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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Some 2nd Infantry Division soldiers will return from Iraq tours to foreign-born spouses trained in the subtleties of American and military culture, thanks to the United Service Organizations.

USO plans to establish a Cross Cultural School in Area I for foreign-born spouses of 2nd ID soldiers, whose husbands from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Iraq.

Sally Hall, director of the Camp Casey USO, said the Area I classes will be similar to those offered twice a year by USO’s Cross Cultural School at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.

The last series of cross-cultural classes run at Yongsan included an introduction to cultural and behavioral differences between the U.S. and South Korea and a lesson on American holidays, customs and traditions. A U.S. Embassy official spoke on the ever-confusing immigrant and non-immigrant visa and citizenship process.

Attendees also received information on job interviewing, résumé writing, banking, finding a house or apartment and education and military lifestyles.

But the most popular class, attendees said, was on cooking — a USO instructor taught the spouses how to make popular Western dishes such as lasagna.

According to two-year-old statistics from the Chaplain Family Life Center, about 1,000 cross-cultural marriages occur each year between U.S. soldiers or civilians and non-American-born spouses in South Korea. That figure pales in comparison to the estimated 4,000 cross-cultural marriages that occurred each year during the 1970s, but it’s still significant.

Most cross-cultural marriages, officials said, are between Korean women and American men. However, in Area I most foreign-born spouses of U.S. soldiers are Filipinas or Russians.

Hall, a Filipina married to a retired U.S. soldier, said: “With this deployment of the troops to Iraq it is a perfect time to offer the classes because now the spouses can receive a full-time education and make themselves busy while their husbands are gone.”

Ideally, foreigners should learn about U.S. and military culture before marrying U.S. soldiers, and soldiers should be counseled before marrying foreigners, she said.

Foreign-born spouses at least should learn about U.S. culture before immigrating to the United States, she said.

“These spouses, newly married to soldiers, know nothing about military and U.S. culture.” When they go to the States, she said, “there is fear and there is hesitancy. They should have learned here before they went to the States with their husbands.”

Foreign-born spouses who do not know about military culture often are unable to utilize the support services that the Army provides for them, said Hall, who often refers Filipina spouses with problems to the correct service provider.

“The biggest problem is immigration. Soldiers are too busy and proper documentation and the visa application is left with the spouse. They have questions about situations like what if they want their husbands to adopt their children from a previous relationship or bring parents here to visit or apply for a job or buy tickets back to the Philippines. They don’t know where to go,” Hall said.

Some foreign-born spouses in Area I have learned about American and military culture by volunteering at the Camp Casey USO, Hall said.

“We bring them to the USO working in partnership with Army Community Services and train them with basic office work like answering the phone, filing, dealing with customers, logging people in to the Internet and event co-ordination,” she said.

The Area I Cross Cultural School will start classes before this fall, Hall said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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