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

Marisa Natarajan '23 RGLP Reflection: Unlearning "American-isms"

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My favorite session of RGLP was when we role-played a virtual conference between the people of two different cultures. I was assigned to be a “Sharahaden”, a made-up culture with specifics about how people from my culture react to certain actions and interact with people. My classmates were assigned to be American, so they didn’t need to change their behaviors at all. When we interacted, I was mortified at the way I was supposed to treat my classmates. In the meeting, they were trying to discuss business while my Sharahadan associate and I were distracting them with discussions about personal topics and yelling at the screen. It was not that I was ashamed to be doing these cultural practices of this made-up culture, but that I knew that the Americans had no idea what was going on. Being American myself, I knew why they were acting the way they were but I knew that they had no idea what was driving us to act the way we were or what our approach to the meeting was. 

 

I myself am Indian-American. In terms of culture, I would say I am mostly Americanized, but my family and I still hold on to elements of Indian culture. Given this, I would say I engage in some sort of “cultural code-switching” quite a bit. When in my American cultural self, I experience a feeling similar to what the Americans experienced in our simulation, as described above. Americans are born to believe this idea that the U.S. is the center of the world, and no matter how many times I try to unlearn that belief, I think some behaviors and thoughts are just ingrained. For example, when approaching an intercultural exchange, I often come in with the assumption that the other party knows something about my culture. Because of this, I am less inclined to be nervous that I am offending the other culture or that I need to be hyper-aware of all my actions. Obviously, I try to be as respectful as possible and I think this assumption is more subconscious. However, when code-switching into my Indian culture, I find the opposite. If in an Indian cultural setting interacting with Americans, I often assume that the Americans have no sense of my culture, as I did when role-playing a Sharahaden. While I had experienced this feeling before, this cultural simulation allowed me to really understand what was occurring and make sense of my position in the world as an American. 

 

 

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