“Develop some empathy and perspective, the ability to take someone else’s perspective. That doesn’t mean you’re selling your position out, it just means you understand where they’re coming from.”
Dr. Scott E. Womack is a twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Army and currently teaches French and German at James Monroe High School in Lindside, West Virginia. He also serves as Golf Coach and advisor for the Student Government, Model United Nations Debate Team, Academic Showdown Team, and Youth Leadership Alliance. He is a member of the National Language Service Corps and is active in his local community via the NAACP, American Legion, and his Quaker Meeting.
After serving as an Armor Officer for ten years, Dr. Womack spent the last seventeen years of his military career either in Sub-Saharan Africa or dealing with affairs in the region as a Civil Affairs Officer and then as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO). Highlights of his experiences in Africa include security sector reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008-2010, the initial phases of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative/Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara in 2002-2004, Operation Shepherd Sentry – evacuation of noncombatants from the Central African Republic in 2002, and Operation Guardian Assistance – refugee repatriation assistance in Rwanda in 1996.
Dr. Womack’s last assignment on active duty was as a Sub-Saharan Africa FAO in the Directorate of Strategy, Plans and Policy on the Army Staff. Prior to this assignment he served as the U.S. Defense and Army Attaché to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo (2008-2010). Previous to that he was an Assistant Professor of French and Deputy Director of the U.S. Military Academy’s Center for Languages, Cultures, and Regional Studies (2006 – 2008) at West Point. In this capacity he established the center and directed its initial research efforts in the development of language proficiency, intercultural competence, and regional expertise. His other assignments in Africa include postings in Dakar, Senegal as the U.S. Defense Attaché to Cape Verde, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal (2004-2006) and in N’Djamena, Chad as the U.S. Defense Attaché to the Central African Republic and Chad (2002-2004).
Dr. Womack also served as the Sub-Saharan Africa Security Assistance Officer at the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany (1998-2001), Commander of D Company 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, (1996-1998), Commander of A and Headquarters Companies, 2nd Battalion 13th Armor Regiment (1991-1994), and as a tank platoon leader, scout platoon leader, company executive officer and assistant operations officer in the 3rd Battalion 73rd Armor Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (1986-1990).
Dr. Womack earned a Doctorate of Educational Leadership, Management, and Policy at Seton Hall University in 2010. His dissertation research focused on the development and assessment of intercultural competence and its relationship to language proficiency and regional expertise. He earned his M.A. in National Security Affairs from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1995 and his B.S. in History from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1986. He is proficient in French and German.
Dr. Womack’s U.S. military awards and decorations include the Legion of Merit, four Defense Meritorious Service Medals, two Army Meritorious Service Medals, a Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the Master Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge, and Ranger Tab. His foreign awards include the National Order of Senegal, the National Order of Chad, and the Senegalese, German, and Canadian Parachutist Badges. Dr. Womack was teacher of the year at his school in 2015, regional Veterans of Foreign Wars teacher of the year in 2015, and the American Legion Department of West Virginia teacher of the year in 2022.
Dr. Womack is married and is the father of two children, both adults. He lives on a homestead farm in rural West Virginia and enjoys playing and listening to music, reading, living history, and equestrian activities in addition to the myriad activities involved in farm life.
-West Point’s Center for Languages, Cultures and Regional Studies I was instrumental in its creation in 2007 while on the faculty there.
–The Foreign Area Officer Association, which published the book Culture Shock, for which I contributed the chapter entitled Leaving Bangui. I was a Sub-Saharan Africa Foreign Area Officer from 1998-2011.
-One of my hobbies, living history with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Company A.
-I am on LinkedIn and Facebook.
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0:00:03.9 Norah Jones: In this conversation today with Dr. Scott Womack, you’re going to be hearing a lot of very important, very interesting and amazing storytelling. Dr. Womack is a 27-year veteran of the US Army, and he currently teaches French and German at James Monroe High School in Lindside, West Virginia. He’s a member of the National Language Service Corps and serves as an advisor for Model United Nations Debate Team. He wrote a chapter on diplomatic effectiveness and a specific experience of his in Africa for the book, ‘Culture Shock’ published by the Foreign Area Officer Association. I asked him about his award for the National Order of Senegal, the National Order of Chad, and his role as the person that established the US Military Academy’s Center for languages, cultures and regional studies at West Point. His insights, his research into and his specific work around the world in connecting the development of language proficiency, development of intercultural competence and development of regional expertise make his insights and his stories of important application to the lives of all of those who want to understand the role of language and culture in our lives, in our careers, in our emotional wellbeing, and in the state of our world.
