A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Month: October 2022 Page 1 of 2

Journal Entry #1

Culture to me is the intergenerational inheritance of traditions and knowledge that shapes our perspective of the world around us and how we internalize our environment. No single individual experiences every aspect of society, due to specific personal experiences limiting the number of things we have done. If I never break my arm, I can only emphasize with people who have to a certain degree. However, I would take it a step further and state that even amongst individuals who encounter the same experience, our perspective and what we draw from said experiences can differ if we all come from different cultures. Culture is one of the key defining factors, if not the defining factor, on how we view the world.

For example, I was born in Spain and raised in a very Spanish household that upheld many Spanish traditions and customs. Beyond the evident, such as language differences and the like, Spanish people have certain underlying tendencies that round out the edges of my culture and differentiate us from others. Firstly, the Spanish lifestyle prioritizes leisure and family over everything else. Foiling the capitalistic, hustle-and-bustle of American life, Spanish culture is all about the indulgement of life with family and friends. It is not uncommon to go out to long lunches with co-workers during the day, stay out late at bars and terrazas drinking and eating with friends, or joke and laugh with those nearest and dearest to you while enjoying some tapas and watching football. Spanish culture revolves so little around work and so much around vices that we are infamous for our siestas which are composed of napping for hours in the middle of the day after taking in vast quantities of food. 

Eventually, my family and I moved to the U.S. and I encountered other cultures that differed from my own. These new cultures presented new perspectives to view the world, ranging from everything to outward affection, respect for elders, new religions, and new foods. At first, I clashed with these cultures as I struggled to understand the angle from which other people were coming from, with some of their actions being offensive in my culture and vice versa. Eventually, however, American culture started to rub off on me as I assimilated, and helped me create this interesting blend where I am now comfortable in both cultures and they both feel like my own. Yes, I still enjoy the occasional siesta but at the same time, barbecuing and watching football on Sunday have become routine parts of me and my family’s lives.

What defines your culture(s)?

I had never previously thought extensively about my cultural identity in terms of labels, or names, or titles. I simply knew that I had lived the greatest experience of life, as a resident of Querétaro, México and Clermont-Ferrand, France throughout my youth. My father works for the tire company, Michelin, which holds its world headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand. For his work, my family moved to Clermont-Ferrand when I was in 6th grade. We lived there for three years, in which I attended a French school with various other students – not only from France, but also from Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Serbia, Spain, and more. I was both immersed in French culture and learning about other European cultures, and I am forever grateful for this expansive, enriching experience. Prior to France, my family lived in Querétaro, México for my father’s work as well. I lived there from 2nd through 5th grade, attending a Mexican-American school alongside students from México, South Korea, and Spain.

Living abroad at such a young age truly influenced my worldview, my personality, and what I want to do with my life. In México, since I was around 10 years old, I was still a child. When we are children, we view the world through a much more innocent, arguably clear perspective. I was able to enjoy the beauty of the country and the kindness of Mexican people without any adult worries. I credit this childhood experience for infusing me with an excitement and love for other cultures. This was the root of my passion for pursuing area studies in college. I am currently majoring in International Comparative Studies, with a concentration of China and East Asia. I believe that it is imperative to learn about a culture, its history, its current traditions, its language (or languages), and how it has evolved, in order to be a more ethical presence in said culture’s country or countries.

While living in France, I began to gain a political consciousness. I was present when the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting occurred, and I saw how the country responded. I also saw how French people of European roots could be discriminatory toward French people of Middle Eastern roots. As I grew older, I understood how French politics and policy supported and even amplified this discrimination. During my time there, I also had the privilege of visiting the United Nations in Geneva. I listened to a tour guide speak about the treaty ending the 1991 Gulf War, and I realized that building intercultural understanding and ending international conflicts was a career that was feasible, realistic, and even likely for me to pursue. I credit my time in France for inspiring me to pursue a major in Public Policy, exploring how to create policy that is beneficial for all demographics.

Today, as a student at Duke University who spent her four high school years in Greenville, South Carolina, I am reflecting on my culture – or cultures. I do not identify with a particular single culture, but rather a combination of different aspects of the cultures of each place that I have had the honor of living. For me, I identify my cultures through the personality traits that I gained from each place. I have adopted the vibrant, outgoing, celebratory aspects of Mexican culture. I have adopted the thoughtfulness and dedication of the French. I have adopted the go-getting initiative of people of the United States. Now, this is not to say that French people cannot be celebratory, that Mexican people cannot be go-getters, or that American people cannot be dedicated. They can. They are. Every culture exhibits a vast array of incredible characteristics that overlap and intertwine in incredible ways. I find myself at this intersection. I do not know how to put a label to my culture(s), but I do know that I do not need to. I’m in the middle of an exploration of who I am and how the world influences me.

