Nonetheless, he prefers it to the Bulgarian naval academy.

"They treat you more carefully here," he said. "They look out for your well-being more than back home."

As Bahaa Joudieh prepared to leave his native Lebanon for Annapolis, his superiors advised him that he would be representing not only himself, but his country.

"Remember that people aren't going to remember you by your name," he was told. "They're going to remember the Lebanese kid."

A third-year student, Joudieh describes the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree at the Naval Academy as a "once-in-a-lifetime chance." Living in the United States, he said, has been "awesome."

It also has been a culture shock.

"Coming from the Middle East, you get fed the news from one perspective," he said. "Coming here, you see the other side of the news. You can make your own opinion."

Joudieh, 21, is a second lieutenant in the Lebanese Navy. At Annapolis, he wears the uniform of a midshipman.

"Even if they're a commissioned officer, they're still treated like a plebe" when they arrive at the academy, Disher said. "They're not afforded any of the rights and privileges of being an officer — which is interesting."

Broniatowska said plebe year was her greatest challenge. Before coming to Annapolis, she had lived in Warsaw and Moscow, spoke Polish, Russian and English, and completed two years of study at the Polish naval academy.

During her first year at Annapolis, she said, "we were very much treated like children. And for me, being two years out of home and free and then going back to being treated like a child, that was pretty hard. Especially given that I'm older than my classmates. I kind of went through it already."

Still, she said, she loves the academy.

"I deal pretty well with academics and sports and time management, so I didn't have a problem with that," she said. The academy is "very professional, compared to my previous school, and I can actually see the goal in what I'm learning here."

And "the friends I found here," she said — "I'm pretty sure I'm going to stay in touch with them for probably ever."

By the numbers

The 58 foreign nationals now at the Naval Academy — the most ever — make up less than 1.4 percent of the 4,400-strong brigade of midshipmen. They come from 32 countries. Countries sending more than one are:

Georgia and Tunisia: 4

Lebanon, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan: 3

Bangladesh, Belize, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Gabon, Maldives, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Philippines and Thailand: 2

Source: U.S. Naval Academy

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