A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Month: November 2022 Page 1 of 2

Gender and Age

For me, gender serves as one of the most fundamental influences upon my social identity. Growing up in a Girls’ School, I never felt that my gender “mattered”. I did not feel like my gender would constrict me from pursuing any particular industry or field, nor would it impact how I speak, act, or dress.

However, when I moved to Duke, I sensed the pervasive influences of gender. I noticed that there is a set of implicit behavioural codes and expectations on women. I noticed that women tend to speak quieter than men in classrooms, meetings, and conversations, whereas men in general seemed to be more confident, assured, and loud. Even though I was not intentionally changing myself, I evolved to fit the gender stereotype — such as precipitating my questions with a disclaimer “this may be a dumb question but…”. I felt more constricted by the social stereotype of girls, sometimes fearing that “I am not good at this” because women are not traditionally dominant in the selected industries.

I also felt that my age is a shaping determinant on my social identity. At Duke, we are constantly reminded of our class years, beginning our self-introduction as “I am a freshman/sophomore/junior/senior”. When entering my junior year, I felt a change in my attitude to class selection: instead of trying to find “easy A” classes, I prioritized “how much I can learn”.

Journal Entry #2

In the social identity wheel activity we did during our workshop as Global Fellows, I was grateful to have the opportunity to reflect on my values and identity while also getting the chance to explore the beauty of the identity of those I spoke with. As we shared which parts of our identities feel especially meaningful to us, gender and ethnicity stood out for me. As a Turkish-American woman, these aspects of my identity shape most of my world views while also influencing my experiences. Therefore, when reflecting on who I am and what matters to me, I often consider these elements somewhat important. When someone initially meets me, they can visibly tell that I am a woman. Perhaps as our conversation goes on, they will get curious about where my family is from given my darker skin complexion and not-so-common name. Hence, being a woman and later on, the unique name I carry with me as part of my culture and background will often shape how my daily experiences and interactions process. Even though being a woman appears to be a strong part of my identity regardless of where in the world I go, I find that being Turkish has a more significant impact when I am not in Turkey. Here at Duke, for instance, I am very tight-knit with the Turkish community and find great pleasure in being involved with the activities organized by the Turkish Student Association while also spending personal time with other Turkish students. Since we are minorities here, I find that there is a special tie connecting us, and I value this part of my identity and reflect on it so much more than how it would have been if I was living in Turkey.
In addition to there being some parts of my identity that are meaningful to me, I find that sexuality and being able-bodied are not factors I focus on as much whatsoever most of the time. As a straight, able-bodied woman, I usually do not have to think about all the elements that come with being queer or disabled, despite being an ally. These parts of my identity just…exist, and I am encouraged to think about them often when someone points them out. As a straight woman my romantic experiences are likely to be easier than those of someone who might be trying to come out to their parents. Similarly, in so many areas of daily life, ableism is a prevalent issue, and I am sure I would realize these areas so much more had I been more significantly impacted by them. With that being said, workshops and activities like we have with Global Fellows are incredibly impactful as they aid us in learning more about the identities of others, and I think they make us more aware of our own privileges and thus encourage us to work towards amplifying the voices of those who may not have the same privileges.

Journal #2

The aspect of my social identity I feel most intertwined with must be my ethnicity and race. To me, being Hispanic signifies the history of my ancestors, and with that label, I can eternally connect myself to them. Not only does it fascinate me to think that people like me started the cultures and traditions that me and my family today celebrate, but furthermore, it also connects me with other people who share my same ethnicity in the fact that we share the lineage of cultures, practices, foods, religious views, etc. To add on, race is another aspect of my social identity that is meaningful to me due to the prevalence it plays in my day-to-day life. The discourse around race is rampant, especially with the privileges that come along with being white. America is highly polarized with regard to race, and we may not come to a consensus any time soon on the role race should/does play in our society. These aspects of my identity are highly discussed in my environment and therefore are at the forefront of my mind. Subsequently, other aspects of my identity that play a lesser role or are not as discussed are less meaningful to me. For example, my able body is not something that I take into account and could even be considered to be an aspect of myself I am ungrateful of. My friend group presents a vast array of races and ethnicities, but we are all able-bodied, therefore conversations that would occur in friend groups with a multitude of body times don’t occur. Discussions like the ones we partake in Global Fellows bring these topics to light and help us realize the inequity of the world around us from more than the mainstream categories. 

