MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Activist, Baptist minister and civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Rising above the one to see the many is a goal of the Community College of the Air Force. This federally chartered academic institution serves the U.S. Air and Space Force’s enlisted total force. CCAF partners with 112 affiliated Air and Space Force schools worldwide to serve more than 270,000 active, guard and reserve enlisted personnel, making CCAF the world’s largest community college system.
For more than 10 years, the Air Force Culture and Language Center has been a proud partner with CCAF bringing the study of culture and cross-cultural communication to service members looking to broaden their horizons to the world around them. In April 2009, AFCLC launched the pilot version of the Introduction to Culture (ITC) course, with the finished version officially launching in May 2011. Introduction to Cross-Cultural Communication (CCC) launched in February 2011.
“The ITC and CCC courses offered by AFCLC provide Airmen a basis for mission and career success in various ways. These courses prepare Airmen to operate in and react to uncertain situations. Our Airmen often live and work in places and environments that they are unfamiliar with and these courses help them act and react appropriately. They also give them a basis for understanding that different people may see the world differently,” said AFCLC’s Deputy Director Greg Day. “The ITC and CCC CCAF courses give Airmen a no-cost way to satisfy college degree requirements with courses that not only educate them but also help them succeed in their missions around the world.”
Culture influences everything we think, say and do, so the modern Airman needs to study culture because of the diverse missions requiring interaction with people from different cultures at home and abroad. To improve interactions with counterparts, an Airman must become more aware of how culture affects those interactions.
“The challenges confronting our country, our Department of Defense and our world today – including cybercrime, natural disasters, disease, conflict and humanitarian crises, among others – are borderless issues that often require multinational coalitions to solve them. The Intro to Cross-Cultural Communication course explores how our worldviews, values and assumptions are reflected in verbal and nonverbal communication practices and conflict approaches. Our goal is to help military members develop the mindsets and skillsets essential to developing effective intercultural relationships,” said Dr. Susan Steen, AFCLC’s Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication.
Dr. Patricia Fogarty, AFCLC’s Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Relations, agreed and added that the importance of both courses serve to improve “mission interactions.”
“It is important for Airmen to study culture because of the diverse missions requiring interaction with people from different cultures at home and abroad. To improve interactions with counterparts, Airmen must become more aware of how culture affects those interactions. This course teaches students how to improve mission success by identifying a culture’s effects, seeing a situation from different perspectives, and predicting the consequences of cross-cultural interactions. Moreover, the ITC course equips students with tools to improve their skills of observation and their ability to orient to new or changing situations,” Dr. Fogarty said.
Judi Goodall was working as a Paralegal CDC Writer at the JAG School and only two years from retirement when she saw a flyer advertising the ITC course. At the time, she still needed three credit hours at CCAF, the course met her requirements, it was free, and it sounded interesting.
“I had never taken an online course before,” Goodall said. “It taught me to be more aware of my surroundings and to pay attention to what people do. It taught me that one person’s ‘strange’ is another person’s ‘normal.’ (It also taught me) to not always assume someone is rude when they say something or use a gesture. I learned a great deal about interacting with people, how to interpret my assumptions and think about things I see or hear before responding.”
Master Sgt. Neil J. Scuderi was also one of the early graduates of the ITC course. He said he learned about the course directly from his supervisor. Although they were both set to deploy soon after, he needed the credits.
“The course itself was a good starting point to increase awareness of how best to work with different cultures,” Scuderi said. “I could not utilize what I learned on the immediately following deployment; however, I have been able to use some of the principles in every trip after that. Being able to foster a productive work environment with foreign partners has been very rewarding.”
AFCLC continues to offer these distance learning courses, each worth three semester hours of credit through the CCAF and currently available to enlisted members of the U.S. Armed Forces (Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve) who participate in the CCAF program. To date, ITC has graduated 7,748 participants, while CCC has graduated 4,181 participants. Learn more about AFCLC’s CCAF courses at: https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/AFCLC/courses/