0:01:41.0 Norah Jones: I know you’re going to enjoy this podcast. It’s fascinating, and I look forward to you checking out lots of information and links on my website, fluency.consulting, to compliment what you’re about to hear and to follow from it.
0:02:05.7 Norah Jones: You know, Scott, I am looking forward to talking with you about so many things today, and I really appreciate that you are my guest today on, It’s About Language.
0:02:16.1 Scott Womack: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much.
0:02:19.4 Norah Jones: And I’m looking forward to my guests learning so many different layers about you. We have had in the introduction, the information that you are a 27-year veteran of the US Army and that you’re teaching French and German at James Monroe High School in Linside, West Virginia. But there’s so many other things that you currently do, and one aspect that I’m excited to share with my audience today includes the breadth of how language and intercultural studies have played such a huge role in your career and in the impact that you’re having both now and continuing from your previous position. So that being said, I think that just like in our initial conversation, that a really great place to start is for you to talk about yourself, your background, your personal history, and where that has taken you in the world of language and intercultural studies.
0:03:22.9 Scott Womack: Well, thank you. I’ll try not to be like David Copperfield and start where I was born, but I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. My parents were educators and I swore I wouldn’t follow them in that path, and here I am today teaching and I love it. It was a long path to the classroom; I grew up being very passionate about history. I don’t know if it’s in the blood or my teachers or my parents… but also travel. We did not travel overseas much growing up, but we did camp across the country several times up east, west, north, south, and I got the travel bug from that and was fixed on a military career from an early age for some reason. And my parents kind of thought it odd. Dad and all his brothers were War II veterans, but they did what they needed to do and then left and and pursued other lifestyles. I applied to and was accepted to West Point, which was a surprise to me and everybody else around me. And bless their hearts, I was proud to be there and proud to be a graduate.
0:04:39.3 Scott Womack: I majored in history, but was very attracted to foreign languages because we had to take two years of a language while there and I took German. I had done Latin in high school which served me well for a foundation, and my two favorite German professors, one was a German and the other an American who had spent a lot of time in Germany, and their perspectives about not just the language but how the language was like a key that unlocked the door to German culture was very interesting to me. So I ended up minoring in German and was eventually posted there, and we had just lived in a little village off post.
0:05:18.9 Scott Womack: And I got pretty good at it because I was immersed in it. And I found that living overseas, kind of immersing myself in the culture, shopping at local stores rather than on base, registering my car with the German economy rather than through the army, all these kind of daily quotidian things just showed me such a new way of doing things and where I could factor it into my American way of things was a lot of fun. My army career, I started off as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was on tanks for a while, and eventually kind of got tired of that army. And one of the things I appreciated about a military career was I can keep seniority and benefits but totally change jobs.
0:06:05.7 Scott Womack: So about my eighth year service I changed to what’s called civil affairs, and the job of civil affairs officers is to take small teams, wherever there are Americans deployed, and try to keep the military operation from impacting the civilian population to the extent possible, and also to keep the civilian population away from the military operation. And in that mode, this was the ’90s, mostly what we were doing was humanitarian things like humanitarian demining, some refugee repatriation in Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, a bunch of people came home in ’96, and so I was working constantly with mostly African interlocutors, African military officers, civilians and some UN people, and found the work totally fascinating, but I was very hampered because I didn’t speak French at the time, and it seemed like every country I went to was a francophone country. So when I came back towards the end of that tour, I looked around and asked the Army to switch me to another career field called Foreign Area Officer, which they do give you the language training in your region specialty.
0:07:27.9 Scott Womack: So not surprisingly, I became an Africa Foreign Area Officer and from that point on devoted the last 12 years of my career to African affairs, spending half of that time living in Africa and using French every day and dealing with my African counterparts every day, it was just a part of life. My children luckily were able to move over there with us, me and my wife and kids; they went to French schools so they got ahold of the language, had local friends, got ahold of the culture, and it was a great experience for everybody. During my time in Africa, as that specialty, I ended up being assigned to West Point to teach French, and at the time the Iraq War had changed, which it started 20 years ago this year, the second Iraq War had changed from a kind of a conventional army on army battle to an insurgency.
