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

Sam Zhang '22 RGLP Reflection: "Immersing Yourself in Unknown Situations"

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It often seems to me that people in the 21st Century are both closer and farther apart. People nowadays are more aware of societies and cultures detached from their own, both geographically and culturally. However, there’s also a certain comprehension that can only be achieved through immersing yourself in unknown situations and places. It’s true that through pictures, one can discover and recognize foreign cultures. However, pictures are only a snapshot in time. The element of interaction is what I’ve discovered to be the most important – through unscripted conversations with strangers, you genuinely understand the ideas that drive them and how they, in return, respond to your unconscious habits and beliefs.

Life does not always go according to plan, and it’s important to accept that reality. However, I don’t believe that a conversation gone astray should be written off as a loss. That’s where the concept of the culture shock comes into play. Certainly, every person responds to strange situations differently.

In my view, what truly defines a “culture shock” is a situation where, due to your not knowing how to proceed, you draw solely on your own upbringing and beliefs, and apply them blindly. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to react? Questions like these are a valid response to an unfamiliar situation. More importantly is the response to such questions. That is what determines the outcome of any unfamiliar situation. Draw on your internal biases without consideration and the result will be as if you hadn’t encountered anything at all, perhaps even worse.

One would think the next logical step should be to allow others to tell you what to do, but I’ll draw the line again. Adaptability is not simply playing according to the script. If you’re simply moving with the flow, acting according to rules, you’re playing a facade. The positive effect of a culture shock only emerges when you start with a foreign framework, and fill gaps in with ideas and values that define yourself. It’s important to encounter new concepts, thoughts, and cultures; just don’t lose yourself in the midst of it all.

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