Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Wonders of Paradigm Pliancy

Dear Blog:

Oh what a time it has been here in Malaysia! I feel like the last seven weeks have flown by in a blur. Our seminar is now over and I am back at my internship at the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute, and I believe that I have finally collected my thoughts well enough to blog.

I think a few of my classmates have used this space to describe the best and most exciting parts of our time together, so I am going to talk a little bit about a concept that Datuk Nick Zefferys, President of the American-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, touched on when we went to visit the AMCHAM offices. Mr. Zefferys thoroughly covered the economic and political development of Southeast Asia and Malaysia, but he made one truly enlightening point about the wonders of spending time abroad. Mr. Zefferys took a little time to explain to us his belief in the concept of "paradigm pliancy."

For Mr. Zefferys, paradigm pliancy is the ability to constantly shift one's outlook on the world in a way that promotes a better understanding and acceptance of different cultures and ways of life. Spending time abroad, in a part of the world far from home and outside of your own comfort zone, is the best way to become paradigm pliant because it forces you to refocus your worldview. I learned a great deal during the academic seminar and my internship has provided me invaluable experience, but the most important lesson in studying abroad is always how it teaches you to look at the world through different lenses. This is my third study abroad trip during my undergraduate and graduate studies. I can say that each time I travel someplace new, I am amazed at how much I open myself up to different ways of life and unique experiences. I believe that my time in Malaysia has only broadened the number of lenses through which I will view the world, and I will leave here better suited to take on the challenges of both school and work.

Of course, paradigm pliancy is more than just trying new foods and living life differently than you would at home. Paradigm pliancy is understanding that there are ways of life different from your own. Dropping yourself into a faraway place without any concept of how life will be is a terrific way to better appreciate that that world is full of marvelously different people. Building an understanding of new cultures and altering your own paradigms to accommodate the local customs may be a sometimes daunting and challenging task, but the experience is invaluable, as it teaches you to better appreciate the wonderful differences between people. Subsequently, I believe that the most tragic mistake someone can make is to travel abroad and only engage the people and culture in a way that hardens that person's preconceived paradigms. The marvels of study abroad are found in the everyday experiences and interactions with the local people because it is through those interactions that someone truly becomes paradigm pliant.

At the same time, study abroad programs like this one in Malaysia also expose you to the different perspectives of your fellow travelers. Our group was geographically representative of the United States. We came together from all over the country: Seattle, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia, Miami, Detroit, and Denver. During the trip, the sharing of our life experiences in different parts of the United States helped broaden the paradigm pliancy of each of us. I am very grateful to have spent my time in Malaysia with such a diverse group of people that taught me so much about my home country while being so far from home. For those of you who were here with me in Malaysia: thank you for being a fantastic group!

Ultimately, paradigm pliancy is about having an open mind. While spending long periods of time abroad is perhaps the best way to become paradigm pliant, I believe that we should all strive to work on our paradigm pliancy when we are both at home and abroad. My time here with both the Malaysians and my peers has taught me how to appreciate the differences between people and how to find the common threads that we all share. In turn, the wonders of becoming paradigm pliant are in the shaping of one's ability to connect with people after identifying the commonalities and appreciating the beauty of the differences. I am thankful that my time in Malaysia on this trip has only made me more paradigm pliant and I hope that those reading this post may take Mr. Zeffery's idea of paradigm pliancy with them as a guide to keeping an open mind to new experiences both at home and abroad.

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