Over the River and Through the Culture

Today in Dublin we got a very special history lesson on Irish culture from Dr. Darren Kelly. Yet, what I learned was not just about Ireland and Dublin, but about gaining perspective of the world in general, which was a truly valuable lesson. Coming from an International Baccalaureate high school, I found what he had to say very meaningful, as I was always taught to have an open mind and think about what we were learning from multiple different viewpoints.

His lecture started off with an activity that actually really surprised me in what we discovered. When asked to illustrate what a classroom of 12 students looks like in 10 seconds, we each had a drawing of lined desks with the teacher at the front of the room. Then, when asked to illustrate a boardroom, everyone pictured a dark mahogany round table with leather chairs all around. Despite all coming from different schools and experiences, we all had a common understanding of what is uniform in the United States. Personally, even though my high school was set up in a more collaborative way, I still was inclined to draw the typical custom of a high school in the short amount of time. This activity symbolizes just how narrow-minded our perspectives really can be. Going to college, where uniformity is even more so, it becomes crucial to get involved in other activities and clubs that branch your mindset, especially for future employers to see individualism in a career setting. This idea of divergent thinking creates a capacity for creativity to initiate breaking the norms and inspiring innovation.

While culture can be a complex word, we talked about it being a spatial concept derived from intuitive and untaught behavior. This led to a comparative study of Americans to the Irish, specifically in the workplace. As Americans, myself included, we tend to have a type-A personality that desires organization and productivity. Time is money and staying busy will lead to results and success. On the other hand, in Ireland, people are especially sensitive to rudeness and desire relationships. This means that often the workday begins with a cup of coffee and conversation among coworkers. Therefore, there can be ambiguity in the atmosphere because there is an assumption that there is a high context understanding. This concept requires cultural intelligence, or CQ, when immersed in such a different environment from the custom in the US. Through cognitive dissonance, however, Americans could try and reorient the culture to suit their own needs, instead of adapting. Knowing this, I find it even more important to gain CQ before entering any company, no matter the location, in order to truly understand how to be successful, even if it means becoming an “actor” of sorts that can adapt to whatever situation.

One way to increase CQ is to avoid stereotypes. For example, before coming to Ireland, many of us had preconceived notions of how they would act and the country would appear, many of which included adjectives such as “drunk” and “green.” Yet, this monoculture, rural, “behind the times” reputation is just what England has portrayed to us, according to Dr. Kelly. In fact, we soon realized that the people here are friendly and the city is gentrifying quickly. Their renewable source of energy comes from their rich culture, as seen through the great amount of tourism.

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What I didn’t realize until today was just how young Ireland as a country really is due to such a long history of English rule. Walking through the streets, you can see the old buildings and homes that represent the hard past, but looking right behind and above them, you are struck by tall, modern buildings that are a few years old at most. In the Docklands, “the Silicon Valley of Ireland,” the city is constructing a hub for tech companies and innovation, ironically making the historical homes extremely expensive and appear out of place. Honestly, walking through the center of the area, there was a depressing connotation as the history seems to be shadowed by such gentrification. Compared to our tour guide yesterday, we saw a different perspective of the city, that sheds almost a negative view on such rapid industrialization. 

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Luckily, we also had the opportunity to visit Google Docks, the headquarters here in Dublin, to compare to our Pittsburgh experience. Immediately after entering the building we expected it to be much different, as the structure takes a more modern design. This “campus” also focuses on the business end of the company, which was interesting to us considering our majors. I got a sense that this was a more collaborative environment due to the nature of the work, but also the culture of Ireland, despite the majority of the workers being foreign. I think they really appreciate differing perspectives, which is why so many types of people are hired and interns are represented. While we didn’t get a chance to tour the rest of the building, I could really see how much our guide enjoyed working for Google, as his advice was to just do what you are passionate about and enjoy in life.

The girls and I ended our day with a trip through the Temple Bar area, where I finally got fish and chips! They were delicious by the way. Then we went shopping for a bit before enjoying some gelato (also very delicious). All in all, I learned so much today that really opened my eyes to how different and yet similar people can view the world, that really inspires me to think outside the box and explore.

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