ROTC Cadets Reflect on Summer Spent in Cultural Immersion Program

December 4, 2012  |  by Michael Freedman

  • A group of military officers and cadets - including NU junior Kit Burdick - are photographed outside of a foreign language department in Bulgaria. Burdick taught English to the officers there as part of his CULP deployment.

  • Erica Crane, right, takes a photo with the students that she taught during her CULP assignment in Bangkok, Thailand.

A little more than a year ago, Kit Burdick applied for a Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) deployment to a foreign country. This past January, Burdick learned that he was being sent on a military-to-military training assignment in Bulgaria, a place he knew very little about.

Prior to being deployed, Burdick was required to write a research paper and prepare a presentation on Bulgaria, learning much about the Southeastern European country and its history in the process.

“I was very excited to be participating in such a once-in-a-lifetime affair,” Burdick said.

By July, Burdick was on his way to Fort Knox, Ky., to connect with his cadre and cadets. The group spent four days undergoing a series of briefings, medical processing and team-building exercises. Then it was off to Sofia, Bulgaria.

During his three-week stay, Burdick took part in tours, watched an aerial military demonstration and met the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria. He and his colleagues spent five hours a day teaching English to Bulgarian military officers, who ranged from captains to colonels.

“I can attest to the fact that the U.S. Army CULP deployments are life-changing,” said Burdick, a junior from Oswego, N.Y.

Burdick was one of six Niagara University students to partake in CULP, a program for ROTC cadets to spend up to three weeks immersed in foreign cultures, learning more about how other others around the world view the U.S. and, in the process, learning more about themselves.

In 2012, 1,200 ROTC cadets traveled across the world and participated in Cadet Command’s CULP program. Participants are chosen based on their academic and physical performance, and at the recommendation of their lieutenant colonel.

For Erica Crane, an NU junior from Lockport, her CULP experience took her to Bangkok, Thailand, for three weeks in June to teach at a school for children with special needs. Crane and a cadet from Dayton University were put in charge of more than 40 children, ranging in age from 3 to 20.

At the beginning of each day, Crane and her partner would teach the entire school an English word of the day. They also taught some of the special needs students how to swim, a task that she says proved to be difficult because of the language barrier and the students’ physical and mental disabilities.

Regardless, Crane hopes to make a return trip someday.

“My experience was something I’ll never forget,” Crane said. “It was a great experience that enabled me to learn about another language and culture, experience another military installation and teach students. I look forward to visiting again in the future.”

Closer to home, junior Mitchell Willie, of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., was involved in airborne training in Fort Benning, Ga. That’s correct – Willie spent his summer learning how to land safely after jumping from a C-130 aircraft.

And despite calling it his greatest experience as a cadet, his time in Georgia wasn’t all peachy.

Willie discovered that he was allergic to Tide during his trip, forcing him to borrow uniforms from his friends until his clothes could be rewashed. Then, during a physical training exercise, Willie found himself lying on a fire ant hill that wasn’t visible in the dim morning light. His friends helped slap them off quickly to mitigate the biting. Lastly, Willie bumped his knee on a piece of equipment during a detail, leading it to swell to the point where it couldn’t be bent. His fellow cadets, once again, were there to help, making repeated runs to retrieve ice until Willie’s swelling lessened.

“People join the Army for a variety of reasons,” Willie said. “I personally became a cadet to meet the best men and women our country has to offer, and to call some of those individuals my dear friends. It certainly is hard to beat a bond where you will jump out of a perfectly fine aircraft with someone. Airborne stands as a life accomplishment for myself and will always be one of my most cherished memories.”

Niagara University’s ROTC program, for years, has been ranked among the best in the United States. The Purple Eagle Battalion was the top-ranked program in the nation in 2004, and recently placed nine cadets on the National Order of Merit List.

For more information on the ROTC program at Niagara University, please visit