0:08:27.3 Scott Womack: And the Defense Department and Army discovered we weren’t really equipped to deal with civilians in that setting appropriately, and it was very tragic; a lot of things could have been headed off maybe if we had kind of taken the time to figure that out. So a lot of money got put into how do we help leaders especially, but also soldiers, not only learn the language but figure out how to deal with foreign cultures in a positive, productive way, engage with them rather than judge them, and that was the time I hit West Point as a professor. So we started an organization called the Center for Languages, Cultures and Regional Studies, that was exploring the relationship between language proficiency, intercultural competence and regional knowledge, knowledge of the region, what’s going on. And that was a real blessing too. So kind of got to practice it on an academic level but also on an operational level having lived and worked in that.
0:09:37.8 Norah Jones: I would love to tap on what you just said, there, so many rich things to work with, but let’s tap on that last part. You mentioned those three aspects, the integration of the interconnectivity of language proficiency, intercultural competence, regional expertise, and then you use the phrase the academic understanding and then the real life application. Can you speak about both, I suppose, starting with the more abstraction of what that should mean to my listeners, and then how it plays out in the life that you have lived and led?
0:10:14.3 Scott Womack: Certainly. There’s a lively debate in academic circles about those three topics and how they interplay with each other. Since I was kind of approaching it from an operational standpoint we kind of looked at a spectrum or continuum. And the more profound a leader’s engagement with the local population meant the more language proficiency, regional knowledge and cultural competence that leader would need. So as a foreign area officer, where I’m dealing at, frankly with kind of diplomatic strategic level things, I need to be quite, if not fluent, extremely proficient in French, an ILR three or four, three plus four, something like that, very proficient. But also, and as much as it’s a diplomatic function, also with the intercultural competence piece. If I can’t see their point of view, if I can’t have some empathy for where my counterpart’s coming from, I will not be able to be effective as a negotiator with them.
0:11:28.2 Scott Womack: And then the regional knowledge kind of ties into that, those are the travel tips, the facts, about which hand to use and, you know, things like that. And you need a lot of that at that level. If, on the other hand, I’m a sergeant manning a checkpoint, I still need all three, I just don’t need them maybe to the same profound level as I would in a more complicated environment. So we were trying to figure out at what level do which leaders need, how much language, how much cultural competence, and how much kind of regional knowledge facts; and kind of came down on the one that needed to be strong across the board was the intercultural competence part. Because so much of that is observing, using your two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two hands to intake information rather than your one mouth to constantly be putting out information. You can go a long way even if you don’t speak the language at a high level or you don’t know a whole lot about the history of the place you are in. So that one kind of was a consistent, gotta have it across the board, the other two was sort of a spectrum, at at least that’s how I came down on it.
0:12:47.6 Norah Jones: You established the US military center for languages, cultures and regional studies at West Point. When you established that, how did then you apply in the establishment of that center, the insight that you’ve just shared right here, including the level of competency that was needed in that specific area?
0:13:19.1 Scott Womack: So the challenge from the dean of the academic board and the superintendent at the academy was, first of all, it is a research center. So what is the mix and how do you develop it, all three, and how do you assess them? And language proficiency at West Point dates to its founding in 1802, French originally, and there’s a long history of that part. So we hired a linguist who was gonna work on were reusing the right teaching tools and assessment tools. We hired a geographer to deal with the regional knowledge and then someone to kind of look at it from an anthropology angle about the intercultural part, are we… And it was a human geographer who we hired for that. And so those three gentlemen were conducting research in their three areas, but all of it was coming to the center where the director and I would make sure that everyone’s research was knitted together into a product. The dean and the academy at the time, rather than teaching cultural competence as like a standalone course, just another thing a cadet takes, we decided to try weaving it across the curriculum into every other class.
0:14:42.6 Scott Womack: So if they’re taking a literature class where it touches on empathy or perspective taking, that’s added to the professor’s list of things to look into to explore with the students, same even in math and sciences, to the extent possible. So that was kind of a novel approach rather than the usual silo of information, and we thought that was appropriate because of the three factors, you know, interplay so frequently. It was better to weave them than have standalone.
