For Army ROTC Cadets, the world is their classroom. Through the Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program (CULP), hundreds of Cadets travel the globe each year, spending up to three weeks immersed in foreign cultures, learning how others around the world view the U.S. and, in the process, learning more about themselves.

Cadets may compete for CULP in more than 20 countries. They experience up to three different venues during their 3-week immersion, including host nation military-to-military exchange, humanitarian service, and education on the social, cultural and historical aspects of the country. In 2017, 903 ROTC Cadets participated in CULP missions to 24 countries. The future goal is for at least half of all Cadets to complete a CULP Immersion Internship annually.

ROTC Cadet Maxwell Coleman ‘R20 had the opportunity to visit Brazil with the program during summer 2017, and he details one of the things he learned in this essay.

I thoroughly enjoyed my CULP trip to Brazil. This amazing trip taught me so much, but one thing I found very interesting is the importance of friendly competition. During the trip, I realized how easily friendly competition can bridge cultural barriers. The was proven multiple times throughout the trip, from soccer games with kids from the favelas, to competitions with Brazilian Cadets, to volleyball matches against the other ROTC teams

In the Brazilian Military Academy, we spent a lot of downtime with Brazilian Cadets in their game room. We were always challenging their Cadets to games of foosball or pool. We felt that we really started to bond with them during our time in the game room. Our mission of 30 Cadets was broken into three teams, and my team seemed to have a stronger bond than the others. In our free time back at the hotel, my team played a lot of soccer in the parking lot. Friendly competitions like these continued to grow the strong bond that my team developed. We have continued to remain friends with each other and the Brazilian Cadets.

We couldn’t wait to go to the beach after we arrived in Rio de Janeiro. After watching the Rio Olympics in 2016, everyone wanted to play beach volleyball at Copacabana Beach. During our free time, we loved going down to the beach and playing volleyball against the other ROTC teams. These games helped build comradery amongst all three teams on the mission. We even got up early one morning to play as the sun rose over the ocean.

One day we visited the Brazilian equivalent of ROTC. My team was paired with their Field Artillery class in the morning. The instructors rolled out two howitzers and showed everyone how to assemble and disassemble them. After a couple practice rounds, the Brazilians asked us if we wanted to race them, loser did 20 push-ups. We lost the first time but won the rematch. Both teams had a lot of fun. In the afternoon, we went to a section of the base that hosted a day school and mentorship program for local youth from the favelas. We very quickly started a game of soccer. I’ve never had so much fun while losing. The kids were phenomenal athletes. I think we all had more respect for each other at the end of the day.

Friendly competition is good for everyone. It helps build comradery within and amongst teams because everyone can bond over wanting to win. This can become detrimental if the competition ever becomes unfriendly, but we never had an issue. In a similar way, competition helped us bond with Brazilians and Brazilian Cadets. Only two of our Cadets spoke Portuguese, and not a lot of the Brazilian Cadets spoke enough English to communicate. We were still able to bond through different competitions. I feel that these bonds are stronger than any we could’ve had strictly through conversations.