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

Sam O'Brien '22 RGLP Reflection: "Recognizing One's Cultural Biases"

Article Type 

I decided to apply for this RGLP because I thought it would allow me the opportunity to eliminate culture shock when immersed in a foreign environment. Exposure of this nature would be beneficial both to my personal and career goals. Initially, I thought that the means to accomplish this goal would be to amend the way I was thinking about foreign cultural practices. In reality, RGLP showed me that the most significant obstacle in my path to international understanding was the way I viewed my own culture.


 This term was the first time I realized how my own overarching cultural background biases my knowledge of the rest of the world. Fittingly, this manifested itself most during the international politics course I took over this term. During lectures, I began noticing the recurring impact of my own Western values in the scholarship for the class and how I viewed it. Although the course is meant to be comparative politics, the overwhelming majority of books or journal articles we read are written by people from the cultural “West”. As such, we learn that Western-style democracy is the only means by which a country can be stable and have “free” citizens. 


To analyze how other countries are doing, we look at statistics comparing them with the United States. We refer to the first leader of the other country as “their George Washington.” As a United States citizen, I never considered that perhaps these other countries were not looking at the United States as anything but a benchmark. The reality is far from it.


Although the Americentric nature of these courses is natural, even relevant in many ways, as a student that does intend to live and work in a global setting, I need to branch out. I now think my education is incomplete without studying politics from a non-American perspective. In the future, I hope to expose myself to the cultural contexts in which people have different sociopolitical values. I would hope that, simultaneously, doing so would allow me to understand the real meaning in which people hold for the United States. 

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