It's a way to build the relationship between Colombia and the United States."

In October, the Academy hosted International Week, with 77 cadets from 27 different countries in attendance.

"We invite countries to send a delegation, and ask them if they will host our delegation in return the following spring break," Howe said. "Another program Air Force International Affairs has is the Latin American country initiative.  They invite two cadets from 11 different countries in South America to visit places such as Washington, D.C., New York and wrap up their trip here during international week."

Howe said these programs are great leadership experiences for cadets. 

"It's an opportunity for them to be stretched--language wise and culturally," he said. "Cadets are able to interact in a different environment, most likely receive academic credit and travel abroad at no cost. At a civilian university, students spend a significant amount of money to study abroad.  Cadets here get a fantastic and educational experience through these programs."

They also bring back experiences to share. Language department instructors gather vignettes or ideas from cadets on their overseas experiences and use them for class discussions.

"It's not a vacation for them," Colón said. "They're there for academics. Cadets are learning about different cultures to help them in the future. We want to know what cadets learn from these programs and how they will apply it to their military careers."

Cadet 1st Class Winston Sanks didn't have the opportunity to travel outside of North America until this summer through the cultural immersion program here.

He spent three weeks in Cambodia building toilets for the Odoung community.

"For two weeks we made mortar, laid bricks, stuccoed walls, and dug septic tank pits in the hot Cambodian sun," Sanks said. "We met with Cambodian cadets and officers from the National Defense University, the head of the United States Agency for International Development, officials of the State Department, and a defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy. We learned a lot about the challenges of corruption and human rights violations the country faces now, and the tragedy that Cambodia has overcome in the past. From the experience I've learned that the Cambodian people are no different than Americans (for the most part) and they have the same motivations we have, similar fears and aspirations, and are trying their best at the opportunities that are available just as we do."