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My Coast Guard
Commentary | May 16, 2022

A Long Way From Home: International cadets accept challenge and find support at the CGA  

By David. M. Santos, U.S. Coast Guard Academy External Affairs

More than 160 students from across the globe have been a part of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s international cadet program since it was established in 1971. 

Every year the U.S. Coast Guard sends a message to U.S. embassies and defense attaché offices around the world to inform prospective international cadets about the opportunity, and outline application procedures. 

Candidates undergo a battery of standardized tests, a language assessment, and a thorough medical examination before attending. The sponsoring country must agree to reimburse the service for the cost of instruction, and bear all costs associated with their student’s travel to and from the Academy.  

For many of those who are selected, the challenge of a lifetime awaits. Coping with cultural differences while speaking and writing in a second language can challenge the best of students. Now, imagine accomplishing that while navigating the highly regimented life of a cadet at a U.S. military academy. 

Many of the international cadets rise to prominence in the armed forces of their countries of origin or have rewarding civilian careers after graduating, and collectively they bring a deep level of cultural diversity and perspective to the Academy that enriches the cadet experience for the entire corps. 

The Class of 2022 arrived at the Academy four years ago with one of the largest and most diverse contingents of international students in the institution’s history. This year nine cadets from nine different countries are expected to graduate on May 18. 

“It is so challenging both mentally and physically, but you will have so many people who are willing to support you to get through everything,” said Cadet Vivine Ishimwe, from the Republic of Rwanda, who will be one of the first graduates of the Academy’s Cyber Systems program. 

Ishimwe advises other international cadets to, “take all the opportunities that are going to come your way, whether they are trainings, competitions, leadership positions, or volunteering. This will help you to learn so many things, and help you grow in all aspects of life as a cadet.”

Cadet Manuel Gutierrez Rodriguez was one of the youngest people in his class at Heroica Escuela Naval Militar, the officer training academy of the Mexican navy. Even though he had already completed two years there, when he was selected for the international cadet program Rodriguez jumped at the chance to attend the Academy. 

When he graduates this year the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering major will have six years of military academy experience. Rodriguez remembers the challenges of the first few weeks of training. “Of course, I was nervous.” He remembers thinking, “What if I can’t understand them, or they can’t understand me?” 

There was one aspect of the first seven weeks of boot-camp like training known as Swab Summer that he found especially helpful. “Everything [the training cadre] said, you had to repeat verbatim. You also had to speak in the third person (i.e., this cadet has no excuse sir!) All that helped me break the language barrier,” he said smiling. 

To help each other cope with the unique stresses they encounter, the international cadets form a powerful support network.  

“They [other international cadets] are able to connect with you more, and provide emotional support,” said Cadet Santa Andrianaivo Ralambo, from the Republic of Madagascar, who will graduate this year with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Management program. “They can say, I’m going through the same thing you are. They can relate and share their insights.” 

Ralambo also has a message for his U.S. classmates who may one day be travelling to one of the home countries of an international classmate. “You can count on us,” he said. “If you’re ever in our country, you’ll get a warm welcome as a payback for all you’ve shown us and done for us here.”