(Re)discovering the United States

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Emily Lo Vece, NSCC
Thomas R. Norris Battalion, Fruitland Park, Fla.
Inbound International Exchange, Newport, R.I.
For most of the 36 foreign cadets visiting America on the 2016 U.S. International Exchange, it was their first time experiencing our country. I knew it was their time to discover America. But as I watched them become immersed in the American way of life, I rediscovered my own country. If we were all asked to write about our time together, I am almost certain the majority of us would open with something along the lines of, “It is difficult to put in words how this changed my life.” Or “I don’t know where to begin, we had the time of our lives.” No one went home disappointed that’s for sure. So as difficult as it is to verbalize, I am excited to share my experience with you.
I was repeatedly told a few specific things during this exchange:

1.    “Keep your head on a swivel.”
2.    “You will make great friends, who will last you a lifetime if you so choose.”
3.    “Prepare for the end.”
4.    “It’s emotional.”

Quote one is from Lt. Cmdr. Michael Campbell addressing the training. It was used thoroughly by everyone to remind ourselves to maintain professionalism while having a great time with our guests. When a buddy would get excited and out of hand, it was our duty to say, “Hey, keep your head on a swivel, this is fun, but remember we’ve got a job to do.” It worked. I think many of us will carry it home as a personal reminder to stay focused on our goals. Quote two was also brought up to the American cadets many times during our meetings. We were always reminded to learn from each other and create memories. We all did. For certain, I walked away with almost 40 new friends from seven different countries. We all still talk. It may not be face-to-face, but we are living up to our promise to stay in touch. On to number three: I took this quote very seriously. I constantly reminded myself I needed to stay in the moment and enjoy every second because our time together was limited. Finally, “It’s emotional,” is the quote that ties the other three together and sums up the experience. “It’s emotional,” because staying on course is difficult when you are surrounded by new people and exciting events. “It’s emotional,” because these new people become your best friends by participating in the events and sharing their stories with you. “It’s emotional,” because when it’s over, and they get in the car, the bus, or on the plane and go back to a different part of the planet, you don’t know what will happen. You won’t be sharing the same Plan of the Day, eating together, and shopping at the NEX. Weeks later, it will still be emotional because you know they are out there, and you miss them dearly.

Now you are probably wondering, “If it’s so emotional, and you miss these people so much, was it really worth it?” Of course it was. My time on the Exchange was and forever will be worth every moment. During the two-week period, we experienced some of the United States’ most wondrous sights. From kayaking in the woods to being on Broadway to watching fireworks on one of our beautiful battleships, it was very surreal. Traveling the iconic destinations of my own country with cadets from around the world reminded me why I joined the USNSCC. I am proud of our country. Sharing it with others prompted me to think about how grateful I am to be part of something so much bigger than myself.

In the beginning, we were in the “Where I am from, we do it this way,” type of mindset. As we went through the first week working together on group activities such as Cat’s Cradle (a personal favorite of the XO and after I learned it, myself as well), the mood changed. Rather than comparing how each other’s countries operate differently, we developed a way to do things together. It became, “This is how we do it here at IEP 2016.” It was a feeling that can never be replaced.

The IEP group this year had fantastic experiences, built many friendships, and made lasting memories. Cadets lucky enough to be involved with IEP each year are incredibly grateful to the USNSCC and the Sea Cadet programs abroad who make these exchanges possible. Without their support and guidance, none of the great memories we shared would be possible. The exchange program was undoubtedly the greatest experience I will have in the NSCC. I don’t think anything will come close to the time I shared with the officers and cadets. It was an honor to serve and stand with them. Any cadet from any country should seek out this opportunity; it is the chance of a lifetime. Bravo Zulu, cheers, and congratulations to all involved in this year’s exchange! #SweetCaroline