0:15:19.7 Norah Jones: What kind of results did you see? Or maybe I should even start with, what kind of reaction did you have? Now, this is West Point, so I do understand that there’s a certain, shall I say, ambiance culture, okay, here, but you have professors who are bringing their course materials as they typically understood them. You have cadets that are learning coming from varieties of schooling. What kind of, let’s start with those reactions, what kind of reactions did you have to the establishment of this very integrated experience?
0:16:00.3 Scott Womack: Yeah, I found it remarkably smooth for two reasons, one is, the academic system at West Point, in spite of the kind of the image of it being a very rigid institution, which it is in some ways, the joke is it’s 200 plus years of tradition uninterrupted by progress, but it’s not really the case particularly in the academic world. And so there wasn’t any pushback really, and the other reason was it was coming from the general officer. If the superintendent and the dean say, this is gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. So you might as well just get on board and not buck it too hard. So I didn’t re-encounter a whole lot of resistance. It is challenging, in particular, the cultural piece to assess that, and my doctoral dissertation from Seton Hall was trying to figure out how do you “Measure that”? Is there a pre-test, post-test you can do after, some sort of intervention, like an overseas experience or something like that. So we use cadets who had been abroad for a semester, from my research, and pre-tested them with some quantitative and qualitative instruments, and then post tested them to see if there was a way to measure it and that was an interesting experience.
0:17:32.6 Norah Jones: So what did you discover? And I’m just gonna make sure that, since you alluded to it, the listeners know that you earned your doctorate in 2010 from Seaton Hall in Educational Leadership Management and Policy with this focus on the assessment of intercultural competence and relationship to language proficiency and regional expertise. So making sure that people have got that whole vision in front of them as you tell that story about what you discovered and what the impact was on the lives of those that were engaged in then using what they had learned.
0:18:12.4 Scott Womack: So, again, my timing was fortunate in that with some of the money that the Academy had received from the defense department due to the debacle in Iraq, we were able to increase the number of students we sent abroad significantly. Previously it had been a handful, kind of long-term exchanges with the French military Academy; now we were sending them to civilian universities overseas. And we also got more money for short-term, month long academic experiences in the summer in places as diverse as Morocco, Congo, Senegal. And I found that frankly the qualitative instruments, we had a scenario based assessment, and a series of interviews and focus groups were more revealing than the one quantitative tool I used. The both, it had statistically significant barely results, the quantitative instrument did, it’s called the Intercultural Development Inventory.
0:19:16.3 Scott Womack: But the quantitative ones, if you use both together it was a good system because it kind of gave the students reasons for any change if there was one. And I would say the biggest one was students really gained the ability to observe and take the perspective of other people as a result of their time overseas. It was a time where maybe because their language is limited, they couldn’t be talking all the time or they just didn’t want to. But it… Their powers of observation really increased, the things they noticed on a pre-test versus a protest about some intercultural scenario, the things they mentioned were much richer in the post experience.
0:20:14.9 Norah Jones: Interesting. Can you tell a story of one or more of these experiences having noticed this transformation?
0:20:21.5 Scott Womack: There was a student who we arranged to go to a place in Congo that was a small mission station, kind of out in the middle of nowhere. And their job was to, they were, because their West Point cadets, they know some engineering, and their job was to build a series of footbridges, because prior to that, anyone who wanted to go from one village to the next had to cross these creeks and in flood stage, sometimes people would drown; swimming’s not a common activity in that part of the world. And when they came back just their comments about things that they just took for granted but also they had gone in assuming that, I hate to use the word backwards, but things that just weren’t developed and that it’s kind of the benighted Congolese.
0:21:21.9 Scott Womack: And they came back thinking, you know, these are the hardest working and smartest people we’ve ever met. They just have some challenges about knowing some tricks that we know that they haven’t learned yet. So you teach them how to build a trust, to build a bridge, they’ll do it. It just doesn’t… Not the kind of thing that comes naturally. And they were just amazed at the ability to make things happen, to get things done in a very austere environment, to adapt, to overcome obstacles. And then frankly, the importance of relationships over schedules and business and time. A cadet’s life is very full from, can’t see to can’t see and there’s a schedule for everything. And that really wasn’t the case in rural Congo, it was much more, well, let’s have some tea first and talk about it, and we’ll get around to it when we get around to it, and they realize that maybe there’s something to that, that’s kind of a healthy, having relationships with people is healthy and taking the time to develop those is worth it, worthy investment.
