Culture College teaches host nation's way of life

Feb. 22, 2012

By Sgt. Michael Reinsch, U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs

HEIDELBERG, GermanyAlmost every day service members, civilians, and family members arrive in Europe. While some are on their second or third assignment, others may be getting their passports stamped for the first time.

These service members may be unfamiliar with their new surroundings, and feel a sense of being displaced. This is often referred to as culture shock, or a sense of confusion and uncertainty that may affect people exposed to a different culture or environment without adequate preparation.

However, to better prepare and equip service members and their families to face this challenge Army Community Service in Europe has developed, “Culture College.”

This class is designed to give service members and their families a chance to learn about the culture of the host nation and the services of ACS.

“Having the Culture College ingrained into the Army Community Services gives us a chance to talk about some of the other services that are available,” said William Luna, outreach and adaptation division chief for Baumholder, Germany. “We make sure that they understand what’s new to them in this country, but also what is going on in their community so they can live the most resilient life style possible.”

Since 2011, ACS has been responsible for hosting the Culture College. Its integration into the welcoming process was out of a need for a more structured form of cultural education, one that can be altered and amended to fit each garrison around Europe.

Before the start of the Culture College, each individual garrison did something similar called the Head Start program.

“It’s really a new program instead of a continuation of the Head Start Program,” said Julia Sibilla, ACS supervisory community programs manager and relocation readiness programs manager in Vicenza, Italy. “The Head Start program was much longer and involved multiple people and resources. Our [Culture College] is a one day course to help Soldiers and civilians integrate into the local communities.”

Some of the Culture Colleges around Europe take an extended time to introduce their curriculum to students. If a garrison receives a large influx of incoming personnel the course can be tailored to be longer and have more iterations, but if a garrison only receives a small amount of incoming personnel can be shortened to fit the needs of that garrison.

A two-day class is held in Benelux, the three countries that make up Benelux are Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands, once a month, said Veronique Hensgens, ACS relocation readiness program manager, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.

In her course they teach incoming service members and their families French, one of the main native languages, and some of the cultural differences.

Unlike the Culture College in Benelux, Baumholder, Germany ACS hosts a six-day course that is held twice a month.

“My course here in Baumholder is broken down into three parts; Culture College 101, 201, 301. Each one is a two-day class and each course goes about 15 hours,” Luna said. “301 is kind of the finale. [The students] are broken into teams and they participate in “The Amazing Race.”

The scavenger hunt style race takes all of the lessons the students have learned from the previous five days and puts them into practice to enforce them.

“Each team gets clues and different missions that they have to go do. They start at the ACS in Baumholder and have to travel all the way to Mainz and all the way back. It is a great learning experience where the participants have to use the German that they were taught to win the race,” Luna said.

Service members and family members who come to Europe, be it German, Benelux, Italy or somewhere else within the 51 countries within U.S. Army Europe’s area of responsibility, can feel a little more at ease when it comes time to visit these historic countries.

“Our culture college workshop helps services members and families to embrace Belgium. During those two days, they will be brief on cultural differences, French and public transportation,” Hensgens. “Those two days really give service member and families a taste of the new the installation and the new country. This workshop will also give a great opportunity to service members and families to learn how to get around using national public transportation system.”

ACS has taken on the daunting task of teaching newcomers about the new world most coming to Europe have never experienced. This “safety net” for new personnel is a surely welcomed presence to soften the blow of “Culture Shock.”

"A good orientation introduces you to a community and helps build understanding for cultural norms and expectations, but an exceptional orientation welcomes you to your community, exposes you to the ‘wider world’ you are now living in and gives you the essential tools to master your new setting while having fun,” Brandi Stauber, IMCOM Europe Relocation ACS, Family Advocacy Program Manager. “ACS Culture Colleges are better than good; they're exceptional."

With this softening of culture shock ACS and Culture College across Europe hope that you take the time to get out onto the local towns and experience the culture right “on your doorstep.” And as they say at the Culture College in Italy, Venite a Vicenza, Come to Vicenza.

About us: U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned to advance American strategic interests across Eurasia and has unparalleled capability to prevent conflict, shape the environment and, if necessary, win decisively. The relationships we build during more than 1000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnerships, and enhance global security.