Anamika Shah ’21 RGLP Reflection: “Reconciling and Integrating Cultural Identities”

Each fall, winter, and spring, the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program (RGLP) brings together student leaders to increase their understanding of global leadership and intercultural competency. Through weekly sessions with speakers and a culminating experience to either Boston or Montreal, the students are able to learn about themselves and cross-cultural leadership. 

Fall 2019 participants were asked to write a blog post, reflecting on the topics and lessons learned throughout the program. Below are reflections from the Fall 2019 cohort who spent a weekend in Montreal as part of their culminating experience.

I’m not an international student — I’ve lived my entire life in the United States. Regardless, when I first came to Dartmouth, I was hit with a wave of culture shock. All of a sudden, there were brand names everywhere, foreign terms like “crunchy,” a school full of incredibly driven students, and an expectation to be constantly social. I found myself overwhelmed and uncomfortable, lost in the foreignness of it all. I wasn’t expecting this. After all, this was just another part of the United States.

I felt as if I was expected to seamlessly integrate two cultures: that of Dartmouth and that which I grew up with as a daughter of South Asian immigrants — an almost impossible task. Freshman year, I experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance. The Dartmouth way of life was just so different from anything I’d ever known. Little did I know that this was because I hadn’t yet established my sense of self. For most of my life, I’d experienced life relationally. My definition of myself was predominantly based on my relationships to others: I was someone’s sister, someone’s friend, someone’s cousin, someone’s student, someone’s babysitter. At Dartmouth, I discovered that in order to thrive and in order to integrate two cultures, I just couldn’t do that anymore.

RGLP helped me put a name to this experience. During the weekly sessions, I got to hear different perspectives about culture (whether that be Dartmouth culture, international cultures, or various cultures within the United States) with my peers, most of whom had also experienced some sort of culture shock. Most interestingly, I got to hear about my peers’ experiences with ambiguity and difficult culture clashes. Guest speakers came in with engaging activities that got me to question my definition of my identity and think critically about how my cultures and experiences defined the way I interacted with others. I identified how my background affected my conflict style, how it placed me on an intercultural communication scale, and how it informs the way I experience and interact with other cultures.  Most importantly, though, I learned to reconcile the cultures I’m surrounded by — to bring them together in a way that was uniquely my own.

-Written by Anamika Shah ’21, Fall 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.