A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Author: Faith Chong

Journal Entry #4

I’ve come up with a list of five values that I believe define me: Respect, Integrity, Responsibility, Empathy, and Kindness.

Respect is something I hold in high regard. It’s crucial for building positive relationships and creating a sense of community. While respect is a common value in Singaporean culture, I do sometimes feel like it can be taken too far and limit individuality and creativity.

Integrity is a must-have for me. Trust is built on integrity, and having a good reputation is so important. However, in Singapore, the pressure to conform to societal expectations can sometimes override the importance of personal integrity.

Responsibility is a value that I cherish. It’s important for each of us to take responsibility for our actions and make a meaningful contribution to society. However, in Singapore, the emphasis on success and achievement can sometimes result in neglecting individual happiness and well-being.

Empathy is a value that I believe is essential for a fulfilling life. It allows us to connect with and understand others on a deeper level. Unfortunately, in Singapore, the focus on success and achievement can sometimes lead to a lack of empathy and a disregard for the feelings of others.

Finally, there’s Kindness. I believe that by being kind and compassionate, we can make a positive impact on the world. This value aligns with the importance of hospitality and generosity in many Asian cultures, including Singapore.

In different cultural contexts, I may express these values differently, but they remain at the core of who I am and guide my actions and decisions. I believe that by staying true to my personal values, I can navigate even the toughest cultural environments and continue to live a life guided by my principles.

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 #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. 

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