Friday, March 4, 2016

Four Midshipmen Study at the Chilean Naval Academy

Four midshipmen spent fall semester at the Chilean Naval Academy in Valparaiso last semester, arriving in a southern hemisphere winter in early July. They were quickly exposed to the hospitality of Chilean culture with an invitation to a cadet’s house for an asado (Chilean barbecue) on the Fourth of July.

As the midshipmen prepared for independence celebrations, the Chileans pushed them in front of the television to watch the final of the Copa America Cup. With excitement, the Chilean national soccer team beat their largest rival, Argentina, in penalty kicks, starting the adventure on high.

The following week life began as a Chilean naval cadet.

The Escuela Naval Arturo Prat (ENAP) became home for Midshipmen 1/C Jarred Gillie, 2/C Nicole Hadler, 2/C Gabriel Larios, and 2/C Benjamin Olson. There they would spend the next five months in both the naval and cultural center of the country.

Even though there were some shockers, like waking up at 6 a.m. to a mandatory cold shower, each midshipmen valued their time spent in Chile as an experience to be immersed in a foreign culture and create lasting bonds with naval counterparts 5,000 miles away.

From Monday morning through Saturday afternoon, the midshipmen lived with their Chilean classmates at ENAP. They participated in the cadets’ daily activities, including formations and inspections, meals, course lectures and exams, and sports classes and competitions. A typical morning would consist of waking up to a bugle call at 6 a.m., passing through a cold shower, and forming by division to run a quick lap around the parade field before breakfast.

The rest of the morning was spent in classes such as navigation and naval weapons systems, all taught in Spanish. The afternoons were great opportunities for the midshipmen to continue to get to know the cadets through immersion in sports classes, team practices, and extracurricular club meetings.

While weekday life could seem extremely regimented, the weekends were available for the midshipmen to spend at the home of a local cadet or to get to know other parts of Chile. The four took advantage of their weekend liberty to travel the country. They made visits north to the Atacama Desert, south to hike on an active volcano and explore the Patagonia region, east to the Andes mountains, and west to Easter Island.

When they weren’t traveling, each midshipman was also assigned a host family to stay with. These host families were affiliated with ENAP and generously provided the midshipmen with home-cooked Chilean meals, a place to stay, and conversations and relationships which would be remembered and maintained well after their semester exchange came to an end.

Immediately upon arrival in the country, the mids noted that the Spanish they were hearing wasn’t exactly the same Spanish they were accustomed to learning and listening to in the U.S. The Chileans were quick to explain to them that Chilean Spanish is faster and sloppier than Spanish spoken in other countries. They proudly explained that native Spanish speakers from other countries often have a difficult time understanding them, due to their speed and extensive slang. However, thanks to the fully immersed nature of the exchange program, as well as the patience of the cadets and officers at ENAP, the midshipmen drastically improved their Spanish abilities in all forms – listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

One unique advantage for these midshipmen was the close relationship enjoyed with the Chilean navy. Some of these opportunities included a week-long underway period on the Chilean research vessel Aquiles, two eight-hour underways on Chilean frigates, meeting the CNO of the Chilean Navy and countless interactions with officers, cadets and enlisted.

There is no doubt that these experiences broadened the four midshipman’s cultural education and will help them as future Naval and Marine Corps Officers.

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