By Cassondra Kirby/News editor
Imagine packing your bags and heading across the globe and overseas to a foreign land — a land so foreign that you had to be followed by a translator.This was the case for two Colombian exchange students who visited campus this week to participate in the Reserved Officers Training Corps first foreign exchange program in the nation, according to Lt. Col. Brett Morris.
Although Morris, of Eastern’s department of military sciences, noted the importance of the event being the first of its kind — it ended up as more than a military training exercise combining Eastern’s ROTC cadets and the two Colombian cadets, Alejandro Arenas and Jaime Martinez — it was a cultural exchange between the two countries.
“When we came here we were wondering about how we would be treated because we didn’t speak the language,” Martinez said through an interpreter Monday. “We were treated very well — several American cadets were even trying to speak our language. When I was interacting with the cadets they told about America and their way of life, and that’s what I enjoyed the most.”
Martinez said he was also able to tell the Eastern cadets about Colombia and his way of life, and was thrilled that some of the cadets were very interested in what he had to say.
“Some were curious and even said they were going to go back and read about Colombia after the training,” Martinez said with a smile.
When Arenas and Martinez arrived on campus April 9, they spent the day taking a tour of the campus. On April 10, 11 and 12, they traveled with Eastern ROTC members joining Western and Austin Peay’s cadets for the annual spring joint training exercises in Greenville.
According to Morris, the students participated in a variety of events at Greenville including “paintballing, repelling, navigation, obstacle course, squad tactics” and leadership building activities.
Arenas said the training was most enjoyable for him.
“I saw the leadership of the cadets,” Arenas said noting the teamwork between all the cadets made the event extra special for him.
Martinez agreed saying, “I enjoyed the training and the professionalism of the training. I was also very impressed with the resources used for training, equipment and the discipline of the cadets, inside and outside of the university.”
Traveling with Martinez and Arenas was their Lt. Col. Miguel Naranjo. According to Naranjo, Martinez and Arenas were chosen out of 500 other cadets to visit Eastern. Naranjo said Martinez and Arenas were fourth and fifth out of the 500 cadets. The first three are participating in other honorable experiences such as attending West Point and a ranger school back in Colombia.
Martinez and Arenas were fourth and fifth out of the 500 cadets because they excelled, according to Naranjo.
“They were chosen because of their high test scores from their military classes and career classes,” Naranjo said. “Both cadets come from the same location, the capitol of Bogota. They are from humble families and have held leadership positions in the unit as well as get good scores in their classes.”
Naranjo said both soldiers have been in school for two years and 10 months, and will be promoted to Second Lt. May 30.
The two Colombians visits were just the first part of the exchange program. Morris said three individuals from Eastern will go to Colombia in May for a week-long exchange to Colombia’s military academy and see the Colombians program and training exercises.
When Morris, the founder of the exchange program, first thought of the idea he decided to share it with one of Eastern’s graduates Col. P. K. Keen, who is the commander of the U.S. military group in Colombian military. Keen brought the idea to the Colombians, who liked the idea. Morris said the embassy out of Colombia is paying for the exchange and assisted in bringing his idea to life.
According to Morris, Eastern and Colombian cadets walked away from the experience learning a lot from one another. Because the event was successful, he hopes to make the program a permanent part of Eastern’s ROTC experience, something that’s “up in the air” at the moment.
“The long term goal of this is to work a cadet exchange program on an annual basis where maybe a cadet can come up here for a whole semester and take classes and participate in the ROTC,” Morris said. And likewise, if we had a student that spoke good Spanish, he could go down there and take classes for a semester.”
However, working out an agreement between the other country will be the easy part, Morris said, but working out the details and the expenses will take some time. Morris hopes to have the program in place by spring 2004.
“It’s so new that a lot of people will have to think through it, but we are going to give it our best shot and hope to have it up and going by 2004,” Morris said.