Town and Gown: JSU ROTC and International House Students Partner For a Cultural Exchange Seminar

Town and Gown: JSU ROTC and International House Students Partner For a Cultural Exchange Seminar


By Heather Greene

The Jacksonville State University International House recently partnered with the JSU ROTC program for an evening seminar to educate cadets on various world events, cultures, and etiquette.

Cadets rotated throughout three classrooms, divided by region -- Asia, the Middle East, and Africa -- where international students from countries within each region gave presentations on their homelands. Topics discussed included social, political, and military facts from each country, as presenters especially noted the greeting customs and basic etiquette found within their own cultures.

“This is just an opportunity to dabble in broadening their understandings of the different regions,” explains Maj. Paul Thiessen, assistant professor of military science and director of the ROTC program at JSU. “There’s no way they are going to become experts in these cultural areas in one night, but just exposing them to that different environment and letting them know that this is the way the U.S. military is going to be going in their future careers…This is so much more advanced and hands-on. I think it takes them a little further. This is not so much the science of it, but the art of it and getting to know people. Hopefully, they will meet these guys and then see them on campus.”

Directors of both campus organizations realized that the International House, located just a block down from the ROTC building Rowe Hall, could provide an excellent source of international cultural education from which young cadets can learn.

However, this seminar did not just work one-way on its benefits, but provided the international students the hands-on experience of teaching in an American classroom and an opportunity to serve as ambassadors.

Dr. John Ketterer, director of the Jacksonville State University International House program, explains, “In terms of my own students, they are fulfilling an ambassadorial function which is part of their scholarship to the university. But also, I want them to come away with a sense of confidence and trust in men who are wearing uniforms…I think it will be a very positive outcome. Our students come here for an education, but they also come here to learn about this culture.”

“For the cadets, it is a great opportunity to introduce them to different cultures,” explains Captain Sawdy, the ROTC survival instructor at JSU. “Just a little bit of awareness of how to talk to and communicate with people goes a long way.  We certainly don’t want to offend someone when you go into his or her country if we can avoid it.  As soon as you shake with the wrong hand, depending on what country you are in, your relationship is pretty much over. It’s great for cadets to understand that there is a different perspective out there, other than the perspective that is in the United States.”

Immediately following the seminar, Cadet Emerald Padgett, a JSU senior from Dallas, Ga., says, “It was a lot of fun. I learned it was about half and half on who you could look in the eye and who you could not. That was actually interesting to me.” 

“I enjoyed it. I just wish it wasn’t so short,” states Cadet Evan Prince, a JSU senior from Anniston, Ala. “I really liked it and think we learned a lot from it in the short time that we had. If we had had a little more, I think it would have been more fun.” 

Both cadets agreed that this is an event that they would like to see more of and think that other JSU students, not just ROTC cadets, could learn quite a bit from a seminar like this one.  

Not only did the cadets benefit, but the international students presenting did as well. 

“I saw that we need to do this more often,” states Maya-Nora Saaid, a JSU sophomore majoring in marketing who has been in the U.S. for about three years. “Even back home, if they could give a class about American culture, that would really help them understand that everyone really is different -- the Western side and the Arab side -- it’s different.”

A child of Arabic parents but born and raised in the Netherlands, Saaid explains she wished to be helpful to the cadets since she knows first-hand how one feels going into a new country: “I felt like a stranger here, so when people from here go there, they will feel like a stranger. But really, we are all human, we are one.”

For more information about the JSU ROTC program or the International House program, please visit

This article originally appeared in the "Town and Gown" of the Jacksonville News.