Casey Bischoff, a junior diplomacy major and ROTC cadet, traveled to Senegal in June to participate in an outreach program after being selected by the Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program (CULP.)
According to Capt. Calvin Johnson, an assistant professor of military science in S3 operations, the application process for CULP was rigorous. Bischoff said that CULP is a highly competitive national program, in which 2,000 students apply and only a little over 1,000 are accepted.
Acceptance to the program is based on several criteria, including a point system based on the student’s GPA, the rigor of the student’s major, military and academic achievements and an endorsement letter.
After being accepted into the program, the cadets must take military, language and cultural classes and obtain the proper passports and vaccinations before they begin their journey overseas.
Bischoff said she had always wanted to go to Africa and hoped that she would be placed in a location in which the locals spoke Arabic, a language in which she was taking courses. Although Senegal’s national language is French, she said she was able to practice Arabic a bit since the country is a predominantly Muslim area.
Bischoff’s mission primarily consisted of military-to-military training. “We went to Senegal’s military academy, and they had a weapons assembly and disassembly class,” Bischoff said. “Our cadets would teach a class on enemy prisoner war, and they would teach another class. The whole point was to exchange the different way we do things, but a lot of it ended up being very similar, and they were very eye-opening to me.”
Bischoff said she paired with a buddy in Senegal’s military academy. He was from Cameroon, a country in Central Africa where French is also spoken. “He was very shy to practice English, but then he started to warm up,” Bischoff said. “But I was not good at French at all. So a lot of times, we would use Google Translate to communicate, so that was fun.” Interpreters were also provided to overcome the language obstacles.
“In the pre-mission training in Fort Knox, we sat in briefs so we would know what to expect. But it definitely still was a culture shock,” Bischoff said. She explained that there were mostly dirt roads and that people were selling peanuts and mangoes in little huts and shops. Bischoff said she truly felt the “incredible hospitality” while she was there.
Johnson said that Bischoff’s exceptional abilities made her qualified for this program, including her GPA and notable enthusiasm for understanding other cultures.
“She was actually awarded one of the top positions in the ROTC program, as First Sergeant, because of her willingness to improve at assigned duties,” Johnson said. “She’s a good representation for Seton Hall and our ROTC program.”
Bischoff said she definitely recommends that other cadets take this opportunity for training and wishes she could go back.
Lt. Col. Russell Lemler, a professor of military science who wrote Bischoff’s letter of recommendation, said: “While every cadet’s experience is unique, there are certainly some common trends: a more global perspective, interaction with peers from foreign militaries, access to experiences generally not available to the public, cultural immersion with passionate local hosts, development of an international friendship network and many others.”
Bischoff expanded on the value of her trip to Senegal. “That’s the point of the program, why they emphasize this opportunity to cadets,” she said. “The whole purpose is to understand a culture and learn how to adapt and just interact with people that are totally different from you.”
Kristel Domingo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.