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Carolina Asia Center Facilitates Training for the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion from Fort Bragg

March 4, 2022
Carolina Asia Center
Students stand together in the FedEx Global Education Center

Leaders from UNC’s Bengali Student Association meet with soldiers from Fort Bragg. (Photo courtesy of the Carolina Asia Center)

In February 2022, three teams from the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg came to Chapel Hill for cultural immersion experiences in advance of deployment to Asia. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Asia Center (CAC) set up these meetings, in which soldiers met with diaspora communities and academics to provide relevant cultural knowledge and build familiarity with the contexts in which they would be deployed. Teams were preparing for missions in Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand. 

Those headed to Bangladesh met with student leaders from Carolina’s Bengali Student Association. Ahmad Raiyan 24 and Fariha Marzan 23 shared insights on society and culture in Bangladesh. Marzan, co-president of the Bengali Student Association, welcomed the learning opportunity 

Meeting with the team and sharing our diverse perspectives and backgrounds about Bangladesh was a lovely experience,” Marzan said.As we talked about different aspects of Bangladesh including rich cultural practices, unending hospitality, mouthwatering foods, scenic tourist attractions and colorful festivals, they shared the same amount of excitement as us. 

CAC also connected Fort Bragg team with leaders from the Nepal Center of North Carolina, a community organization based in the Triangle with some 800 members. Six interlocutors from the local Nepali community spoke with the Fort Bragg team about cultural diversity within Nepal, the role of religion and recent political developments. In addition to their meeting on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, the group came together to share a meal of Nepalese food. 

To support Fort Bragg staff learning more about Thailand, CAC hosted a full-day workshop with an affiliate of the center, Rungsima Kullapat, a Thai language instructor. In addition to her academic expertise on heritage conservation in Thailand, Kullapat has been for years inspiring Carolina students through a workshop on Thai language held annually in April. This time, the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion benefitted from her engaging pedagogy and deep knowledge of Thai culture. 

CAC serves the state of North Carolina and the country as a pan-Asia national resource center. In addition to supporting the inclusion of Asia in classes across the curriculum at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-curricular activities to deepen understanding about Asia on campus, CAC engages in outreach to K-12 teachers, community colleges and minority-serving institutions across North Carolina and throughout the U.S. Southeast. 

This engagement is far from the first time that Carolina’s area studies centers have provided expertise on world regions to military staff at Fort Bragg. In past years, both the African Studies Center and the Institute for Study of the Americas have sent UNC-Chapel Hill academics to the base to provide expertise. The Center for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies engages with the Department of Defense on multiple levels—notably through the Russian Flagship Program, which trains students to professional proficiency in a language that has become a key security interest. All of UNC-Chapel Hill’s area studies centers are active in promoting careers for Tar Heels that serve national needs. 

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