by: Kaitlin Villa ’22
Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets hosted forty South Korean Army ROTC cadets for a month-long Leadership Program. The program consists of the South Korean cadets participating in every facet of cadet life during their time on campus. Texas A&M has hosted students annually since 2014, and continues to provide an impactful program for cadet participants. The more structured purpose of the trip is to expose South Korean cadets to the academics, leadership, daily life as well as physical training activities provided by the Corps. The program benefits both A&M and South Korean cadets by introducing one another to the diverse backgrounds each group brings.
Students from the allied nation are annually hosted by volunteer cadets. These volunteers are responsible for hosting one South Korean cadet during their stay. These responsibilities include assisting the cadet in the academic, physical, and social transition of college life and the Corps of Cadets.
Squadron 18 Commanding Officer Stephen Elliott ‘19 has had the privilege to host international cadets for three years and describes the experience as one that is irreplaceable. “I did not know exactly what was expected at the time but from my limited amount of international travel I knew it would be amazing to get to know someone from a different culture and military background,” Stephen explained. “This was my third and final time to be able to host a Korean cadet and each time I learned more and appreciate more about our brothers and sisters in arms from South Korea.”
In his final year of hosting, Stephen was given the honor to host South Korean cadet, Woochan Kwon, and the two were instantly friends. “We come from common backgrounds, at all levels of the social ladder, and are all geared to the same call of selfless-service,” Stephen revealed. “I learned that these commonalities supersede any language barrier or difference in environment.”
Woochan Kwon is a political science and diplomacy major from Busan, which he jokingly referred to as “Korean Texas.” His interest in the Korea-U.S. alliance led him to apply for this opportunity, and his experience at Texas A&M University was one of a lifetime. Woochan explained that “anyone in Korea would jump at the chance to visit America, but the fact that I wear my uniform and represent my nation, makes it all the more meaningful for me.”
The process that took place for such an honor consisted of an application, interview, a strong academic record, and fluency in the English language. Out of over 1,000 applicants, only 40 South Korean cadets were chosen for the opportunity. Woochan definitely took advantage of the experience he was selected for.
“Since we lived amongst different outfits across the Quad, I learned something new everyday through interactions with Texas A&M cadets,” he explained. “Since we are from different countries, it’s interesting to compare and contrast our daily lifestyles.” Not only did he make incredible relationships with A&M cadets, Woochan also learned many leadership skills which he plans to use back to South Korea. Woochan also reported that he learned about the importance of teamwork and how essential it is to effectively communicate messages.
“One of the most impressive things about the Corps of Cadets is the student leadership,” he shared. “Initially, I was worried about my limited English skills. However, everyone I met always took the time to make sure that they fully understood what I was trying to communicate. When I get back to Korea, I’ll not hesitate to help people from other countries.”
Woochan plans to take what he learned from this program back home to Busan. The program provided him with the tools for greater leadership roles that cadet life often requires.
Dr. Tony Brown, Associate Director and professor within the exchange program, reported that he enjoys the diversity that the South Korean cadets brought into the classroom and admires their bravery to pursue greater leadership skills. “What we in the Hollingsworth Center have intentionally done is try to expose them to a style of classroom teaching and learning that we know is different than what they usually experience at home,” Dr. Brown explained. “So we have taken great pride in those facilitated dialogues letting them participate in creating the knowledge that they leave here with.”
Dr. Brown, and the remainder of the faculty, focused on preparing the South Korean cadets for authentic leadership. Through curriculum and interactions within the classroom, they wanted the cadets to have the opportunity to know exactly who they were as individuals and how much potential there was for growth. “We got them engaged in talking with each other as well as with us, the instructors, as quickly as we possibly could,” Dr. Brown informed. “We wanted them to know that we were genuinely interested in their thoughts along with what their aspirations, dreams, or intentions were in pursuit of their life and journey of development.”
According to Dr. Brown, the South Korean cadets that visited the university will commission into the military. Knowing this, he emphasized the importance of appreciation for one another because of a greater picture that exists when serving their country. “We wanted them to begin thinking about how they may be representing different universities and colleges, but they will be simultaneously commissioning into the very same army,” he explained. “We wanted to facilitate the development of some appreciation for each other while they were here.”
Dr. Brown was amazed at the progress and initiative he saw from the South Korean cadets. In fact, he shared that it is a joy to see these cadets be willing to share their experiences and thoughts in regards to their time here in Texas. Several South Korean cadets expressed their interest in how Texas A&M is a university with students who are aware of and have respect for the values of each individual. “In our interactions we put a lot of time in on the exploration of both personal and organizational values because we talk a lot about values based leadership,” he shared. “We also talked about servant leadership, and it’s fascinating to me to see the immediate affinity that the South Korean delegation will have for servant leadership.” He observed that the South Korean cadets were eager to learn, determined to grow, and persistent in engagement. Dr. Brown hopes to receive feedback from former cadets who have participated in this opportunity to document just how long this program leaves an impact on their growth as leaders.
Beyond the leadership courses, the South Korean cadets also experienced activities such as the Obstacle Course, Ropes Challenge Course, sporting events, and MSC Student Conference on National Affairs presentations and pass in review. Additionally, the cadets took various field trips focusing on the DIME model which consists of Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic aspects of national power. These trips included a visit with Korean Consulate and NASA in Houston, an Alamo tour in San Antonio, and a State Capitol tour in Austin as well as a visit to Ft. Hood. These trips provided the South Korean cadets with exposure to additional Texas history and culture.
The ROTC Leadership Program serves to accompany each cadet in their pursuit for greater success and development. This program equips and encourages the leaders of tomorrow to better serve their country.