This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19 edition of Army Football Game Day versus Ball State.
Three members of the Army men's soccer team had the unique opportunity to spend the spring of 2009 studying abroad in different corners of the world. Peter Campbell, Bryan Connolly and Andrew Kydes are three of the squad's eight members in the Class of 2010 that will lead the Black Knights on the field this fall. The trio returned to West Point after spending semesters abroad studying in Russia, China and Mexico, respectively, filled with stories and experiences few get to take advantage of during their time at the Academy. All three also found ways to incorporate soccer into their trips.
Civil Engineering majors like Andrew Kydes don't normally have the time to try and fit a semester abroad into their busy schedules. However, taking a semester of classes at the Monterey Institute of Technology in Mexico was a perfect fit for the senior from Nowalk, Conn.
"Two of us were given the opportunity to take classes there because it is recognized as one of the top engineering schools, world-wide. So we were able to take our engineering classes at the University."
The tricky part was being able to take already complicated engineering classes and find a way to comprehend everything being taught while in a foreign language. Four of his five classes would be taught completely in Spanish.
"With four years of Spanish in high school, and two more at West Point, I felt prepared, but you don't realize how hard it is to comprehend a different language until you immerse yourself in that culture. When I got down there, it took me some time to pick the language back up, but after a while it became pretty easy to communicate."
During his free time, Kydes played for a school club soccer team made up of all international students from Norway, Germany, Sweden, Canada and Australia to name a few. The squad ended up winning the club tournament over one of the all-Mexican teams.
"On the field, the basic language that everyone spoke was English," said Kydes. "You might be out of the loop on the field for a bit if two of your teammates were from the same country and speaking the same language, but everyone pretty much knew how to speak Spanish too, so we used those two languages on the field most often."
With three weeks remaining on his semester experience, the H1N1 Swine Flu virus broke out in Mexico City. The U.S. Department of Defense issued an order that all non-essential military personnel evacuate Mexico, thus ending his stay early.
"It was amazing how quickly people disappeared. Before the outbreak, there were thousands of people in the streets. The day it hit, there was hardly anyone around."
"When we got back to America, we were picked us up at the airport by people wearing masks and then we were quarantined at Camp Buckner for five days before we were released to make sure we weren't sick. Everyone was afraid that if we started spreading Swine Flu, graduation would have been postponed."
Bryan Connolly put in a lot of extra time in the classroom over the last two years to have the opportunity to study at Voronezh State University, located an eight-hour train ride south of Moscow. The Brookville, Ohio native remained at West Point for the previous two summers to take extra classes, while also overloading his schedule for his final year on the banks of the Hudson River.
"I did two summer school sessions and have a full course load this year, but the upside was that I had a semester to go abroad and really learn another language and culture," explained Connolly, who led Army in scoring in 2008 after returning from a knee injury that cost him his whole sophomore year. "I want to go back to Russia after graduation and spend more time there as soon as I can."
Despite only having three semesters of Russian under his belt before departing for his trip, the Operations Research major with a 3.9 grade point average was up for the challenge of putting himself in unfamiliar territory.
"There was a lot thrown at us at first and the instructors were pretty tough to begin with," said Connolly. "For the first week, all they did was speak Russian, and they spoke it really fast. I had no idea what was going on. There was a West Point liaison that spoke English and served as a facilitator for the cadets that were there. Whenever he was in class with us, it made it easier and we eventually picked it up on our own."
Speaking Russian and playing soccer were common denominators among many of Connolly's classmates. He shared classrooms and the field with international students from near and far, including Estonia, Germany and China.
"For the first couple months, it was pretty hard to play outside because it was so cold. We did find a place to play on an indoor field with some people before we were able to go outside when it got warmer."
Peter Campbell's experience also involved taking a first-hand crash course in learning a new culture, while also speaking the international language of soccer. The New Canaan, Conn. native spent the semester studying at Nanjing University, located in the mid-Eastern part of China.
"While the structure of West Point has its benefits, being able to live on my own for a while and organize my day however I wanted, all while living in a completely different country gave me a great opportunity to grow," said Campbell.
With five semesters of foreign language classes to his credit at West Point, the Chinese and Economics major found that he learned just as much, if not more, by traveling around the country and talking to the locals. He also lived in the foreign student dorm where he met people from all over the world.
"I would tell anyone that was going to be in the same shoes I was in to travel and talk with as many people as possible. Talking with the people helped my Chinese speaking quite a bit, even more than just discussing it in a classroom.
"At first, I knew how to say a couple things where, if I said them enough, I could eventually figure out where I needed to go. By the time I left, it was really easy to talk to people and accomplish the things I needed. It was a great experience and I didn't want to leave. I could have stayed there for a whole year, maybe even longer."
During some of his free time when he wasn't traveling, Campbell found that playing soccer in a country with a population over 1.3 billion could get a bit crowded.
"It was pretty crazy playing soccer because there were so many people. There would at times be over 100 people on a field at once with several different games going on at the same time and overlapping each other. It was pretty tight, but it was a lot of fun."
Tim Volkmann is an Assistant Director of Athletic Communications at West Point.