The Brazilian Air Force Academy (AFA, in Portuguese) started the 2019 academic year with a new staff member: U.S. Air Force Captain Daniel Patrick Spencer. The officer will teach English and International Relations at AFA for the next three years. Both courses were added to the cadets’ academic curriculum in 2019.
The exchange between countries is mutual. A Brazilian officer took on the role of instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), also for three years.
Capt. Spencer arrived in Brazil in December 2018. In addition to teaching, he works at the International Programs department, providing support and orientation to AFA cadets selected for the exchange with USAFA and Colombia. “During weekly meetings I answer questions about the English language, academic routine, or even these countries’ traditions,” he told Diálogo.
The officer completed various operational missions during his career and worked in the field of international relations in countries such as Colombia and the United Kingdom, and the western coast of Africa. “Missions were always short. I dreamed of participating in a long-term exchange mission,” said Capt. Spencer.
“The exchange opportunity with Brazil happened because of my command of Portuguese, which I demonstrated in a proficiency test,” he said. “The guidance I received from the U.S. Air Force for the coming years is to try to build ties between Brazil and the United States, based on my experiences and personality.”
For Capt. Spencer, the mission has been very positive so far. “I like the food, the people, the culture, the cities, and nature. Some things are different, but I’m learning how to handle and appreciate them.”
This is Capt. Spencer’s first experience as an instructor, using U.S. academic culture to teach classes, with broad participation from students. “I’m surprised by the Brazilian cadets’ level of knowledge on current affairs,” he said.
Brazilian cadets endorsed Capt. Spencer’s subjects. “The instructor shows us a world perspective that’s very different from what we’re used to. Shared stories and experiences create an interactive and interesting class, as we get to know the viewpoint of a foreigner,” said Cadet Vinícius Jacobi Quatrin, a fourth-year student of International Relations. The student also emphasized the instructor’s knowledge in political sciences, as well as his professional experience in conflicts and global travel.
“This is an opportunity to have greater contact with another culture and learn more about it. In addition, contact with a U.S. officer helps learn English,” said Cadet Pamella Silva de Oliveira, also a fourth-year student. The student highlighted how one could learn more about the organizational culture of USAF and understand the intricacies of the work environment in one of the most important armed forces worldwide.
“Cadets now have direct access to information on traditions, norms, and about the differences in training and military culture in our countries,” said Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese) Colonel Saint-Clair Lima da Silva, Academic Affairs assistant of AFA’s Educational Department. “This proximity incentivizes our cadets even more to participate in exchange programs.”
According to Col. Saint-Clair, cadets are more interested in subjects foreign officers teach, and explore the topics in class from the viewpoint of the officer who teaches them. “The different approaches and examples a foreign officer brings, which wouldn’t typically be part of the subject, increase interest. This stimulates self-reflection and analysis on how their own values influence their convictions,” he said.
Col. Saint-Clair, who once was a liaison officer at FAB and an academic instructor at USAFA, highlighted the importance of exchanging experiences and perspectives between both institutions. “The greatest benefit is understanding cultural differences and establishing professional ties and friendship between our countries.”
The officer also pointed out the benefits of the exchange program for cadets and both air forces. “The cadets are exposed to military, ethical, and leadership training other than that of their respective academies, which will serve as a base for future analysis toward improving our training programs,” he said. “This also speeds up the development of cadets’ required qualities to perform leadership functions in intercultural environments, a scenario which is already a reality for FAB.”
Exchange started in 2017
This is the second time that AFA welcomes an instructor from the United States. In 2017, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eric Richard Dittman taught in Brazil for two years. “During the first year, Lt. Col. Dittman helped at the Cadet Corps’ Doctrine Section, where he created, planned, and implemented the mentoring program for fourth-year cadets,” said FAB Major General David Almeida Alcoforado, commandant of AFA. “In the second year, the officer worked at the Educational Department and was responsible for English, Mechanics, and Aerodynamics courses.”
In addition to the U.S. instructor, AFA also has two other instructors from abroad: airmen from Chile and Argentina. Both are flight instructors for cadets.