Journal Entry #2

An aspect of my social identity that is particularly meaningful to me is my Japanese heritage. Although I grew up in the United States, I hold a strong connection to the country of my birth, Japan. However, I didn’t always feel as close as I do today. Prior to middle school, I felt close to no connection to Japan. Whenever given Japanese textbooks to study, I always wondered, “why do I have to do this extra work when everyone here speaks English?” Yet as I grew older, I started to gain more interest in my heritage. I started participating in summer camps in Japan, building relationships with students my age. Even in the United States, I started viewing Japanese television programs and listening to Japanese music. I soon was very connected with my Japanese background and took a gap year to explore my roots further.


My Japanese heritage is particularly important to me because I believe it defines who I am. Although I grew up in the United States, I was raised in a household where the values of Japanese culture were the norm. I feel that as a result, much of the decisions I make are viewed through the unique lens of being bicultural and both Japanese and American. However, I do find myself leaning towards one side of the spectrum (either Japanese or American) depending on the cultural context I am in. When taking my gap year in Japan, I definitely found myself wanting to be “more Japanese” to integrate into the culture before being unique. Since I have come back to the US, I find myself looking to be much more American. Even though this may seem like I do not stick to my identity, I feel like being bicultural is a balance. I want to adapt to my environments to not only make them more comfortable for me but for others that interact with me as well. Being bicultural is not always easy, but I think I have learned to embrace this identity, and feel that it is a unique part of who I am.

Social Identity

While there are various aspects relevant to social identity, I have found gender and my cultural upbringing to be the ones I think about most frequently. From a very young age, I remember being expected to like certain things such as sports, the color blue, and cars. However, the color pink and an interest in clothes were deemed as weird and “girly.” As a result, I spent most of my formative years playing with hot wheels in bright-colored neon clothing from Under Armor, Nike, and Puma. As I got older, I began to question why these things were seen as feminine and a source of discomfort for many men.  I took a greater interest in what I wore and the colors I chose to include in my wardrobe. I am personally very happy with the growth of my wardrobe and interests, but I can not say the same for the people around me. My parents often find some of my attire strange, especially when bold colors such as purple and pink are at the forefront.  Nevertheless, their feelings of confusion are nothing compared to the clear discomfort felt by my relatives in India by certain articles of clothing. I remember my parents having to answer various questions about my sexual orientation and state of mind from relatives who were not used to seeing an individual of my gender dress a certain way. 

Ironically, my cultural upbringing played an even more noticeable role in my childhood and continues to do so to this day. I remember being one of the only Indian children at my elementary school and seeing others make strange faces when I would pull out home-cooked meals from my lunch box. I remember feeling frustrated when hearing others complain about the smell and spiciness of my food. I also remember being embarrassed when I occasionally showed up to school with tikka on my forehead. As I got older, these feelings changed and I began to feel a sense of pride towards my culture. It was a privilege to be able to eat food from my motherland and to practice religious values that had been passed down for hundreds of years. At Duke, I’ve found a rich community of individuals who share my cultural background and celebrate traditional events such as Diwali, Holi, and many others. I am often reminded of my culture on campus and it has given me a way to connect with many peers.

Whenever I meet individuals with social identities different from my own, I try to recall the way I felt when I was younger. The feelings of discomfort and frustration due to the insensitivity others showed my culture impacted me for years. Additionally, in the context of gender, there are still moments when I feel uncomfortable with certain choices. I would never want to bring that feeling on another individual for choices they have made regarding their social identity. The identity they have chosen is a result of their upbringing, life experiences, and those around them. As such, I try to take the time to understand their unique perceptive and use it as an opportunity to grow my own. 

Age and Youth in Intercultural Contexts

*Trigger warning: reference to gun violence, murder*

Upon taking the time to reflect, I realized that my age influences my life – in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. Living in the United States for high school, from 2017-2021, I witnessed many youth-led or youth-involved social movements. March for Our Lives came about during my freshman year, following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Conversations about mental health, including within my own high school, skyrocketed. When COVID-19 hit, youth urged one another and their families to stay home and stay safe. When George Floyd was senselessly murdered, young people joined their voices with the Black Lives Matter movement. Before moving any further, I believe it is important to acknowledge that youth did not necessarily start all of these movements, but often played a role in supporting and amplifying them. I also do not want to diminish the youth who did establish and lead these movements. Ultimately, I want to acknowledge the important role that each of these movements played during my high school years. They inspired me, because I saw myself in the young changemakers participating. For a long time, I believed that because I was in high school, I couldn’t enact actual change. I thought that college was when the doing began. The youth in these social movements showed me that my age could be power. That I could use my youth and energy to fuel movements for what I was passionate about. Yesterday, at a Social Innovation Around the World panel hosted by Duke-UNICEF, social entrepreneurs recommended that if anyone wanted to start an entrepreneurial venture, or to innovate and create something, or to establish a start-up, the key was to start young. Youth can be power. It is a source of boundless energy, of resilience, of strength, and of innocence. Innocence in particular is important. We see the world without jaded eyes. We can see other options, other possibilities, other hopes that people have otherwise abandoned. I am grateful for my age as a source of inspiration and motivation.

