Charity Chen ’22 RGLP Reflection: "Understanding Cultural Subtleties"

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.

Being adaptable in a cultural context requires being aware of the subtleties of my own particular culture and how they might be perceived by someone of a different culture. Given that each culture may have subtle differences in norms for eye contact, directness, physical contact, norms for leadership, discussion styles, and conflict resolution, it becomes necessary to reflect on my own predispositions and attempt to adapt my way of thinking and my behavior to each particular situation. 

RGLP sessions have helped me see the concrete ways my culture manifests in my thoughts and behavior. In the “Albatrossian ritual” exercise in which male students wore shoes, washed their hands before eating, and sat on chairs, while female students went barefoot, did not wash their hands, and sat on the floor, I assumed that a society with this ritual would be patriarchal. It seemed to me, based on my own preconceptions, that the men held privileges in this context. However, the guest speaker clarified how this society might elevate women as connected to the earth, and only allowed them to be so close to and touch the ground, while men might be considered unclean and need a barrier in the form of shoes or a chair between them and the sacred earth. This example elicited reflection on how my preconceptions concretely impact possible understandings or judgments of people and real-life situations.

Another source of reflection was the intercultural conflict workshop, which prompted reflection on my personal conflict resolution style; its strengths and weaknesses, how it might clash with other conflict resolution styles, how my own style influences my perception of people who use different styles, and how I might adapt my style to better negotiate conflict with others. Meanwhile, other workshops shed light on elements of culture that we embody yet take for granted, such as speaking freely and loudly versus controlling an “inside voice,” giving direct criticism versus giving ambivalent, softened feedback, and leading on one’s own versus consulting your team – all of which are not always explicitly noticed yet hold great importance for effective communication both interpersonally and in the workplace. 

RGLP sessions helped me to begin reflecting on these subtle differences in culture, which will hopefully help me to communicate more effectively and behave respectfully in a variety of cultural contexts.

-Written by Charity Chen ’22, 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.