Three Air Force Academy cadets walk into a Buddhist-inspired university. Instead of a punchline, there’s an unlikely cross-cultural partnership.

Three Air Force Academy cadets sat cross-legged on red cushions Tuesday — eyes closed, iPhones tucked safely to the side and thoughts occasionally wandering to how much longer they’d have to sit still.

The women had ventured to Boulder with their professor for a day filled with long stretches of quiet introspection — vastly different from the rush of daily military life to which they’ve grown accustomed.

“These are not my people,” cadet Katelyn Walbridge said of her visit to Naropa University. “I’m just used to being around people from the Air Force Academy, but this is a really interesting experience. I am out of my comfort zone, but that’s what this is about.”

The military academy near Colorado Springs and Boulder’s Buddhist-inspired university may reside on opposite ends of a cultural spectrum, but the two institutions are in the midst of a social experiment to see what their students can learn from each other.

Air Force cadets Meredith Laskey and Devon Burger worked on the collaboration for their senior capstone projects. Burger, who celebrated her 22nd birthday in meditation complete with gong reverberations and group hand-holding, brought her unsuspecting friend Walbridge along for the journey Tuesday.

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When Dennis Kerr, Naropa’s veterans success coordinator, who leads his school’s side of the collaboration, told the Air Force folks that their lunch break would last an hour and a half, the women’s eyes bugged out.

“Oh, my gosh,” said Michelle Butler, the cadets’ professor. “I could knit a sweater in that time.”

The cadets explained that they usually chow down in 15 minutes and get back to work. These were the types of differences they enjoyed noticing and learning from during Tuesday’s visit to Naropa.