The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Carter Welch '23 RGLP Reflection

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For the first seventeen years of my life, I lived in a small town in west Michigan—a beautiful place, sure—but a homogenous one. I rarely left the state and if I did it was predominantly for vacation travel, not necessarily an outlet for major cultural learning experiences and integration. Resultantly, my culture was long-informed by rural, midwestern values: always be polite, speak only when spoken to, and regardless of how you feel, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself or only alert those closest to you. Like all cultures, these permeating values possess positive and negative aspects. But beyond values, I was not often familiar with different cultures, religions, or places outside my tiny hometown.

Then, things started to change. I embarked on a student exchange program to faraway Mönchengladbach in northwest Germany, and met countless people who spoke different languages, worshipped a different god, and approached communication in an immensely distinct way. Friends and parents would ask me questions that were jarringly direct—I struggled at first—but then I grew to accept the discomfort and adapt with my surroundings. I found myself expressing my thoughts and feelings more—shrugging off some of the mantras preached to me in the past.

When I arrived at Dartmouth, my culture had been broadened, slightly, but I still found myself familiar with sets of values and communication standards far different than the student body as a whole. But this time, I felt as if I were sliding too fast toward a general Dartmouth culture rather than maintaining my individuality and background. I wanted to make a concerted effort to understand the foundations of a culture and how to intersect numerous spaces and experiences together to establish a fair, balanced reflection of myself. I joined RGLP as a pathway to exploring the intricacies of cultural communication and my perspective instantly shifted to consider the nuances of how we present ourselves and view & accept the others around us. RGLP taught me immense lessons about how people from different regions of the globe and backgrounds address communication and other cross-cultural differences, and it truly inspired me to understand others while still being the person I know and acting in the manner I found most comfortable. The program helped me to reconcile my culture around the spaces and experiences which really drove me to be, well, me, and I believe that is a message everyone should crave to accept.

Written by Carter Welch, a member of the Winter 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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