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My experience as part of RGLP! (And how it taught me new dinner manners)
Ahhh college – the period in all of our lives where we survive on ramen, supposedly learn to stop procrastinating, make new awesome friends, and… hold business negotiations with people from a fictional country while acting according to a description of your own fictional culture on a sheet? Wait, something doesn't sound quite right there. But this and similar activities are indeed how I spent my first – and every – Monday of this term! This summer I decided to apply to RGLP (the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program), which is a program that intends to widen our worldview and deepen our ability to adapt to, respect, and understand people from different cultures or even personalities than our own.
What I described earlier was the main activity of my first session with RGLP – a session that focused on the assumptions we make about people based upon brief interactions we have with them. The activity (and others that we partook in) was intended to show us that though frustrating sometimes, our differences aren't usually explained by what we might assume. We went into the negotiations with only a sheet of paper telling us two things: how to act, and what we wanted to get as a result of the talks. The other team had the same thing, but we couldn't see what was on their sheets, and it was designed so that their methods would be opposed to ours (and likely would lead to clashes). Going into it, my team was meant to be stiff and hierarchical in manner and spoke directly and quantitatively. The other team, by contrast, had a deep focus on semantics and wanted to know more about the qualitative aspects not only of our product but of our own lives – whether we had siblings or a child, etc. This was extremely frustrating as we felt as though they were less serious, or simply less apt when in reality, it was labeled as part of their culture that it was polite to get to know someone before entering into business dealings with them. This is a very intentional difference, but not an unlikely one.
The second week's activity (and the subject of the title), however, was incredible. We begin every session with dinner from a restaurant in town (all free!), yet this time we were instructed not to begin eating. Eventually, each of us was handed a card and instructed to follow what it said. Next thing you know, you have people eating with their hands, asking for my date of birth, offering profusely to pass you things, or if they could serve you your food! This may all seem a little chaotic, and it was, but on each of our cards was a description of a particular country's eating etiquette, and we had to follow it to a tee while we ate. I suddenly found myself with the Vietnamese card, and so I had to offer to pass items, and wait for others who were older than me to eat before I could start. I also had to pass things with two hands, and keep my elbows and hands off the table at all times – flashback to growing up with parents who love table manners way too much! Just kidding, all love to my parents.
Through just these two sessions, I have been taught so much. I've honestly been surprised, because in a program where I thought I was going to learn all about other cultures, what I'm finding is that I'm actually learning more about myself. Okay yeah, that sounds very self-obsessed, but it's true! I'm learning that I am very capable of developing an opinion on someone without all of the facts and that I need to think more about social contexts when I do so. I'm learning that I have my own cultural identity which is important to both myself and those I share it with and that I can learn something from everyone else's identities. I'm also learning that there are a surprising number of similarities (and of course differences) between my culture and others. Oh, and did I mention? We get to go on a FREE trip to Montreal 8 weeks into the term. Yeah, that's right, it's cool.
Anyway, I recommend that when you are in as bountiful a place as Dartmouth, you take advantage of it! It is so easy at college to just do your homework and slip by, but it's a unique time that you have to have these amazing opportunities while they're being thrown at you (and paid for!) Dartmouth has tonnes of programs like this, and I intend to do them in the future – so watch this space for more blogs of this type. In the meantime, go speak to someone you have never met before. Have a negotiation with your parents while completely changing your mannerisms, and go google a different culture's dinner etiquette and practice it at the table! Your parents will love it I'm sure
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