0:23:09.2 Scott Womack: Yeah, I’ll share one that happened in the Central African Republic. So, you know, fairy tales start with once upon a time, and war stories start with there we were. So there we were. I was the US Defense Attache assigned to N’Djamina, Chad, and also covered the neighboring country of Central African Republic. And at the time Central African Republic had a civil war going on and a group of armed rebels from the northern part of the country were moving south towards the Capital. And I got a phone call one Sunday saying, you need to get here because the fighting is reaching the outskirts of the city, and we need to figure out what do we do next. Do we stay, do we leave, what’s the plan? And as a defense attache my job was threefold.
0:24:08.2 Scott Womack: I was an advisor to the ambassador on all matters military, both ours and the host countries. I was an advisor to the host country on what kinds of cooperation with the United States makes sense for them and for us, where’s the common interest and what things make sense. Kind of a implementer, if there was a military assistance program, I was the guy that that made sure it got going and was working smoothly. And then I was a reporter, just keep people informed what’s going on in the political military world in my two countries. So I got on a little private plane that we could charter sometimes, and by a French guy, and he wanted to go there anyway, he had a stranded mechanic. So we flew down there and it took some daring to get there because the airport was closed due to the proximity of the rebels, the airports outside the capitol.
0:25:08.1 Scott Womack: The president at the time, Oshelux Patase, had hired or had asked Muammar Gaddafi, the then leader of Libya, to send troops to guards airports. So it was guarded by Libyans, a few hundred of them, with armored vehicles. And they wouldn’t let anything come or go so land there was out. So we detoured to Congo and then crossed the river in these little canoes to get to Bangui. When I got to the embassy the rebels weren’t in town yet, but they were in the suburbs and the president of the country had not paid his army nor were they equipped properly. So they basically stayed in their barracks and sat it out. So he asked a group of Congolese Rebels from Northern Congo under Jean-Pierre Bemba to come help them, obviously for pay, probably in the form of diamond mining rights, ’cause CAR has diamonds available.
0:26:13.5 Scott Womack: So there was these rebels. So you had the airport, then you had a belt of Congolese and then the president’s, presidential security guard had remained loyal and active so they were with him actually in the city. Through teleconferences from the embassy, we kind of proposed a conversation with the State Department who was in charge of these kinds of things and the Defense Department who would execute any sort of evacuation that might have to happen. And the initial reaction was typical, let’s do something, let’s seize a quarter from the airport to the embassy and get people out that way. Or let’s float people down the river, the river was at our back, down to a safe location and disembarked them off of rafts or inflatable boats in a safe place in Congo where they could pick them up.
0:27:11.7 Scott Womack: And the trouble with those was, of course, the first option was gonna be costly, financially costly and lives. The second option, by then we had agreed to take the Japanese and the British and the Canadians with us, a couple of them were elderly and just couldn’t see putting them in a zodiac boat for that long of a ride. So we kind of, the ambassador and I asked our respective leaders if we could have some time, a couple of days, to just negotiate an exit with the various people between us and the airport, if they’d just let us go without having to do any big deployments. And to Washington’s credit, they said, yes, let’s give it a try. So Ambassador Sharples went off and talked to the president of the country and the Prime Minister to deal with the political fallout from this.
0:28:03.9 Scott Womack: And I went and talked to the Gunslingers, which were the presidential security guard who were regular trained soldiers, the rebels who were definitely not, and the Libyans who were also trained soldiers. And at every stop I had to recalibrate both my level of French and how I approach these guys culturally. And I don’t mean cultural as in the culture of Congo, culturally as who they represented. So the soldiers, the security guards, soldiers speak and were disciplined, and we could talk like soldier to soldier. The rebels were mostly teenagers with guns, that’s a different conversation, and then the Libyans were at the time pretty hostile to the United States, and that was a third different conversation to have. And thanks to my training and experience, and I just, just kind of a willingness to be quiet and listen and observe we were able to make deals with all three groups. And the day of the departure, we rolled straight through, no gunfire, no crazy things. A C-130 aircraft landed from US Air Force, picked us up and flew us to Cameron, and it went off without a hitch. And it’s one of my proudest moments just because the alternatives would’ve probably been financially and morally expensive and we just didn’t have to go there.
