“How am I this lucky?” thought Jack Kuplack, ’18, as he marveled in awe upon first seeing the famed treasury building of Petra, Jordan, this summer. “Seeing the city of Petra is one of those experiences that is so surreal you feel like it shouldn’t be possible,” he said as he recalled the miles of hills and winding canyons that visitors must traverse before arriving at the entrance of the city.
Kuplack, a current Bush School student, traveled to Amman, Jordan, in summer 2017 to complete an Arabic language immersion and was able to travel throughout the region during his time there. Other destinations included Aqaba and Israel—or Palestine, “depending on who you talk to,” he said.
A student in the 3+2 program at Texas A&M, Kuplack said he kind of fell into this program, which is designed so that students may simultaneously receive their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.
Kuplack, who has always had his eye on the military, began learning Arabic at age sixteen, though he had no idea where it would take him. Originally, he chose to learn Arabic as a resume boost. “I didn’t have any emotional connection to it,” he said. “And I started learning this language where all the reading goes backward and everything just looks like a squiggle. A few days into it, it just became so fun.”
He recalled his Arabic teacher, who was a Jordanian woman. Not only did she teach her students the language, but she taught them about Jordanian and Islamic culture and what life is like in the Middle East. “I was just really fascinated by it,” Kuplack said.
It was this class that made Kuplack realize he needed to pursue an education in international affairs to learn more about the region he had fallen in love with—the Middle East. He didn’t pursue this education to defend his country against the dangers radical Islamists pose to the United States but out of a sheer desire to learn more about this interesting region that was so different from San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up.
Respecting the beauty of different cultures
Traveling to unknown regions tends to have an effect on those willing to step outside their comfort zone. One of these effects is a newfound respect for the culture in which travelers insert themselves. Kuplack is no stranger to this phenomenon and recognizes that people who are not given the opportunity to travel far beyond familiar territory often view others from different cultures as just that—different.
“Defeating this narrative requires active participation in, and assimilation into, a world unlike the one we live in,” he said. While sometimes a conversation can spark an understanding, other times it is “throwing yourself at the mercy of a chaotic language immersion,” Kuplack said.
Kuplack is an Army ROTC cadet slated to commission as an officer upon graduation in May. Carrying the title of “Distinguished Military Graduate” and ranked in the top 20 percent of cadets in the country, he knows the importance of showing respect for his fellow comrades. While he hopes to pursue a career in the intelligence community after he completes his time in the Army, showing respect for others will always be important to Kuplack.
“Respect isn’t just a state of mind; it’s something we need to really show each other,” Kuplack said, reflecting on his summer abroad. “Taking classes and living in the Middle East were great opportunities for me to try and do my small part in building the bridge of respect our two hemispheres require now more than ever.”