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

Kathryn Putz '22 RGLP Reflection: Leaning Into Discomfort

RGLP students reflect on the remote spring term. 

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I entered the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program seeking a deeper cultural understanding, and a wider array of strategies to interact with people with different backgrounds and perspectives. During my junior year of high school, I hosted a high school student from Shanghai; I shared my daily routine and my physical and personal space with Yolanda. She helped me with my Mandarin and taught my grandma to use chopsticks; I showed her the Portland hipster scene and the beauty of wide-open green space. It was not all, however, a happy cultural sharefest. I recall many strained conversations during which she argued that Taiwan was part of China, that the Tiananmen Square Massacre never happened. This experience, and many others, alerted me to the difficulties of cross-cultural communication, and motivated me to participate in RGLP. 

Throughout RGLP, we engaged with leaders and local professionals on topics such as personal identity, culture shock, and adaptability in new settings. I learned how our most important values–such as kindness, health, and equality–can inform our actions and feelings. As a leader, it is crucial to take into account a diverse array of values when making decisions. I also learned to keep an open mind and to practice empathy when interacting with people from other cultures; there are many unknown factors that inform behavior, and we can never truly understand the motivations of others. 

Most impactful for me, however, was the opportunity RGLP provided to establish a new mindset from which to approach future cultural experiences. Through our personal and deep discussions, I opened myself up to uncomfortable situations, and leaned into the unknown. These conversations also challenged my inclination to withdraw from new situations–comfortable perhaps, but constrained. I now better understand my duty as a global citizen to engage. The task of learning other cultures, languages, and viewpoints is not easy, but we must embrace the messiness of connection in order to achieve understanding, progress, peace.

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