ROTC student to study in Russia

Amanda Kozma

The average Army ROTC student doesn’t get the opportunity to travel abroad, but senior Joel Newburn is no average ROTC student.

Newburn decided he wanted to travel to Russia during his sophomore year after taking Russian for his foreign language requirement. In the fall, Newburn traveled abroad to Russia and took classes at Volgograd State University.

Ordinarily, ROTC students do not travel abroad because the program is based on a four-year sequence, said Lt. Col. Dean Costas, professor of military science. ROTC does not like to delay graduation time, and sometimes traveling abroad can cause that. The junior year is also the most crucial time in the ROTC program, so senior year is the best time for ROTC students to take a travel abroad opportunity.

Newburn said he had to get a lot of waivers to be allowed to travel abroad, but it was worth it.

“You walk through the streets there, and you see plaques and sculptures of military heroes everywhere,” Newburn said.

Mother Russia, a 171-foot-high statue built to commemorate the World War II battle of Stalingrad, impressed Newburn the most.

“To Americans, World War II can seem so far away, but there – it’s not,” Newburn said.

In St. Petersburg, there was a wall that had a sign informing pedestrians to walk on the far side of the street because it was less likely they would get hit by enemy fire, he said.

Newburn took home a 50 mm mortar shell that he found just across from his dormitory as a souvenir. He said it makes the war more of a reality when you can see where it actually took place.

When he first went over to Russia, he did not tell anyone he was in the military.

The military isn’t considered a prestigious occupation in Russia because men are required to serve in it, Newburn said. There are even cases where men will try buying their way out of serving.

“You can’t really compare our military to theirs. It’s very different, not as honorable,” he said. “There, you would see men in the military drunk in uniform. Here, that would be considered unacceptable.”

Now, Newburn said, he knows how it feels to be the foreigner, and he thinks that will help him in the future as an officer when he is deployed.

“After traveling abroad, the way I see the world has changed,” Newburn said.

His military background helped him to deal with culture shock while he was placed in a foreign country.

“Where you have black and white here, there are 1,000 shades of gray in Russia,” Newburn said.

He said it was very important to be flexible when adjusting to a new culture in a foreign country. In the ROTC, students are trained to react to things that aren’t planned, which helped Newburn.

He said he believes his experience of adjusting to a new language and culture in a foreign country will help him to be a strong leader to other soldiers when they are deployed.

“As an ROTC student, you have to plan early on if you want to travel abroad,” Newburn said.

Contact ROTC reporter Amanda Kozma at [email protected].