0:29:32.7 Norah Jones: Phenomenal story, thank you for sharing it. When you take a look at, and by the way, before I start that I actually think I’ll go back to the… You mentioned that a rule earlier that this seems to have applied there very strongly, the two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two hands, one mouth, proportionality of paying attention before reaching out. Right now you are teaching in a public school, you have, listening to you, people that are not engaged with military aspects, or at least not primarily, they are young people that listen. What is it that you know, from your experiences and perhaps stories you have heard in the non-military, in the civilian venues, that say, this is absolutely transferable and has, I don’t wanna put words in your mouth here, but has a similar and important level of impact, if not as dramatic? Can you address some of those things, that transfer of what you know, what you have studied, what you’ve experienced to the civilian sector as well?
0:30:54.3 Scott Womack: Sure. I mean, at the high school level, the students are kind of in that siloed educational experience. We go to math class, then we go to science class and I’m not sure that’s the best approach to take. I understand why it exists, but what I try to do is get them through storytelling and some of it is through foreign movies, or I’ll put up a news story of the day and whatever the target language is and we talk about it. And I always pick something that’s a little arresting, that’s just not the way we do things in the United States. And then we talk about it, why does it work for that particular culture, why do they choose that option? And that seems to be their favorite part of the day, it’s certainly more popular than conjugating verbs or declining nouns or any of that stuff.
0:31:44.1 Scott Womack: And then showing that the language is illustrative of the culture, how it says something about culture and teaching French and German, it’s kind of fun because the languages reflect a lot of what’s going on and how they address them. Exposing students to unfamiliar situations, I think is very important because they tend to kind of live, at least in this community, in a bit of a bubble. And it’s a lovely bubble, it’s a beautiful place to be, but it can be kind of limiting. And so to expand the horizons we have a model United Nations program that’s done very well; it forces the students to look at topics that they may not normally look at so that’s kind of a game changer, and then they have to look at those topics through the perspective of another country and another culture, and that’s a kind of a double whammy on them. And I’ve watched the Model UN students, just a lot of aha moments with that, and that’s been tremendously useful, tremendously rewarding to me.
0:32:56.3 Norah Jones: Please do give an example of both of those areas that you just alluded to. One inside the classroom where you bring that favorite part of the class period in, and then the other with the the model UN and approaches that you just mentioned. Let’s start with the classroom kind of curricular approach.
0:33:15.9 Scott Womack: Just today I’ve got on the Senegalese website, Sena News, and one of the articles was about the traditional Iftar dinner, which in their language is called engodu. During the period of Ramadan where they fast during daylight hours when the sun goes down, they have a family meal. And one of the preachers, the Imams, was complaining that the evening meal had gotten too ostentatious. People were, it was supposed to be a time of reflection, and that people were spending too much money and making too much effort when they should just have a simple family meal and leave it. And since at this time, Ramadan is overlapping with Lent some, we had already talked about Lent when we did a Mardi Gras party in the class. So I kind of, we did a little compare and contrast between Lent and Ramadan, and there were some aha moments about… The preacher had mostly been fulminating against women.
0:34:16.6 Scott Womack: Women were the ones making the ostentatious meals, it’s, you know, they need some male discipline put on them and it was kind of a harsh article. And so that started a discussion about gender roles and different societies, and it was a good talk and it just… It was a three-line article, it wasn’t much to it really. And so just the fact that other cultures have a thing like Lent too, you know, that they have the same issue of over consumption during holidays that we have during Christmas. So there’s some similarities but also the differences that they pointed out, and I don’t know, it’s just they kind of perked up at that point. They were tired of doing indefinite articles or whatever they were up to… The Model UN… I think what happens is over time, since I associated with them for four years through that program, they end up wanting to just kind of go more places in life, and where they might not have ever thought of ever going to a university outside the state, suddenly that’s on the radar now, like, well, yeah, I could apply to, I don’t know, somewhere else. I could apply to Harvard or West Point or Georgia Tech. Why not? And exactly, why not? Because the assumption is well, no, you know, you’re staying in the area. And then also the desire to travel overseas, it’s really lit a fire, and they’re constantly asking me, when are we gonna go here, there or the other?