In different social contexts, age is an important factor for understanding how to conduct yourself with others. During my time in Mexico and France, age was never extremely explicitly discussed; however, it was understood that you should respect adults. Particularly in an educational context throughout my life, respect was and has always been given to teachers. I believe this was instilled in me throughout my time abroad. Returning to high school in the United States, I was struck by the number of people that I witnessed speaking confrontationally to teachers. That being said, I recognize the importance of challenging authority when something being said is incorrect. Moreover, sometimes when students lash out, it can be because of motivating factors totally external to student-teacher dynamics. However, there were still multiple cases that I witnessed, either of direct confrontation or of backtalk, when students were doing so just to appear “cool.” I think this can come as a shock to various cultures, such more collectivist cultures in East Asia that place a high value on respect for older generations and their wisdom.

It is precisely these cultural differences in values and global perspectives which influence how others’ social identities are perceived. We must be conscious of how each culture approaches values and identities – certain cultures appreciate different elements of identity more and less than others. To build intercultural spaces that welcome, acknowledge, and value all social identities, we must begin by trying as hard as we possibly can to learn about each culture and individual’s background. By understanding the forces that have shaped people’s identities, we ourselves can better understand how to interact with, appreciate, and respect them. We must take it upon ourselves to learn. These processes start with us.

Journal Entry #2


Arguably the most important social identity to me is my Indian upbringing and values. I think this is not just the case because I spent my formative years in the country, but also because, as I left India and moved around to many other places, I noticed that I was somewhat losing touch with my Indian roots. Ever since this feeling crept in, I have doubled down on my efforts to retain my Indian sensibilities. Today, I pride myself in still being able to converse fluently in 2 Indian languages and keeping mostly in Indian culture. While I am glad that I was able to expand my view of the world by living in countries that are very different from India, I still find myself thinking about most issues and problems through an Indian mindset and I think that no matter how many more years I spend living outside India, this mindset and my Indian background will never rub off.

I have found that my Indian background has definitely had different interpretations in the different societies I have lived in. I found that during my time in Japan and Taiwan, Indians were held in very high regard. Apart from the stereotypical values of being nerdy and hardworking, Indians were perceived to be very welcoming and family-oriented people. Indian food is a very popular cuisine in East Asia, and the fact that almost any Indian you could find in Taiwan and Japan had taken an effort to learn the local language and culture, gave the impression that Indians really strived to acclimatize and integrate into the local community. However, when I moved to the UAE, I was exposed to a completely different perspective. Since Indians are the biggest represented race in the UAE (even more than the locals), Indians weren’t put on the pedestal as they often were in Taiwan and Japan. My time in the UAE was the first time in a decade that I was surrounded by a culture that I recognized and by people who looked similar to me and already knew about my culture and upbringing.

Given my experiences in countries that are and aren’t very similar to my Indian culture, I have experienced feelings ranging from alienation to feelings of belonging, I heavily empathize with people who aren’t surrounded by people from their culture/country. To this end, I have always strived to initiate discussions with such people and I am hopeful that the Global Fellows Program will enable me to improve on this competency.

Journal Entry #2

One of the main aspects of my social identity that feels especially meaningful to me in my gender.  Being the only girl with two older brothers really exposed me to some of the harsh realities of being a woman in this world.  I used to watch my brothers be able to do things, but when it came time for me to be able to participate it was always different because I am a girl.  I am not blaming this on my parents – they were simply protecting me and teaching me the ways of the world.  However, the world itself and society puts these barriers on women and tells them that they cannot always do all that men do.  If anything, I am grateful that my parents and family taught me how to push past those boundaries and do more than is expected of me.

One of the aspects of my social identity that is not as meaningful to me is my sexual orientation.  As a heterosexual woman, I have never really had a deep awakening in terms of my sexual orientation.  In our society, it is still normalized to be heterosexual, and so I never had any real experience that adds meaning to my sexual orientation.

