Nebraska Business Honors Academy student Natalie Karrels, a junior supply chain management major from Brookfield, Wisconsin, was the first Army ROTC student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to be selected for the Project Global Officer (GO) summer program. This highly competitive summer program develops future military officers' linguistic and cross-cultural communication skills.
Project GO is a nationwide program for ROTC students offering fully-funded opportunities in critical language education, overseas study and cross-cultural experience. Future military officers develop linguistic and cross-cultural communication skills required to effectively lead all branches of the service in the modern operational environment.
Going beyond a traditional study abroad experience, Karrels spent the summer studying Swahili in Kenya and Tanzania. She also experienced local culture and learned about local economies, knowledge that helped enrich her perspectives.
"Swahili is a common language among many East African countries. Learning the language of many people living in East Africa made my experience so much more enriching since I could communicate with people and show my respect for and interest in their culture by speaking one of the languages they do," she said.
Before leaving Nebraska in May 2023, Karrels took one week of intensive Swahili language training to prepare her for the experience. During the summer program, she stayed with families in Tanzania and in rural locations in Kenya.
"Being able to stay with local families was the best way to experience the local culture because I could help them in their daily tasks, including cooking, cleaning, and farming or herding in most places. East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya) are more similar to the midwestern U.S. than different. One of the biggest differences I experienced was how families stay together for much longer. It is common for a son and his wife to live in the same homestead or 'boma' as his parents and younger siblings," she said.
Although this wasn't a specifically business-focused program, Karrels learned about various types of economies and the impact they have on residents. She said she learned about green and blue economies — economic systems based on environmentalist principles, such as sustainable development and farming, that seek to conserve marine and freshwater environments while producing energy or food resources. She also learned the importance of tourism on the island of Zanzibar, the impact tourism has on locals, and how Kenya's recent tax increases have impacted its citizens.
"This experience forced me to get out of my comfort zone, be adaptable and adjust to new foods, experiences, languages and traditions. I think as a student, learning and getting to experience a different place has reminded me that every perspective is important and impactful and that there are often multiple ways to succeed at something, something I'll take with me no matter where I go in my career."