It sounds at first like a student’s worst nightmare: A long field trip to this gritty, gentrifying and altogether unlikely destination.

But by Saturday afternoon, at the end of a three-day cultural adventure, 30 young men and women had seen a side of New Jersey’s second-largest city that few tourists or even locals had ever seen.

They met police officials, politicians and religious leaders. They shunned some of the city’s best hotel rooms with dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline and slept on blankets on the floor of the prayer room of one of the city’s largest mosques. They debated the roots of Middle East tensions with a Muslim scholar over omelets and falafel at breakfast, and then stood next to a rabbi as he went over a sacred, handwritten Torah scroll.

For a future Army officer, it was an excellent way to spend 72 hours.

Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point taking a course called Winning the Peace spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Jersey City, exploring its varied ethnic communities as part of a cultural immersion field trip. The class is designed to teach cadets not military skills but the more political and social ones they might need when the countries that they are deployed in make the transition from war to peace: the subtle art of coalition-building and the complicated business of understanding and working with those whose language, religion and way of life differ from your own.

The semester-long class is now in its fourth year at West Point, and each year the cadets drive nearly two hours from the campus in Orange County, N.Y., to Jersey City. For many cadets, a number of whom had never been to Jersey City, this year’s trip amounted to a lesson in how big the world really is.


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