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

Ian McGrory '22 RGLP Reflection

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This past fall I went to live in San Juan for two and a half months. I knew enough Spanish to survive, and I knew enough about Puerto Rican politics and history to know I did not know anything about Puerto Rican politics and history. I went for a job and did not know a single person there (even the guy who hired me had taken another job before I arrived. I booked a hostel to try and meet people, but upon arrival I found that people acted very differently. The residents seemed to all get along, they spent quite a lot of time with each other. But no one smiled at me, no one reciprocated the questions I used to break the ice (where are you from, what brings you here). I felt unwelcome, unliked, and alone.

 However, by the end of my stay there I had lots of friends, people I am still in touch with and with whom I am very close. Their behavior did not change, so what did? I grew accustomed to the culture there. The lack of smiling and mundane questions was not due to dislike for me, it just was not customary there. Once I sat down and played dominos with the residents there, they began to open up, asking questions with a clear intention of knowing who I really was. My discomfort had come from a lack of understanding. I was set in my own culture, unaware that my treatment was due to cultural norms rather than dislike for me by individuals.

In my travels since then I have been much more aware of possible differences in culture. My first thought whenever I encounter a behavior that stands out to me is now to look for others displaying those same behaviors rather than just assuming that individual acts strangely. I hope I can carry this into any cross-cultural situations in the future by continuing to be aware of possible differences in behavior whether in travel or business.

Written by Ian McGrory, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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