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

Peter Mikhlin '23 RGLP Reflection

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I’d like to begin by imagining a world without any concern for the ‘outsider.’ And when thinking about the outsider, there is a type of person that pops into your head, specifically someone of a different culture. But, in someone else’s mind, you are also perceived as an outsider. In such a world, being posed such a question could imbue discomfort, evasion of cultural discussions, and exclusivity. A workplace with such a culture would come to represent homogeneity, with any outsider being gawked at, ignored, and belittled. Further, a person accustomed to such an environment would be unable to exist in multi-cultural situations because they forwent understanding the many intricacies of other cultures.

Such an exclusionary and avoidant attitude stems from the fear of asking questions, for fear of offending someone or even not hearing the answer one was expecting. In an ever-globalizing world, it is normal to feel a sense of discomfort and the way to get around this is by asking questions. Asking questions can remove any preconceived notions you had about a person and their culture beforehand. In such an environment, the ‘outsiders’ take pride in that title. Their unique culture and experiences have shaped them. And rather than being rejected for their differences, they are being embraced. Further, cross-cultural experiences ensure that you don’t get offended at a practice that does not align with your own. From not shaking hands when greeting to not saying thank you for fulfilling a request, certain cultural practices do not align with everyone’s expectations of “courtesy.” Taking the time to understand exactly why someone interacts the way they do removes barriers of perceived disrespect and apathy, creating cohesion in the workplace.

This was my greatest takeaway from RGLP: you learn from the experiences you force yourself into, even when you initially feel as though you have made a mistake. It is easy to walk away from a challenge that puts you out of your comfort zone, but if one does not take steps to welcome discomfort, they will end up in a dystopian world of homogeneity. RGLP allowed me to experience the sound of a didgeridoo, share with my cohort the complexities of myself as shaped by my culture, and learn about the intricacies of my peers around me.

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