A Leadership Program for Duke Students with A Global Mindset

Author: Neil Upreti

Journal Entry #4

I find the following five values to be the most important to me:

  1. Embracing Diversity: My multifaceted experiences, encompassing both my Indian heritage and upbringing in a distinct cultural milieu, have inculcated in me an appreciation for the uniqueness inherent in each individual. This value has been deliberately chosen, as I firmly believe that recognizing and embracing diversity is indispensable for personal growth and the cultivation of harmony within any community.
  2. Respect: I place immense value on demonstrating respect towards others, irrespective of their origins or convictions. This value emanates from my upbringing, which emphasized the importance of treating everyone with kindness and dignity. Respect is inextricably intertwined with the broader values of my Indian culture, which often prioritize the veneration of others, particularly elders.
  3. Collaboration: I cherish collaboration, as it possesses the potential to resolve conflicts and unify individuals in pursuit of superior outcomes. This value may not be explicitly linked to my cultural upbringing; rather, it is a personal predilection that, in my estimation, fosters robust relationships and facilitates success.
  4. Authenticity: Maintaining fidelity to my true self and expressing my individuality holds great significance for me. I have adopted this value as it enables me to explore my passions and identity, even in the face of cultural norms that may dictate otherwise. Although my Indian culture frequently extols conformity, I am of the opinion that embracing authenticity allows me to forge genuine connections with others.
  5. Empathy: I consider empathy invaluable, as it equips me to comprehend the perspectives of others, particularly those from disparate social and cultural backgrounds. My experiences navigating cultural variances have accentuated the importance of empathy in forging connections and bridging divisions.

In diverse cultural contexts, the expression of these values may necessitate adaptation in order to accommodate prevailing norms and expectations. For instance, while residing in the United States, I can openly manifest my authenticity and individuality through my sartorial choices and interests, even when they deviate from traditional Indian expectations. Conversely, when engaging with relatives in India who may be unacquainted with or discomfited by my distinctive expressions of authenticity, I accord precedence to respect and empathy. This modus operandi enables me to harmonize the pursuit of self-expression with the acknowledgment of cultural disparities that pervade both my familial and broader social circles.

While adhering to cultural norms, I concurrently endeavor to initiate meaningful discourse, which can yield an enhanced understanding of my perspective and values. In so doing, I can progressively introduce my relatives to the concepts of authenticity and individual expression, thereby illustrating that these values can coalesce harmoniously with traditional Indian values.

Navigating cultural contexts in which my values are not prioritized can be an arduous undertaking, yet I persist in remaining true to my values while adapting to the particular cultural environment. I aspire to lead by example, showcasing the merits of embracing diversity, collaboration, authenticity, empathy, and respect. In situations where my values may be perceived as incongruous, I concentrate on discovering common ground with those who may not share my values.

For instance, during my collaboration with dentists in rural India, I confronted linguistic and cultural obstacles. In this milieu, I employed empathy and collaboration to connect with my colleagues, notwithstanding our heterogeneous backgrounds. Our collective focus on the shared objective of providing dental care to underserved communities facilitated effective collaboration.

When traversing cultural contexts in which my values are not prioritized, I strive for patience, open-mindedness, and adaptability. I recognize that change and acceptance often necessitate time, and that cultural distinctions can engender a rich mosaic of perspectives and experiences. By remaining steadfast in my values and expressing a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue, I endeavor to foster understanding, inspire others to appreciate my values, and ultimately contribute to the creation of more inclusive and harmonious communities.


Journal Entry #3

With a score of 6%, avoiding was my least frequently used mode of conflict-handling. I believe I avoid (haha pun intended) this technique because it directly contradicts my beliefs and values. When faced with conflict, I find the best approach is to face the problem head on. This is evidenced by one of my most frequently used means of conflict resolution, collaborating. Simply avoiding discussion of conflict is almost never the solution; at least, not a permanent one. If an individual takes actions to avoid discussing conflict, the initial problem is left unaddressed. This indicates the problem will arise again another day and the time spent “avoiding” will allow it to grow worse. Whether the problem at hand is as large as political tensions between warring nations or as small as a disagreement between peers, choosing to disregard conflict simply allows feelings such as anger and frustration to fester. 

However, I do understand that there may be certain situations where avoiding conflict might be the best option. For example, in situations where the stakes are low and the outcome of the conflict is inconsequential, avoiding the conflict may allow all parties to maintain relationships and prevent any damage that may occur as a result of a heated debate. Additionally, avoiding conflict may also be a useful technique in intercultural settings, particularly in cultures where direct confrontation, especially with elders, is viewed as impolite or disrespectful. In these cases, avoiding the conflict might help to preserve cultural norms and relationships, even if it means temporarily sidestepping the issue. Nevertheless, I believe that overall, the benefits of avoiding conflict are limited and that it should only be used in specific and carefully considered circumstances. 

In contrast, employing collaboration can solve almost any problem and uplift the individuals involved to places they would have never been able to reach alone. For this reason, collaboration is a mode of conflict resolution that I use much more frequently and feel much more comfortable with. It ensures all parties involved in the conflict come together to find a mutually beneficial solution. By working together and actively listening to each other’s perspectives, individuals are able to identify and address the root causes of the conflict and find creative solutions that work for everyone. The act of collaborating can also help to build stronger relationships between individuals and foster a sense of mutual respect and understanding. Furthermore, by combining the strengths and ideas of each person involved, the result of collaboration can often be greater than what any single person could have accomplished alone. For these reasons, I believe that collaboration is a powerful tool for solving almost any problem and has the potential to uplift individuals to new heights.

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. 

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.

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