Travel program helps cadets appreciate different cultures

“I like to think of myself as a culturally open-minded person who stays informed about current events around the world, but I learned that nothing can replace real-life experiences in another country,” said Cadet Austin Burns of Raleigh, N.C., a senior majoring in history in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

For seven years, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has participated in the Olmsted Cadet Travel and Cultural Immersion Program to provide those real-life international experiences. The Olmsted program’s mission is help prepare future military officers for international assignments and strengthen our nation’s ability to function efficiently and effectively in and with foreign countries.


Cadets pose with U.S. Ambassador to Panama Jonathan D. Farrar. Cadets visit the U.S. cemetery in Panama City on Memorial Day 2011 and met with U.S. Ambassador to Panama Jonathan D. Farrar, at center. Half the cadets are from Virginia Tech, the other half from Virginia Military Institute. Photo courtesy of Cadet Tawny Pelletier.

The Corps of Cadets was one of just two of the six senior military colleges in the United States to receive a travel grant in both summer 2011 and 2012. Because of the quality of trips organized in previous years, the other school, Virginia Military Institute, requested to participate in Virginia Tech’s trips both years.

In summer 2012, four Virginia Tech cadets and four from Virginia Military Institute traveled to Panama, where they toured the country and the Panama Canal, performed three community service projects, and met with various officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Panama Jonathan D. Farrar.

“As a soon-to-be Marine Corps officer, I will be a member at the tip of the spear that is our military. This means that with any surge of troops I will be among the first to interact with the different countries and cultures wherever I should be deployed. In these crucial moments of first contact, having the proper tact is vital to the outcome of missions,” Burns said. “My travels to Panama have been the first step to opening my mind to just how different other cultures are and how to best interact with respect.”

Cadets pose for a picture at the Miraflores Lock, one of three locks at the Panama Canal. Cadets pose for a picture at the Miraflores Lock, one of three locks at the Panama Canal, during their 2011 trip. Photo courtesy of Cadet Tawny Pelletier.

The George and Carol Olmsted Foundation, based in Falls Church, Va., has a long history of supporting educational programs for active-duty military officers and cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. service academies to gain a better understanding of foreign cultures. In 2004, those opportunities expanded to include ROTC cadets at the six senior military colleges.

Assigned to China in 1943 during World War II, Gen. George Olmsted interacted extensively with both Chinese and Japanese officials. That experience convinced him that American military leaders suffered from a lack of exposure and sensitivity to foreign cultures and led him to establish the Olmsted Foundation.

Through the foundation, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has coordinated travel to Rio De Janeiro; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and most recently Panama. On two trips, the corps funded a Citizen-Leader Track cadet (a non-ROTC cadet) to travel as well.


Cadets visit with Panamanian children. Cadets visit with Panamanian children. Photo by Cadet Tawny Pelletier.

Cadet Tawny Pelletier of Waxhaw, N.C., a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science, said her experience in Panama helped her appreciate all she has and reinforced the importance of serving others.

During a service project at Las Trancas, Panama, cadets played with a group of children from the village, one of whom had a deformed leg. Pelletier later learned that the boy had broken his femur when he was younger and his family had been unable to afford medical care. “He did not have a deformed leg by birth. This was a perfectly preventable incident,” she said.

“I know that this trip instilled in me gratefulness that I can never be able to fully express. We have so much. During my time in Panama, I realized that this is not always true in other countries,” Pelletier said. “When I take my oath as a military officer, I will aspire to give my all to whatever I am assigned. No matter how small my piece of the puzzle may be, I must realize that I still have an important role to play.”

For more information on this topic, contact Maj. Carrie Cox at 540-231-6413.

Cadets perform service projects

    Cadets donate the shoe boxes from their uniform shoes to Operation Christmas Child.

Cadets took time out of their two-week trip to Panama to perform three community service projects. This dedication to serving others is nothing new for the corps. 

In 2011, for the second year in a row, the Corps of Cadets performed more than 10,000 hours of community service. One example is the annual donation of shoe boxes from their uniforms — more than 400 in 2011 alone — to Operation Christmas Child. Other projects completed during the 2011-12 academic year include:

  • Donated 820 units of blood at Corps of Cadet blood drives
  • Worked as timers at the ACC swimming and diving championships
  • Volunteered with Special Olympics bowling
  • Cleaned, painted, and landscaped the Big Brothers/Big Sisters house in Roanoke, Va.
  • Painted and cleaned at the Blacksburg Rescue Squad station
  • Visited schools and scouting groups to speak on leadership and flag etiquette, to read, and to tutor

A tailored tradition

Lint rollers resting on a windowsill inside the main entrance to Brodie Hall testify to a truism anyone who's spent time on the Virginia Tech campus can tell you: Cadets must pay an impressive amount of attention to their attire.

Virginia Tech Magazine explains the cadet uniform in its How Tech Ticks feature.

Photos: Tug of war

    Tug of War

The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets uses tug of war as a team-building exercise to encourage friendly competition at the conclusion of a challenging New Cadet Week. See pictures from the 2012 event in this photo gallery.

Share this


Spotlight Archive

Look through previous Spotlight stories

Access the archives