Thursday, August 20, 2015

USNA’s International Programs Office Provides Mids Global Perspective

USNA recently held a meet and greet event welcoming the 12 international students of the Class of 2019.

These 12 midshipmen hail from 10 countries, including Albania, Cambodia, Georgia, Korea, Malaylsia, Montenegro, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey.

International students in the Class of 2019

International engagement is a top priority in the U.S. Naval Academy's development of midshipmen.

As well as interaction with international midshipmen and foreign exchange officers at the academy, midshipmen have opportunities to study abroad and participate in cultural immersion trips to foreign countries. The USNA International Programs Office is in charge of facilitating these opportunities.

Established in 2005, the International Programs Office’s goal is to enhance the international knowledge and proficiency of midshipmen. Through three primary areas of focus - better language skills, better regional understanding and appreciation of other cultures - the programs strive to create an out-of-classroom experience that will further enhance the midshipmen’s cultural understanding.

This year, IPO will send 450 midshipmen to 40 countries. Whether studying at foreign naval academies or civilian universities, or attending short faculty-led explorations, midshipmen travel to cultivate a global perspective.

Mids studying abroad in South Korea

“We have a goal that half the students who come through USNA will have some opportunity to study abroad,” said Timothy Disher, director of International Programs. “They find out more about themselves and who they are as an American. By being abroad, they are constantly being challenged by how dynamic the experience is. We find that when they get back, they have validated that USNA is the right place for them and have a better understanding of what service above self is.”

First- and second-class midshipmen are eligible to participate in the study abroad programs. These programs support the seven languages taught at the academy: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. The IPO helps midshipmen complete all necessary work prior to their departure.

“Throughout the entire year, we write orders, obtain official passports, acquire visas, and provide best practices and lessons learned if there are students who have been to the location before,” said Disher. “Every program has a purpose. Whether it is academic, for language immersion or for professional development, we want midshipmen to pull the most from their experience as possible.”

Cultural immersion trips are a highlight for midshipmen who have experienced it.

“The biggest thing I brought back was the relationships among people,” said Ensign Philip Song, a recent graduate of USNA who studied abroad during his senior year. “I went to China to study Mandarin and towards the end I was able to tell where people were from in China based upon terms and how they spoke. I was fortunate enough to be able travel a bit and constantly speak the language to interact with everyone. I was always adapting and learning, and it was one of my best semesters while attending USNA.”

Meet and greet with new international students

Up to 60 students from foreign countries can attend the Naval Academy for a four-year education. Since 1863, more than 475 international students from 71 countries have studied at USNA.

“USNA currently has 59 foreign students from 28 countries,” said Disher. “These midshipmen are treated no different than any other, and when they graduate, they return to their country of origin.”

The IPO also invites officers from different services and navies to teach the midshipmen.

“The Brigade is a very diverse group, so the staff should be too,” said Lt. Cmdr. Carlos Macedo, Brazilian Navy and navigation instructor at USNA. “Midshipmen join the academy eager to learn new experiences of how different countries and different navies deal with their particular problems. By bringing in foreign officers, we add to the melting pot of culture and experience, all with a leadership background. I think the diversity of the staff and brigade really mirrors the diversity of the U.S.”

With a goal of 500 midshipmen studying abroad a year and the newly added STEM programs opening in countries like Israel, Turkey, Korea, Singapore, and Sweden, the IPO’s staff believe it’s an all-hands effort that will further increase the success of international engagement at the academy.

“My hope is that it is not just the International Programs Office that is trying to facilitate international engagement,” said Disher. “In order for this to be successful, it really has to be all across USNA’s different programs. It’s a team effort. I think this generation of officer candidates really sees the value of creating and working with established and emerging partners.”

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