Different cultures place value on different social identities, so when integrating into a different culture it is important to understand their values and how they might differ from my own.  For example, in Israel, a large part of the country’s social identity rested on religion.  In the United States, being Jewish is definitely part of my identity, but it is not something I think about all the time. It surfaces really only around the holidays, when I am often celebrating something different than my friends.  Otherwise, I really don’t think about it much.  But when I spent the summer in Israel, I was acutely aware of being Jewish all the time.  Their work calendar is based on observing the Sabbath, so every decision I made whether to travel or simply go to the market, reminded me of being Jewish.  Visiting some landmark places, like Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall, felt more meaningful as a Jew.  Israel is the country of my heritage, and I couldn’t help but by feeling more connected to my religion there.

I think recognizing differences is the key step when ensuring that people with different social identities are welcomed and valued.  I believe it is often easier to try and pretend as though we are all the same and as though those differences do not exist, but in reality, acknowledging those differences is much more important to making others feel valued instead of ignoring them.  I think by sharing traditions and participating in differing cultural customs with friends helps show others that even though this is not your tradition or custom, it is worth your time to partake.  I also think asking questions shows a curiosity and a willingness to learn and accept.  Knowledge is power. It is ignorance that can often lead to hatred and suspicion. I think engaging others by participation and questioning is an important step to show acceptance.

Journal Entry #2

For me, one aspect of my social identity that is meaningful to me is my identity as a woman, as generic as that might seem. I spent the most formative years of my childhood in an all-girls school, the school motto of which I can still remember: to be ladies of grace and leaders of the future. That empowering mindset always subconsciously stayed with me, engendering within me qualities of assertiveness and leadership (maybe not the grace part, but we can’t win ’em all). When I switched to an all-gender school, I started to realize that these qualities in a woman were not always encouraged, especially in male-dominated environments. While my somewhat disorienting tenure in a mixed-gender institution did end up dampening my heady spirit somewhat, I’m glad that spark was nursed in me when my brain was the most malleable. Furthermore, I was raised within a matriarchal household, so I was always really aware of and accorded significant respect to the feminine power. I think I am a person who truly embraces her femininity while possessing some traits traditionally thought of as masculine.

An aspect of my social identity that isn’t as meaningful to me is my religious affiliation. I was raised Catholic, and I still identify a lot with that culturally. However, I don’t attend church regularly, besides special occasions, and I don’t do a lot of things like Confession, for example. I still really respect religion, but I just don’t find it plays that big a role in my life.

One aspect of my social identity that takes on more meaning in Western cultural contexts is my ethnicity as a Chinese. To be honest, back home, I don’t really think about my ethnicity because ethnically Chinese people constitute the majority. I am well aware that I am, however, a minority in the United States, which affects a lot of different things in very complicated ways — including how I perceive myself, and how people react to me, things like that, big and small. Sometimes, I feel strange here because I feel an expectation to act or think in a certain way because I belong to a certain ethnicity or race.

I believe that navigating different social identities within intercultural situations is especially layered, because we also have to navigate cross-cultural nuances while simultaneously understanding the implications of different social identities. I think the main axiom we can follow is to treat others how we would like to be treated, which includes respectful and open communication. It is not possible for us to know every single cultural and social nuance, and each person knows their needs best. So it is better to treat everything on a case-to-case basis and find out each person’s individual needs instead of assuming.



Journal Entry #2

Social identity is something I never really thought of and I do appreciate that the social identity wheel activity brought myself to a more profound reflection of my own identity in terms of various aspects.

For me, social-economic status is definitely the one that especially means a lot and I believe for a large number of Duke students. Duke cultivates a very career-focused atmosphere that everyone has been immersed in it. It is like a strong wave of the ocean, you could not resist but follow. On the one hand, I began to think about my future career in the very early stage of my college which is beneficial for my future endeavors. On the other hand, sometimes it could be too much for me. As for now, I feel the pressure of applying for all kinds of internships for the next summer since everyone around me is doing so. It is so important for me that I always overlook my other needs and social identity while pursuing the best for my social-economic status. I gradually realize that the wheel of social identity would be a great analogy as we do need every section of the wheel to make the wheel keep going. Any difference between every part of the wheel would cause an imbalance, which means my attitude toward different social identities should not be significantly varied. And I do believe a day-to-day awareness and reflection on every part of my social identity would be especially helpful for me to grow and learn as a well-rounded person.

That being said, I do treat different social identities completely differently in practice and the influence of different identities changes all the time, especially before and after I came to the US for college. Before, I grew up in China, a highly homogenous country. I never thought about race and ethnicity as everyone around me has a Chinese face. I don’t understand what it means to respect different races. However, studying in the US completely changes my perceptions of race and ethnicity as I somehow become a minority in terms of race and I have to be more understanding and aware of other races’ cultures and norms.

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