0:35:58.4 Norah Jones: Now not every area of the country welcomes Model UN, and even before reaching the level of Model UN, welcomes the approach of consistent intercultural understanding initiative. You have come across many different types of people, including those who might fall into the categories that would be in those camps. What do you say to the listeners that many of them are involved with things like this, yes, but as far as the folks we would talk to that may not see the purpose or may even consider it to be somewhat of a threat.
0:36:48.4 Scott Womack: So I tend to approach this like Dr. Spock, the TV character, not the pediatrician, and just kind of lay it out. You know, the UN is like the weather, it’s a fact, it exists and it’s not going anywhere. So if you don’t like the UN, what better way to do something about it other than to understand it? And I think the more people look into it, the more they’ll realize it in the long run it does a lot of good, much more good than harm. So that’s for the kind of the total antis for the, and frankly, this is probably the majority, for the ambivalent. Our relationship with the UN as a country, if you’re a, let’s make America number one or keep us number one, our relationship to the UN pays dividends, frankly very practical, national interest, diplomacy information, military economic way. So why not stay on top of it and understand it so you can be a productive member of it? And for those who view the UN as a good thing, of course, studying it will help you explain it better to people who don’t. And having worked with the United Nations, in particular in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I admire the mission and I admire the efforts that people put into it. Like any human made organization, there’s issues but the amount of good things it does for all the bashing it gets is a… It’s pretty amazing.
0:38:37.8 Norah Jones: When you look into the educational experience right now in the United States with regard to language learning, intercultural studies, what are some of the areas which you specifically are advocating for, or what are areas that you are specifically hoping that can be transformed?
0:39:44.2 Scott Womack: I would love to see primary education get a total relook in language learning. My children went to bilingual schools when we lived in Africa, French schools and American schools that were French, were bilingual French, and it has just opened so many doors for them. And because they learned it so early, they were speaking more accurate, faster French than I was in no time. And also with the cultural part, they’re so at ease and you can kind of notice it with the families that live abroad, state department families, military families that are off base. The students are just much, they’re very adaptive, and they get less frustrated by little things just because they’ve had some perspective. And I think doing world language from, starting at K, and it doesn’t really matter which one, just pick one and running it through kind of the way what happens in Germany or France would be a remarkable improvement.
0:40:12.8 Scott Womack: I think you would see better mental health, better academic outcomes. The students that I teach are amazed at how much English they learn in French class and I didn’t know that, the word edifice, we were talking about a French edifice today, and they’re like, “edifice, what’s that?” And I said, well, you’ll see it on the SAT, it’s a building” And then we started talking about edification and all the words that came off of it. So I don’t know. I think earlier start and be consistent throughout, don’t kind of start, stop, start, change language, pick one and go with it would be wise.
0:40:54.8 Norah Jones: You referred to mental health, the improvement of mental health is something that you believe that it would do. Talk a little bit more about that, please.
0:41:03.4 Scott Womack: Yeah, I don’t have data unfortunately, although in my copy of spare time I’d like to look into this a little bit. But I think things that open new perspectives that cause you to be empathetic and take perspective begin to give you some idea of your place in the world and that it need not to be a fearful place, need not to be an anxious place. And there’s kind of a line between clinical and just kind of non-clinical, and I don’t wanna wander into the clinical side. But the level of anxiety over social media and things like that I think, and this is more of a gut instinct than a research project, there would be some value in language and the associated cultural competence learning that goes with it.
0:42:03.6 Norah Jones: It makes the world a less scary place, that would be getting one’s sense of place in it. There are so many references to items that you have been engaged in with the point of view of your activities in the military and your studies that is in the biography and resource list that’s on my website that I’m encouraging listeners to access for sure, and one of those is where you have written a chapter for a book published by the Foreign Area Officer Association, the ‘Culture Shock.’ Can you talk a little bit about that chapter and why it’s in that book and what listeners might find if they were to take a look at it?