Journal Entry #1

Culture is a combination of everything. For insiders of a culture, it means their commonly recognized living habits, beliefs, social norms, and knowledge. While for outsiders, culture means an essential approach for them to understand and empathize with insiders of the culture.

There’s a famous Chinese saying “Chinese culture is broad and profound throughout five thousand years” which manifests the longevity and richness of Chinese culture since it has been evolving for so long and has been impactful to many areas around East Asia. Every time I was asked to speak for my culture, I feel unqualified since I could not represent all peoples within the great nation. For example, similar to American geography people on the east and west coast have distinctive living styles, people from the north and south parts of China have many differences in terms of dialects, habits, and ways to interact with others. For me, Chinese culture is like an encyclopedia. It includes every wisdom that I need to deal with my life. Confucianism guides me on personal ethics and morality, hundreds of thousands of Chinese poems across 18 dynasties teach me to discover the unique aesthetic of the world, and Chinese traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year remind me of how important the family means to me and how important it is to show gratitude to people around me.

I was born and raised in Xi’an, China before coming to college in the US. I had never been living in a place with different culture but now. As an international student here at Duke, everything was refreshing for me the moment I moved into the campus. I remember writing down how many “first-time” things I did during the orientation week here and it turned out to be too many to write down. It might be surprising but I had never tried real exotic food other than Chinese food nor talked to people in English for more than a day. The first time I went to Panda Express, my friends were laughing at me because I ate the entire fortune cookie with the tape inside since I never saw and knew the existence of it back in China.

But more than these surface culture shocks that I had, the most significant difference I found between China and US are our perspectives of individualism and collectivism. Individualism brings diversity and creativity while collectivism brings efficiency and unity. It is fascinating for me to discover and compare the pros and cons of both isms when I attend classes, meet new friends, and deal with everything in my life. Moreover, the experience also reshapes my values of the 21st-century world amid the wave of globalization and makes me realize the importance of being a global citizen with genuine respect and comprehension of different cultures.

Journal Entry #1

Culture to me is the environment and values that shape your experiences and how you perceive the world. Within such a context, I would define my culture as the intersection of my Japanese family and heritage with my American education and environment. Growing up in the United States as a Japanese individual, I often found myself comparing the values of both countries. At home, I was in Japan. I spoke Japanese with my family, ate Japanese food, celebrated Japanese holidays, and was taught Japanese values. Outside of my home, however, I was surrounded by the United States; I went to an American public school, received an American education, and listened to American music. What makes me believe that culture isn’t defined by a single country’s values or ideals is that even within this context, I never felt like I could only be defined by one country. One part of me embodied the Japanese language and values, learning and absorbing stories and advice from my grandparents in Japan, while another embodied the American language and values, learning and absorbing from experiences at school and from friends.


My biggest intercultural experience came when I took a gap year to live in Japan. Although Japanese culture was something that was not foreign to me, it was a completely different experience living in an environment where everyone’s culture seemed so similar. Everywhere I went, people spoke Japanese and embodied the values of respecting your elders and always thinking about others before yourself. If I did anything that didn’t match Japanese values of respect, I stuck out and was seen in a negative way, as if I didn’t understand. I also looked Japanese and spoke Japanese, so there was no way for others to know that I had spent my entire life in the United States. At the beginning of the year, this often led me to feel like I had to fit in. I found myself trying to blend in with the crowd, whether it be learning more traditional Japanese values and how to properly interact in society or wearing trending Japanese clothing and hairstyles. I tried not to speak English and strayed away from my bicultural identity. As the year went on, however, I started to encounter moments where people valued my bicultural background rather than seeing me as different. Friends I met in Japan found my background interesting, and wanted to learn more. Members of organizations and companies wanted to support me because they felt my unique background would lead me to have valuable opinions in discussions.


Through my experience in Japan, I learned the value of my bicultural identity. I am now more open to embracing the duality of my identity and the culture that I come from. I also am more interested in how the cultures of different individuals influence how they perceive the world. Especially for those that grew up in multicultural environments, I am intrigued as to whether they feel connected to a specific culture or define their culture as the intersection of those different environments.

