Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Broadening Horizons: Five Midshipmen Study Abroad in Singapore

From the USNA International Programs Office

Through the Naval Academy’s International Programs Office and STEM Study Abroad program, five midshipmen traveled to Singapore to spend the spring semester studying at Nanyang Technological University. The purpose of sending midshipmen abroad is to enhance the global knowledge of our country’s future leaders.

Midshipmen 1st Class Alexander Couch, Chris Evans, Lucy Ford, Miki Szabo, and Billy Walker spent four months immersing themselves in the Singaporean culture. While studying in STEM fields, they also worked on language studies. Though there are four official languages in Singapore, each midshipman took the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese.

 Each midshipmen also produced a portfolio focusing on a unique topic within the culture, such as food or environmental awareness.

“The opportunity to go abroad has expanded my worldview and has created a desire to continue traveling,” said Couch.

Additionally, three of the midshipmen participated in a military exchange with Singapore for the first time in Naval Academy history. Couch, Evans, and Szabo were part of a military exchange with the Singapore Armed Forces, during which they visited the Changi Naval Base and worked with Singaporean midshipmen.

As part of this exchange, three Singaporean midshipmen are attending the U.S. Naval Academy for the fall 2016 semester.

On an educational level, these exchange agreements are vital to the development of young naval officers. The exchanges provide interaction and insight into another culture and its military. Professional relationships are started that benefit these young officers throughout their entire careers. For example, Teo Yu Run, a Singaporean midshipman, will be rooming with Szabo during the fall semester at the academy. The two midshipmen met while Szabo was on his exchange in Singapore the previous semester.

On a more strategic level, the exchange agreements are important because they help to further our naval force’s working relationship with one of its allies.

The three midshipmen on military exchange were fortunate enough to spend a day engaging with Singapore’s Navy at their east coast port, Changi Naval Base. They met the U.S. naval attaché to Singapore and received a personal tour of the base’s naval museum and port.

According to the midshipmen, the highlight of their tour was meeting the cadets at Singapore’s Officer Candidate School. There was a question and answer session where the midshipmen learned about the cadets’ training and Singapore’s military conscription. The cadets also asked about the Naval Academy, at which point the midshipmen had to debunk all the myths from the movie Annapolis. The mids ended the day by joining the cadets’ physical training session, which after two sets of exercises, quickly devolved into a game of basketball. It was apparent that even a world apart, the midshipmen and cadets were more similar than different.

“The semester definitely improved my independence and comfort with new people and situations,” said Evans.

Nanyang Technological University was able to offer a variety of athletics.  From casual pick-up games with locals to intense intramural rivalries, the university was a hotbed for sports. Evans and Walker were active participants on the school’s track and field team. The two Navy runners could be found working out with the team on the track every Wednesday.

Ford spent most of her time with the university running club, pursuing her goals in the various road races Singapore had to offer, while Couch frequented the soccer field where he would join intense pick-up soccer games.

In addition to the weekly workouts, several of the midshipman had the opportunity to show off their skills in an intramural road race relay. Walker, Evans, and Ford all ran for their respective halls in the relay race.

With help from the university staff and the amazing exchange student body, the midshipmen experienced all areas of Singaporean culture. They immersed themselves in everything from exotic cuisines to the local nightlife.

“Living in Singapore exposed me to so many different cultures and ways of life that were all beneficial to my leadership development,” said Ford.

In Singapore, the mids had the opportunity to visit neighboring island Palau Ubin and interact with its native monkeys, wild boars, and water monitors. They celebrated the year of the monkey at the annual Chinese New Year festival. The midshipmen explored Singapore’s rich history with Malaysia by eating at a Hawker Stand in the Little Malay neighborhood. And they were even fortunate to spend a night at Singapore’s iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel and rooftop infinity pool.

For their Spring Break trip, the midshipmen chose to travel through Vietnam. Starting in Ho Chi Minh City, they began a two week adventure north through Hoi An and Hanoi. While in Ho Chi Minh, they took a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels where they learned about the Viet Cong and were even allowed to crawl through a segment of the tunnels. In Hoi An, they experienced what the city has been made famous for when they shopped for hand-made clothing like suits and dresses.

In the final city they visited, Hanoi, the midshipmen were most interested by their visit to the notorious Hanoi Hilton. For what was the most exotic meal of their semester, they killed and ate a mountain cobra. The snake’s blood was served as a beverage while the body was prepared in array of colorful dishes. The trip was an incredible learning experience, especially because of the insight it offered into Vietnam War.

“My experience in Singapore has given me such an incredible foundation for growth both in my professional career and in my personal pursuit of knowledge and adventure,” said Szabo.

“At the end of the trip, I almost didn’t have time to pack because I wanted to squeeze in a few more cultural activities,” said Walker.

Studying in Singapore provided these midshipmen with skills that will assist them throughout the rest of their lives.


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