A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Month: November 2021

Intercultural Journal #4

A challenge that I have faced during this semester has come from sometimes having to act as a representative of American culture. I mean this in a way of having to make sweeping generalizations when explaining certain things to language partners or participants that come to English Conversation Club. The reason that I view this as such a challenge is that there is no national standard that everyone follows, so it can be hard to go beyond my experiences, especially as a minority. When it comes to things like pop culture references, it sometimes makes me feel as though I am undereducated because my interests lie elsewhere.

I feel that one way to address this challenge is to bargain with my identity more directly in terms of establishing and communicating a frame of reference. In line with developing a sense of the importance of cultural difference, I can try to explain that there is a nuance to understanding the United States as individuals being a product of the section of the country that they grew up in. When discussing such topics as why there is a tendency in the United States to be wary of getting the COVID vaccine, this perspective might allow me to give more of a vantage point of where people are more likely to feel that way rather than it being a national sentiment. Part of the issue is recognizing that there is a media portrayal that stereotypes other cultures within the United States that works the same against us in other countries. One of the steps to working through this might have a more open dialogue to evaluate different aspects of cultural differences so that everyone involved can leave with a better-informed level of understanding.

Journal #3

When I studied abroad in Italy, one of the first challenges was figuring out how to get from the airport to the University of Bologna. The faculty organizers for the program left the traveling logistics up to the students, so each of us was left to figure out our way from the airport to our designated meetup location. It also happened to be my first time traveling on my own to a place where I did not have family that would meet me when I arrived, so I was completely trying to navigate new territory.

I remember getting off the plane and thinking to myself that there was some checklist of things that I just needed to make sure I had covered. First on that list was finding where to get my suitcase. Looking at the signs around me, I was lucky that I had some background in Italian so I could read and piece together information to find the baggage claim. After grabbing my suitcase, the next hurdle was figuring out transportation and I thought that this would finally be my time to experience riding in a taxi. Luckily, there were quite a few taxis outside the airport when I finally made my way around to the ground transportation exit. When I walked over to a taxi that had just arrived, the driver got out and came to take my bags and put them in the trunk. I got into the backseat and, when the driver sat back inside the taxi, he asked me where we were going. I told him that I was trying to get to the Dipartimento di Storia Culture Civiltà and he told me no, the address. I spent a little time scrambling because I thought the building was well-known enough and did not have the address memorized, so I haphazardly was scrolling through the WhatsApp chat to see if the professor had sent us the address before reciting it to the driver. Things were quiet on the drive there and the next hiccup occurred when we arrived, and I went to pay. Having just exchanged USD for euros, I did not happen to have any small bills, so I went to pay the driver rounded up to the closest bill. When he saw this, he pulled out money to make change and, wanting to save him the hassle, I wanted to tell him to keep the change in Italian, but realizing that we had not learned this is class, the closest thing that I could muster was “È per lei” or formally, “It’s for you” which was met with a look of bewilderment before he told me thank you. After getting out of the taxi and the driver retrieving my suitcases from the trunk, I went to meet with the professors and regale them with the story of my trip. Upon reaching the end with the awkward tipping situation, they told me that it is not customary to tip in Italy and that the act was something of an American thing that I had never thought about before. I also learned from this conversation that it is customary in Italy to not tip taxi drivers and can sometimes be viewed as insulting, though I meant it as a sign of appreciation for his service. This experience led me to reflect on the importance of learning not only customs but the wider social significance of differences in the connotation of tipping.

This semester, I have been working on my Intercultural Development Program with the hope of moving from minimization of social differences towards adaptation. In connection with my participation in the Global Fellows Program, this work has come in the form of engaging with people from different countries in conversation through the English Conversation Club and my language partners. Through these experiences, I have gotten a sense of how others orient themselves to American culture, both positively and negatively, according to the cultures that they were raised in. This has made many differences apparent to me, especially around the idea of holidays and understanding that other cultures have a deep history tied to certain celebrations that are viewed more commercially in the United States. Rather than trying to ask the question of how these different celebrations and traditions compare to what we do in the United States, I have become more invested in learning about them within that cultural context.

Journal Entry #4

An interesting challenge I have faced in the duration of the program thus far has been connecting with some of my Language Partners. I was assigned three partners in August and have spent time every week for the last three months connecting with each of them. It was initially very daunting to be thrown into a situation so alien, as I have no background in either Japan or China or in any of the fields my partners are pursuing (one of my partners is a Japanese law student, another a Chinese grad student studying Visual Media Computational Studies and the third a Chinese engineer). Having said this, I have found myself becoming very close to one, yet there is still a disconnect with the other two.


There is a definite correlation to closeness in relationship with regards to whether I meet the partner in person or over zoom, as the one I have connected the most with I meet every week in person. The other correlation is with the level of English, as the same student has the best English of the three. Hence, meeting two partners over Zoom with extremely basic levels of English has made it extremely challenging to build a relationship.


One way to address this disparity is to meet the other two in person. They were both initially very hesitant to do so, as COVID cases were high at Duke and Durham. However, as times change and infections rates decrease, perhaps this will prove to be an option in the future. Another way is to do things with them other than just chat, as English is a strong barrier to the creation of a friendship. Perhaps we could go for a walk and admire the nature or drive around downtown Durham. There are many ways in which we could spend time together in the future without putting pressure on the language differences. Unfortunately, I do not speak either Japanese or Chinese, so this is not a possible method of communication. They are both lovely people doing extremely interesting things at Duke, and I’m sure that with more time and mutual experiences, we can connect even further and understand each other’s cultures in a more profound manner.


Journal Entry #3

I have experienced a number of cultural shocks in my year and a half at Duke thus far. When I initially arrived, I believed I was well-equipped to integrate myself into the community due to my American background and family. However, what I failed to realise, was that even though my parents had American accents, I had grown up in a completely different world. I had no friends my own age upon arriving in the US; hence, I was not prepared for the cultural shifts and norms that awaited me. When pondering upon this prompt, many such examples came to mind. One instance in particular illustrates the extent to which I was ill exposed to American teenage and university culture.

My freshman dorm was populated with many people with the same names. Obviously, this proved difficult for people trying to get to know large numbers of new people, with no clue who each was referring to, without the added problem of having new friends with the same names. When attempting to direct a friend to one person with the name X, I referenced a racial descriptor commonly used in England. Upon using said description, my friend told me this was inappropriate in American culture, implying that I was being racially insensitive. I was immediately taken aback, as of course that was the last thing I was trying to be. To me, this was a normal way to refer to a person, as was the case in the environment in which I had been brought up. In fact, a few weeks later, my friend from home from the same race as X used the same descriptor in a social media caption to refer to him and his friends. Days later, there was another reference to the same descriptive word in another home friend’s social media. I pointed these both out to the original American friend, explicitly demonstrating that this was deemed appropriate in England, and that I had not been aware of the taboo nature of the term in the US. She understood where I was coming from following the examples, and I’m sure she has long forgotten the situation. For me, however, it has remained somewhat prominent in my recollections as I think about the many differences between living in the two countries.

It is very easy to evaluate others based on your own moral and social standpoint. Such social norms have been embedded into us through growing up in our respective societies. What I have learned is that we should attempt to understand why it is other people act the way they do before judging them. They are also a product of their communities. It is not fair to immediately call somebody out negatively without first taking into account why it is they are acting in the way they are. Perhaps we too are acting in an inappropriate manner along the lines of their cultural upbringings. If more people understood the importance of this, perhaps we would have more respect for and harmony between other cultures.

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