Journal Entry #1

To me, culture refers to how one’s environment growing up has an effect on the way one thinks and acts. These experiences not only guide us in acting as a barometer of right and wrong, but also enable us to connect with other people who share our views more easily. Culture not just acts as a moral compass for us to make our decisions, but also shines through our personality.

Although I have grown up in numerous countries, I still believe that the culture that has predominantly been ingrained in me is that of India. To me, the main crux of Indian culture is that it is highly hierarchical. Whether it be in terms of how you speak to a member of your family or the subject you decide to study at college, everything is organized and perceived in rankings and in comparison to something else. Having had this mentality ingrained in me at a very young age, I was quite a focused child: I prioritized activities in the order that they would help me grow and develop, and while this definitely had its benefits in the sense of keeping me disciplined, in hindsight, it probably made me very one dimensional in my thinking.

However, after moving abroad to various countries, these perceptions of mine were challenged quite quickly. In Japan, while order and discipline were huge aspects of the culture, there was a pleasantly surprising lack of judgment in the culture. People would work tirelessly during the day, but almost always end it by going to a bar with their work colleagues and drinking as much as they could, fondly known as nominication. In Taiwan, I was introduced to a further sense of freedom, whereby many people prided themselves not because of the company they worked for or the position they held, but rather on their hobbies/passions and service to the local community. One more relocation to the UAE brought me to a society more akin to my experiences in India, but with a stronger sense of religion and spirituality. Surrounded by places of worship and a sense of religious responsibility that permeated even among those of my age, I too subconsciously started to try and understand more about my religious beliefs, and mark my time in the UAE as the beginning of my exploration into religion.

Today, having made one more transition to the US 3 years ago, I am still in the midst of processing all the aforementioned cultural experiences in my attempt to understand what my exact cultural values exactly are. Regardless of whether I align with and understand one culture more than another, I will always be grateful for how these experiences have shaped my identity today.

Journal Entry #1

To me, culture represents how one lives their life. Our beliefs, values, traditions, and any other element that is passed on for generations and that plays a role in how we view the world is part of our culture. As a Turkish-American woman who has had the opportunity to live in various parts of the world, I believe that I carry my culture around the globe with me. Realizing the line between adaptation and assimilation has been a habit that has helped me stay true to my culture and values over time.

The first time I encountered a different culture was at the Italian elementary school I stepped foot into when I was eight. Sitting there nervously, not understanding a word of Italian, I received a note from a girl across the class. Looking bluntly at the paper, I questioned what “Ti voglio bene (“love you lots” in Italian)” meant. The girl patiently tried to explain the word to me through non-verbal language by shaping her hands like a disoriented, cute heart. “Ti voglio bene” was the first phrase I learned in a foreign language. It introduced me to the beauty of a new world that comes with understanding people who are not necessarily sharing the same experiences — or even the same language as me. The note I received that day sowed the seeds of the value I give to understanding and connecting with others’ truth by discovering what is unknown and unfamiliar. In the upcoming years of my life, many other factors led me to be a woman who values diversity and human experience.

After my experiences in Italy, throughout the upcoming years of my life, I was fortunate enough to engage with other cultures as well. The German boarding school I attended for about two years was one of these. It was fascinating to observe the differences between German and Turkish culture and investigate how these two may have influenced each other throughout the movement of Turkish immigrants from Turkey to Germany in the 1960s for the job opportunities in the region. My time in Germany and the period I spent studying German has taught me the beauty of the language and the culture and once again reminded me of the importance of bonding with a community and culture through language.

Lastly, perhaps the biggest cultural adjustment I encountered was after moving to the United States. It took me a minute to learn how delicious Southern food tastes and perhaps even longer to get used to some of the slang, such as “drip, dope, bet, fr (for real),” etc. and I still learn new ones every day! Overall though, through my previous experiences and by having an open-minded approach during the process, I got used to my new home and grew to love my community and surroundings.
Now, as a second year at Duke – an institution with so many different cultures and diverse group of people – I realize that I enjoy adapting my character to that of a rainbow: each color representing a unique aspect of my identity becomes even more special when blended with other colors to create a gorgeous visual feast.

Journal Entry #1

Culture is one of the few ways to remain connected with the country my parents are from. As the son of immigrants, there is a large disconnect between me and my family in India. Due to physical distance, differing time zones, and varying social norms, it is often difficult to find a common ground. However, culture bridges all gaps. Because of my parents, food, music, movies, religion, and language are all aspects of my culture I have managed to retain. I believe these topics are the reason I have been able to converse with my cousins for hours. 

