A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Author: Annie Cui

Values in Cultures

List 5 values that are most important to you. Why did you choose these values? Do these personal values align with or diverge from broader values of your culture? Do you express these values differently in different cultural contexts? How might you navigate/experience cultural contexts in which these values are not prioritized?

My top 5 values are: health, family, humility, purpose and peace. I really value health and family because they are integral to a good life — without health, you cannot live; without family and friends, you live a lonely life. I thus perceive the two values as my top priority, but I do often compromise my sleep, which underpins health, at the expense of trying to pursue a better “performance,” prioritising homework and extracurriculars above my personal wellbeing. I am committed to focus more on my health next year by trying to get 9 hours of sleep everyday and focusing more on self-care.

Humility, purpose, and peace are integral components of my personality. I think these values align with some sub-groups of the population but not others. Humility seems to be more emphasised among the Asian population, while purpose seems to be more of a popular theme among college students. I do feel that I prioritize humility more in the classroom and in an Asian-community contexts. Nevertheless, I feel that my values stay quite similar across different cultural settings, but I do receive very different reactions to my value presentation based on the different contexts. For example, in the US, people would often say that “you do not need to thank another person or pay apologies so much,” whereas such courtesy may be seen as the norm in a more Asian context. I navigate these situations by first trying to understand the cultural norm in the setting and then adapt to the norm but still preserving some of my personal “takes.” Nevertheless, I do think that the positive values are universally seen as important, so having a higher rank versus a lower rank does not matter as much as I previously thought it would be.

TKI-Conflict Profile Journal Entry

Pick one of the conflict-handling modes from your TKI-conflict profile (Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Avoiding, Accommodating) that you use infrequently. Why don’t you use this mode as frequently as others? Do you think that you underutilize this mode? Are there situations in which this mode might be useful to you and/or others? How might you use this mode in intercultural settings?

I have rarely used the Avoiding mode, but after looking in-depth into the pros and cons of each mode of conflict resolution, I realised that there are many merits to using the mode, especially in terms of using the modes that I have hardly used before.

In the case of the avoiding mode, it can take the form of “diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing an issue until a better time, or simply withdrawing from a threatening situation.” I have not been using this mode much because I have often been quite an assertive person, always directly speaking my thought rather than circumventing a conversation. However, I realised that this mode would be very helpful in situations where the opposite side is very threatening or dedicated to upholding their opinions. Rather than directly confronting the other side, avoiding would help us maintain peace and also build social capital that we can use in later stages to articulate our priorities and concerns.

In an intercultural setting, the avoiding mode would be particularly helpful in cases of significant disparities between the two parties. For example, avoiding to talk about sensitive topics for particular cultural groups would ensure that nobody is hurt, while other conflict resolution styles would unavoidably touch upon the soft spots. Avoiding is also helpful when there is a lot of tension in the room, which often happens in cross-cultural negotiations. It can reduce tensions to a productive level and allow us to reconsider the problem at hand with composure.

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 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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