0:42:57.0 Scott Womack: Right. So the Foreign Area Officer Association is kind of a professional group for all services, not just the army, of these regional specialists. And it’s a small group, it’s kind of we few, we happy few. In the army there’s normally only around 1,200, 1,300 ish across the whole army. And the association, and it’s in every corner of the world, and it’s hard for us to tell our story because when people think of the army, of course they think tanks, planes, airplanes, the battalion army, the deploying army. And yet this small little group of people is quietly doing things, kind of like what happened in Bungee, that either prevents or enable military operations. And so the association decided it was time to tell our story. So they canvased the field, “who’s willing to write a story?” And a few of us raised our hands and wrote a chapter. They were peer reviewed by fellow Foreign Area Officers and they went back and forth with some proofreading, and then a guy named Graham Plaster put it together in the book ‘Culture Shock’ and had it published, which was really cool.
0:44:21.8 Norah Jones: That’s very, very cool indeed. I certainly recommend that to the folks that are listening. I want to ask you here about two of the many awards that you have won and the National Order of Senegal and the National Order of Chad. What goes into the countries providing this recognition to you?
0:44:53.6 Scott Womack: So it’s sort of a combination of, if you’re able to overlap your country’s interests with their country’s interests and do some positive things, it’s sort of what we like to call the old win-win, and I think in the case of Chad, we really built up their humanitarian Demining Program and they ended up putting my wife, who’s a reservist on orders to work as a logistics advisor, and kind of really got that thing moving at the time. And that was a big win for them. They also had some issues with extremists running around the north part of their country, and we were working with them on that. And I think they just appreciated that we weren’t telling them what to do or coming in and taking over; it was more of a, how can we help the system.
0:45:56.9 Scott Womack: And in the case of Senegal, it was similar. We found some places where they had some needs and where we were able to address the needs. One was in, they provide a tremendous number of peacekeepers to peacekeeping duties in Africa. And so there was a program that we did that helped train and equip their guys and then in fact built a peacekeeping training center so that they can train their own guys without us having to do it. And then in the case of their military, which is simply an outstanding organization, we were able to kind of get that off the ground. So, yeah, I was really proud of that. It’s a unique thing to be given a declaration by a foreign country.
0:46:40.2 Norah Jones: It certainly is. It caught my attention right away. Scott, we could story tell for a long, long time, but one of the things that I would love to end our conversation today is asking, what is it that you have not yet said to the listening audience that you just don’t want to end this conversation without reminding them, exhorting them, inviting them? What do you want to make sure they hear from you?
0:47:13.9 Scott Womack: I think I’ve said it, but I’m gonna restate it. And it’s two things. One is developing some empathy and perspective, the ability to take someone else’s perspective. That doesn’t mean you’re selling your position out, it just means you understand where they’re coming from. And if you can do that, you can frequently find places where, it’s like a Venn diagram, that the interests overlap and kind of work in that zone. And the other one is in the world of education; it’s an engagement with the unfamiliar. If you don’t have the ability to send people overseas, which is very expensive, do so through literature or film. When I was talking about Ramadan today, I had one of my colleagues in Senegal FaceTimeing, and we talked about what he was gonna have for his Iftar tonight, things like that. There were things, especially in the internet age, which I didn’t grow up with this in my education, that you can do that kind of expose people to the unfamiliar. And then taking that in and equilibrating it, as Jean Peage called it, I think it really helps to kind of fortify the mind but also broaden it at the same time.
0:48:25.7 Norah Jones: It certainly gives me a sense of the hope and the calm and the self engagement, the engagement with the world and the engagement and understanding one’s own identity that you have spoken throughout this conversation. I thank you for it.
0:48:47.4 Scott Womack: Thank you.
0:48:47.6 Norah Jones: I appreciate very much that you’ve been with us, and I look forward to folks taking a look at everything that you’ve shared, again on my website. And, Scott, best fortune to you and continue in greetings to your students and to your family and to your equine companion whose picture also will appear on my website. Now, that’s a sure sign that, as you say, they’re photo magnets. So I expect everybody to go on my website now and take a look at you in your Calvary… Let me try this again, Cavalry gear, and the wonderful pictures that you have sent. Thank you.
0:49:26.0 Scott Womack: Indeed. Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
0:49:28.1 Norah Jones: Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Do check out my website for more information about and from Dr. Scott Womack, fluency.consulting, and I look forward to sharing more stories about the importance of and the joy of language proficiency, intercultural competence, and understanding of the world in our next podcast. Until then, take care. [music]
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