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

Eliza Holmes '24 RGLP Reflection- Adaptability: Easier Said than Done

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Being adaptable means being able to accommodate new situations. Adaptability is especially important in cultural contexts, where oftentimes people are exposed to values and practices that differ from their own. Some may go into a cultural interaction with little knowledge while others possess extensive knowledge, but, in either case, it is necessary to take into account that not everything will always go as expected. In terms of cultural knowledge, it is great to do research about a culture before having a cultural interaction, but it is also so important to check in and adjust these assumptions during and after such interactions. During cultural interactions, it is important to be aware of how others are acting in terms of body language, tone, and expressions. After cultural interactions, the aspects that are noted during discussion should be reflected upon. Specifically, what should be considered is how these actions compare to preconceived notions about the culture. If we do not avoid such assumptions, we fall at risk of stereotyping certain cultures.

Adapting to a new cultural setting is not an easy task by any means. In order to do so, we need to be able to put ourselves out of our comfort zones. It’s this first step that is so difficult for people; I know it’s been difficult for me in the past. The majority of people don’t like to go into situations that are out of their control. Cultural interactions are an example of situations that cannot be controlled; they can be prepared for beforehand through research and planning, but still this cannot always predict what will happen in cultural interactions. Sometimes we will say or do the wrong things during cultural interactions, but that is all part of the learning process. Not being able to adapt when incorrect or offensive can limit effective cultural communication from occurring. Furthermore, if we restrict ourselves to remain where we are comfortable, we prevent ourselves from experiencing personal growth. If we all allow ourselves, however, to get a little uncomfortable and adjust to the uncertainty that comes with new situations, we can learn how to effectively interact in cultural contexts. This, in turn, creates global leaders.

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