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

Thomas Paul ’21 RGLP Reflection: The Expansiveness of Culture

Thomas Paul ’21 discusses culture with other students in the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program during Spring 2019.

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Each fall, winter, and spring, the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP) brings together 25 student leaders to increase their understanding of global leadership and intercultural competency. Through weekly sessions with speakers and a culminating experience to either Boston, Montreal, or New York City, the students are able to learn about themselves and cross-cultural leadership. The Spring 2019 cohort spent a weekend in Montreal as part of their culminating experience.

My ultimate goal coming into RGLP was and is to experience some type of culture shock – some eye-opening experience by witnessing differences in how others live their lives in comparison to me. To know when to expect culture shock, we need to understand what defines our own culture and how other people’s cultures can differ from our own.  

When I began attending RGLP, I saw culture as something that connoted race, nationality, class, and ethnicity. In many ways and for many people this is primarily the case, but it is not the whole case. Originally, I was attentive of these factors, what I perceived to be my incoming culture. When expressing an opinion to my fellow participants, I would reference what in my own upbringing would motivate the beliefs in which that opinion was founded, often being derived from class or religion or related to ethnicity. I tried to step back away from these same incoming beliefs of mine early on.

But culture is more expansive than even that. People affiliate by shared experience, and these affiliations collectively summate to a culture. Often, people who have gone through life-altering events feel as if they are part of a collective. Therefore, looking back I can see how these previous perceptions of culture are incomplete.  

Through the course of RGLP, we have interacted with people of different cultures, not only in the sense that they are from different countries, but also in the sense that these guests have had life experiences with which we could not empathize: members of the Deaf community and refugees from different countries.

I do not believe that we can know how many cultures exist, or even be aware of the cultures of which we are a part. Looking back, therefore, I can see how it might be impossible to divorce ourselves from our incoming biases or convey them in a discussion. By culture’s very nature, every member of RGLP is a member of the Dartmouth community, and therefore is part of a shared culture with the rest of the group. 

 Ultimately, as culture shock is the effect of being surprised by an aspect of a different culture, the greatest culture shocks I have experienced in RGLP have been through the introduction of cultures I had never considered, within which I often found myself.  

-Written by Thomas Paul ’21, Spring 2019 RGLP Participant

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.

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