Travels to Papua New Guinea
POSTED ON: Wednesday, October 4, 2023 2:29 PM by MC2 Sarah Theilen
U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) midshipmen traveled to Papua New Guinea for a Language Proficiency, Regional Expertise, and Culture Awareness (LREC) summer training program in July 2023.
The group included Midshipmen 1st Class (senior) Jack Costigan, Julian Flores, Anna Hornick, Sebastian Martin, and Joe Riemann, and Midshipmen 2nd Class (junior) Tori DiCarlo and Grace Peterson. They were accompanied by Joe Thomas, director of the Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership at USNA.
Before setting out, the team decided their mission was to immerse themselves in the culture of Papua New Guinea and develop their professional leadership skills through engagement and planned activities with the local communities.
“We definitely accomplished our mission,” said Midshipman 2nd Class (junior) Tori DiCarlo. “We developed our cross-cultural competency every day by bridging friendships through exchanging ideas, information, and experiences.”
Traveling to their destination was a feat of its own. With three days of travel and over 26 in-flight hours, they knew the trip wasn’t going to be the easiest of the LREC options.
“We did not want an easy tourist destination trip,” said DiCarlo. “[Everyone on the trip] worked hard to get a spot for this once in a lifetime experience.”
Driven by a desire to push their limits and learn about a culture completely different from their own, DiCarlo said the group sought out adversity in order to grow as leaders.
“Entering a completely new world with lifestyles so unlike our own, we benefited by learning to adapt and overcome challenges as they emerged,” she added. “In this new environment, we embraced getting uncomfortable, a mindset that will greatly enhance our leadership capabilities in our future Navy and Marine Corps careers. We have learned that we have the capability to take on unfamiliar situations with confidence.”
A typical day started at 6:30 a.m., sometimes courtesy of the local roosters. After breakfast, the team kayaked between islands for hours and miles at a time, with stops to snorkel and take in the views. The sea kayaks were the mode of travel between the five main islands they visited. Each stop was a unique experience where they met with locals and assimilated into the culture of the island they landed on.
“We hope that the local people of Papua New Guinea felt our genuine interest in their way of life and our admiration for their beautiful country,” said DiCarlo. “We did our best to ensure that each individual knew how thankful we were for their kindness and hospitality in sharing their culture with us and letting us into their lives for a short time.”
With the sunsetting around 6:30 p.m. every day, the group finished their days with headlamp-lit dinners, often reflecting on that day’s adventure.
“On one of our final days of the trip, we went to Tsoi Primary School to repair a roof on one of its main buildings,” said Midshipman 1st Class (senior) Joe Reimann. “We had to tear off the old roof and insulation and replace it with new materials that were brought to the island. After a long day of working in the heat, we got the roof replaced and even had time to play with the kids after.”
Each LREC is carefully evaluated and approved through the International Programs Office (IPO). Upwards of 50 of these international trips are offered each year with 250-350 midshipmen taking part. With the coordination through IPO, USNA faculty members lead these small groups of midshipmen to strategic locations around the world. These experiences develop midshipmen’s cultural awareness and improve global perspective.
“Through these programs, we take them outside of their routine bubble,” said Angela Yu, the IPO Deputy Director. “We take them outside of what they’ve known, and that’s where a different type of learning begins.”
The IPO team believes that the value midshipmen get from their LRECs is lifelong.
“It’s the most rewarding part of the job,” said Yu. “We hear their concerns, we hear their stories, and then when they come back we see that growth - not only as leaders but as human beings. They end up learning more about themselves than they do about where they visit.”
The Papua New Guinea experience was one the midshipmen still talk about now that their academic year has started.
“All of the members of this trip actively interact and reflect on the memories and lessons of this trip,” said DiCarlo. “We lean on one another to learn from our experience and utilize what we have gained to enhance our daily lives at the Academy in preparation for our future careers. I think we can all agree we have been changed in the best way from our shared journey.”