Rockefeller Global Leadership Program focuses on identity

by Sungil Ahn | 2/2/17 2:25am

When Nathan Busam ’17 went to Poland as part of his economics study abroad program, he did not expect people to tell him their life story when he asked them, “How are you?”

These types of cultural differences are what the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program helps students navigate. Hosted by the Rockefeller Center every fall, winter and spring term, the program aims to develop cross-cultural competencies that are needed for people to become leaders despite such differences.

“Being able to communicate with people of different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs is key in interacting with the globalized world,” said Vincent Mack, a program officer for RGLP.

For many, the program’s focus on being a global leader drew them in. When Busam first took the Intercultural Development Inventory, an assessment that measures cultural competency at the beginning of RGLP, he realized that he was less competent in handling exchanges with people from different cultures than he thought he was.

Billy Kosmidis ’19 said he was drawn to the program due to its focus on how to be a leader in a global atmosphere.

“I think it’s one of the most important skills to be a leader in a room where people around you might come from totally different cultural backgrounds,” he said.

Mack said the program also focuses on understanding others by understanding the participants’ own identities. Thus, for many, the program was a way of finding their identity.

Thuyen Tran ’19 said she wanted to learn more about who she was culturally.

“I was born in Vietnam, and I came here when I was 10,” she said. “I was very confused about [my cultural identity], and one of my goals about the program was to learn who I am.”

Abena Frempong ’17 said that the program sought to help students discover and shape their own identities.

The program involves a term of weekly meetings, during which participants engage in open discussions. In addition, each week, a different speaker presents new ideas or challenges predefined notions.

“It was one of the few places where I could explore identity in a relaxed, semi-scholarly setting,” Frempong said.

Among other intellectual benefits, the discussions cover strategies to be more aware of cultural differences, to adapt to scenarios where participants are faced with those differences and to communicate clearly in a safe manner without offending others.

In one session, a speaker addressed how the increase in globalization and immigration have broken down cultural barriers and reduced “us versus them” mentalities.

“It challenged how you identify with one place or country,” Kosmidis said. “It made me look at culture not as just international boundaries.”

Tran said the discussions taught her not to shy away from discussing cultural differences that may be uncomfortable. In addition to the discussions, the participants visit a culturally diverse area as a culminating experience at the end of each term. Part of being a global leader by nature involves interacting with difference and understanding cultural context, Mack said. Accordingly, the culminating experiences encourage participants to use the lessons learned during the discussions and adapt to the situation.

Past activities have included participating in a scavenger hunt, visiting different ethnic neighborhoods and observing and interacting with locals.

For Busam, his culminating experience involved helping the homeless of New York City, New York and learning about socioeconomic differences. Kosmidis interacted with deaf students during his visit to Montreal, Canada.

“It was really surprising because when we think about cultural backgrounds, we think about nationality, ethnicity and different languages, and I never realized we’re part of the hearing culture,” Kosmidis said.

In addition to the culminating trip, at the end of the program, students talk with refugees from around the world that the program invites on campus that have been recently resettled in New Hampshire, Mack said.

Although the College is already committed to cultural diversity, Busam said the program gave him a formal framework for analyzing and thinking about interacting with people from diverse cultures.

Kosmidis said his experiences with the program helped him as a leader, as he is more conscious of his and others’ cultural backgrounds and is more comfortable with being different from others.

“I think, even Dartmouth is its own bubble, and once we leave the bubble, people around you come from even more different places, especially if you’re working in the city or a big company,” he said.

For Tran, the program helped her find her identity, allowing her to fully embrace all parts of her cultural backgrounds.

“There is no part of me that’s half-half,” she said.

The program has 25 spots and usually receives 60 to 90 applications per cohort.

Mack said RGLP derives a lot of its effectiveness from the diversity of the cohort. The diversity allows them to understand the complexities of their identities and how they shape the way they interact with the world, he added.

The program chooses students from various class years, nationalities, gender and academic interests. Frempong noted that the program had a “melting pot of students.”

“This way, we hope to have students even within the ‘Dartmouth bubble’ to look around at the diversity that’s right here,” Mack added.

The applications for spring term’s program are due Feb. 24.