I never that thought that I would be given the opportunity to participate in the 17-day International Air Cadet Exchange (IACE) Program.
Of the 2,000 cadets who apply each year, only 38 are selected to visit a foreign country; that’s a 1.9% acceptance rate. I have spent eight years in the Civil Air Patrol, learning about leadership, aerospace, character development, Air Force customs and courtesies. It was eight years of dedication and work, goal planning and looking for the next step, pushing myself and learning what I could do, getting the highest promotion I could, before I felt ready to apply for IACE.
The Civil Air Patrol is the Auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and focuses on three missions: Emergency Services, Cadet Programs (youth development), and aerospace education. Other nations have their own cadet aerospace programs, which are intended to educate and inspire youth to pursue aerospace careers. Through the International Air Cadet Exchange, youth from up to 18 different countries come together to further cultural exchange, foster international goodwill, and learn about their host country and that countries aerospace industry.
We learned about and visited each of the major players in the Dutch aerospace industry such as: The Dutch Royal Airlines (KLM), National Aerospace Research Laboratory (NLR), European Space Research and Technology Center (ESA-ESTEC), Airbus, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Some of the neat things we did there were: flying the KLM 747 and A330 training simulators, learning about how the ESA-ESTEC thinks moon bases should be built, and seeing how the NLR was experimenting with ATC flight routing to reduce noise complaints and increase fuel efficiency.
There were cadets from Canada, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and of course, the United States. Even though we all had different backgrounds, we were all united through aerospace. Five of us were pilots, two wanted to serve in their air force, six wanted to be career pilots, one had an internship at Airbus as a mechanic, and one wanted to be an air traffic controller, not bad for 16 people under the age of 21.
Throughout our stay, we constantly exchanged cultural insights, from Korean ramen to French music, and Australian Vegemite to the Backstreet Boys. I also found it very interesting to get different perspectives on the world, asking Hong Kongese how they felt regarding the current protests, and the British how they felt about Brexit. Personal stories and perspectives mean a lot more than highly generalized news report. The experience is something that I will always value.
Even though our program was focused on aerospace, we had our fair share of classic Dutch culture. We learned about how the Dutch deal with water, considering that 23% of their country is under sea-level. We ate raw herring, a meal that allowed the Dutch navy to sail farther than the competition before refrigeration, and, of course, seeing classic art from Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer.
The International Air Cadet Exchange is not like taking a family trip to Europe. The Dutch hosts intend to show the best of the aerospace industry as well as the culture of The Netherlands. We talked with Joba van den Berg, a sitting member of Dutch Parliament, and had behind-the-scene tours on Dutch military bases that ranged from a lab that specialized in increasing the ability of the human body, to bases operating modern military hardware.
Through the IACE program, I learned the value of different perspectives and the power of diverse thought, the importance of international cooperation, and that even though we are all coming from different countries and continents, that we are all closer than we think.