Although there are countless elements that make up Indian culture, there are a few that have been especially impactful during my upbringing. My mother swears that Bollywood movies are the reason I can speak Hindi. I have no recollection of this, but I’ve decided to take her word for it (shoutout to Shahrukh Khan).  Additionally, My mother’s cooking gave me an appreciation for the diversity of dishes available throughout India. Almost every individual I’ve talked to about Indian food loves Chicken Tikka Masala; however, my favorite will always be my mother’s masterfully prepared dal chawal. While other children got generic factory-produced Lunchables, I got freshly cooked, handmade food. 

I have not had many experiences living with inidividuals from different cultures; ironically, I still had trouble adapting to the norms of my own culture. While working with dentists in India, I volunteered at several rural dental camps. I attempted to use my mother tongue of Hindi and slower basic English to ensure everyone felt comfortable partnering with me and assigning me tasks. Most of them found my Hindi-with-English enunciation quite entertaining. But, united in our common passion to help those in need, we worked together to assist children who had never even seen toothbrushes before. This encouraged our collaboration and established a mutual sense of trust. 

Moreover, I got the chance to practice my stand up comedy routine with them in Hindi, which they found even more entertaining due to my limited vocabulary. Working alongside these dedicated dentists helped me value diversity of thought. Although we came from completely different countries, the group effort to help provide better care resulted in unimaginably positive results. I also learned to face challenges I never would have faced in the classroom. This firsthand experience furthered not only my awareness of the importance of economic, social, and cultural diversity on teams, but also my desire to continue advocating for the underserved.

Journal Entry #1

Culture can mean different things to different people.  It can incorporate religion, tradition, and heritage.  For me, it is a way of connecting family, community and society.  It integrates many diverse entities such as the arts, clothing, buildings, laws, and moral norms of a civilization. In my mind, my culture is Judaism. One could argue that Judaism is simply a religion, but as a self-proclaimed atheist, I rarely think of the religious aspects of Judaism, but rather the traditions that have connected my family. My culture includes sitting around the Passover table with my entire extended family, chanting the songs in the Scottish tunes of my zaide, or grandfather, now long dead. My culture is helping my mom cut and chop the apples for the charoset, stealing the bits of rind that have apple still clung to them. My culture is watching my cousin become a bat mitzvah last weekend, not so much because it symbolizes her transition to adulthood according to the laws of Judaism, but because it is a chance for my whole family to come together to celebrate this milestone event, as they did for my two older brothers, myself, and my two other cousins thus far. Culture is the traditions that connect me not only to my family, but to other Jewish people near and far, not because I believe that God told me to do things, but because the things that we do feel like home to me. Whether it’s finally getting to place that little scrap of paper in the cracks of the Wailing Wall this past summer with other students I just met, or singing the four questions at our Seder table, my culture binds me to my heritage. Because you can’t truly know where you’re going without understanding where you came from.

I have been fortunate enough to have had lots of exposure to various cultures.  At the end of my junior year of high school, I traveled to rural Bolivia and was able to stay in two different home stays over the course of my time there.  Over my gap year, I was able to experience life in Costa Rica, Morocco, and Iceland, and this past summer I spent three months living in Israel.  All these experiences have broadened my understanding of the world and allowed me to grow as a global citizen.  Growing up, everyone around me was Jewish – it was the norm.  However, after beginning to travel, I realized that this was not always the case.  I was so fortunate to be able to grow up in a place where antisemitism was not a reality, however I realize that this had inadvertently caused me to grow up in a bubble.  When living in Bolivia, in a house without a roof, I was able to get exposure to a different way of thinking that was much different from the western way of thinking I had been taught.  I was able to learn the importance of respecting other cultures and trying to embrace theirs as opposed to trying to impose my own.  While the way they did things was much different from the way I did it, it did not make one way better or worse.  I continued to learn throughout my other travels as well.  In Morocco, I was able to learn the difference between a tourist and a traveler.  A tourist is someone who goes to a different country to simply see it but does not make any effort to try to understand the culture, whereas a traveler goes to a country to try to integrate into the culture and truly understand what life there looks like.  I now try to be an open-minded traveler in my day-to-day life.  I have learned that in differences there is no right way or wrong way, and that each person’s individual unique background allows them to bring a different perspective.  I hope to only continue to grow as a global citizen as I travel more in the future.

