Cultural Explorer

Industrial engineering major Chris Spadafora '16 traveled to Vietnam for an Army ROTC cultural immersion experience. (Photo provided)

Matt Hawkins
August 31, 2015

Bradley industrial engineering major Chris Spadafora ’16 spent three weeks in Vietnam through an Army ROTC cross-cultural experience this summer. The trip brought textbook lessons to life in significant, unexpected ways.

Spadafora and 19 other cadets traveled to Vietnam with ROTC’s Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program, a selective cultural immersion experience for cadets. The program is an extension of ROTC’s cultural awareness training.

Though he has traveled to Canada and the Caribbean, this was Spadafora’s first venture beyond the continent.

“I wanted to learn about a different culture to have a better understanding of other cultures and broaden my way of thinking,” he said.

Spadafora helped Vietnamese military officers with their English language skills and met with students at the U.S. embassy. Frequent conversations opened his eyes to valuable cultural insights.

“The interactions with students and officers were compelling because they wanted to learn more about me, even though I was there to learn about them,” Spadafora said. “Their drive to learn inspired me and made me feel important to their study of my language and culture.”

In addition to the focused education routine, cadets traveled across the country to experience everyday life. Those travels revealed a developing economy in which most residents can finance a basic living without extra comforts, especially in rural farming regions. Education, especially at the college level, is a rare luxury for most Vietnamese.

The people, Spadafora noted, were hospitable and grateful despite whatever luxuries they lacked by American standards.

Of interest to Spadafora, the country’s infrastructure was more developed than expected. Major eight-lane highways were being built throughout the country and tall high-rise buildings were common in Hanoi.

“I was amazed at the hospitality offered everywhere I went,” he said. “People were always trying to make us feel right at home.”

The cadet returned to the U.S. with a new appreciation for life beyond his comfort zone. The once-in-a-lifetime venture prepared him to engage and appreciate diverse people wherever his career takes him.

“Seeing and experiencing Vietnamese customs and culture allowed me to see different perspectives and have empathy for others,” Spadafora said. “Cultural understanding is essential for future Army officers who will have to engage with people from various cultures. I now have a deeper appreciation of other cultures that will benefit me.”