Journal Entry #1

This might sound sacrilegious, but I’m a Singaporean that doesn’t like Singaporean food. I’m a really picky eater, and the mix of textures can be unappealing to my palate. So even though most would define Singaporean culture as loving and voraciously consuming food, particularly Singaporean food, I don’t identify with that. I mean sure, most people like to eat, and I’m no exception, but that’s not a core part of how I identify with my country’s culture.


Many people say being Singaporean means being kiasu, or scared to lose. I think I am pretty loss-averse, and am fairly competitive, but so are a lot of really ambitious people. Actually, I think I’m quite laid-back.


So am I really part of that unknown, amorphous thing we call the Singaporean culture? I suppose so. I walk in flip flops even in the freezing cold, I obviously speak Singlish (and I especially love to do so when people act like speaking ‘proper’ English is superior), and I complain about my country all the time, but get riled up when others insult it. So I identify with Singaporean culture, whatever all of that means in totality!


Living in America for a year and a half now, though I don’t quite notice it in my day-to-day life, I have changed a lot. At first, I thought a lot of my mannerisms and actions, like being shy or talking about my home country a lot, was embarrassing since it made me ‘different’ from others. Also, I would feel really ashamed when some people here patronizingly said my English was ‘almost perfect’ – English is my first language! There were some small things too, like how Americans always ask how you are doing, but really they don’t expect an answer, or a true one at that. But honestly, anyone moving to a new country has to go through a process of cultural adjustment, and I’m only human. Plus, because of these experiences, I have grown a strong sense of identity and resilience. And thanks partly to the self-reliant and outspoken culture here in America, I’ve learned to fend for myself and fight for myself. Honestly, most people will never experience ‘making it for themselves’ in a foreign country – but I have! That is my power. 


Staying in France for a month as well this summer, I felt especially misunderstood because of the cultural differences that were exacerbated by the language barrier. For example, I am less direct when rejecting something or asking for help, which meant my needs and wants sometimes went unanswered. Also, my host mom had never actually interacted with an Asian person for more than five minutes before, meaning that she held some pretty ignorant beliefs. While again, I felt ashamed at first, my sense of self eventually grew stronger, and I learned how to express my wants and needs even when language constraints were working against me, and how to push back against ignorant comments. After all, who is going to advocate for me, but me?


Unlike what people I have met on my travels may think about Singapore or Asia, I am no shrinking violet or frivolous Crazy Rich Asian. I’ve realized I am an intellectual, feisty, brave woman who now understands and advocates for her wants and needs. Some of these traits may or may not stem from my culture, but it was my experiences living abroad in very different cultures that cultivated them. 

Journal 1

To me, culture is ambiguous. On the one hand, I have learned from classes that cultures are human construct that shapes our perception of the world, forms group identity, and mold people into one community. On the other hand, I have always felt that most people are floating in the middle of cultures: we are each a collection of different characteristics from different cultures and identities.

My upbringing as an Australian Chinese has significantly impacted my perception and interpretation of culture. Having spent my childhood and primary school years in Beijing, I never thought about the impact of culture on me as a child, given the racially and culturally homogeneous community. However, when I moved to Australia, I quickly realized that I stepped out of my cultural comfort zone and felt pressured to mask my differences by mimicking the “local students”. Rather than celebrating the cultural differences, I was trying to hide them. My Year-7 self would refuse to wear stockings during the winter because the trend among the “local students” was to wear short skirts with only socks despite shivering and catching a cold. When speaking to others with a similar experience of transitioning to a new culture, I found surprising commonalities: we all tried to “speak, behave, and dress in a similar way” as the local people, even if this decision may come at the cost of forfeiting our own personalities and cultural practices. We are often standing at the liminal space between cultures, and when people ask us — “where do you come from?” — we are often at a loss for word.

However, as I became older, I have begun to realize that I am defined by my own culture and have grown to appreciate my Chinese heritage and identity. By spending 6 months in China in my freshman spring, I immersed myself in the historical setting of Suzhou gardens, museums, and galleries, visiting as many historical heritage sites as I could. These 6 months helped me reclaim my identity, come to term with myself, and openly celebrate my complicated cultural upbringing and my identity as a Chinese. This time in China also fuelled my interest in traditional Chinese architecture and arts, a field I hope to explore further in the future.

I am excited to expand my cultural landscape by participating in the Global Fellows program. Even just during my first weeks of the English Conversation Club, I am surprised by the level of diversity among the participants and have learned so much from everyone. I look forward to developing the crucial intercultural skillsets and shaping Duke to be an inclusive home away from home for everyone from all cultural backgrounds and identities.

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