I think leadership is often a very generalized and stereotyped concept. Strong leaders are often associated with being confident, vocal, extroverted, and audacious. I think that while many leaders possess these qualities, many equally important leaders have qualities often underrated. Because these assumptions of what leadership should and shouldn’t look like are instilled in us growing up, I have many times considered leadership to be something I struggle with. We are told from young ages, throughout childhood schooling, that one must be vocal, outgoing, ‘a go-getter’ in order to lead society effectively towards collective goals and desires. At a young age, I remember this tended to push me even further inward.
In my early high school years, I was introduced to two powerful talks, which perhaps aren’t directly connected to leadership skills, but certainly related. One is a talk by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “Changing Education Paradigms.” His animated talk highlighted an outdated production line mentality of public education, initially “modeled on the interests of industrialization.” He stressed that our education system is far too focused on standardization and conformity rather than “waking students up to what is inside of themselves.” His critique was brilliant. Analyzing education in this light was provoking and it resonated with me. After all, this was the system that educated and processed me. I guess this is why some people say that ignorance is bliss. But, awareness, even if disappointing, is something I cannot disregard. I think in relation to my internship experience at evenson thus far, I feel that collaboration is much more emphasized. Not necessarily in a purely group-thought mentality, but in the sense that each voice and opinion is sought after and valued. As a newcomer to this company, I feel this has made me feel more confident and welcomed than perhaps experiences I’ve had back at home.
The other is a ted talk by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She brilliantly argues that modern Western culture misunderstands and undervalues the capabilities of introverted people. In her book, she presents a history of how Western culture transformed from a culture of character to a culture of personality, in which an “extrovert ideal” is dominant and introversion is often viewed as inferior. She really shows that introversion is both common and normal, noting that many of humankind’s most creative individuals and distinguished leaders were in fact introverts. She urges changes at the workplace, in schools, and in parenting, offering advice to introverts for functioning in an extrovert-dominated culture.
I take pride in the variety and richness of my extracurricular activities designed to explore my interests and aptitudes—particularly with respect to study abroad. Whether it is represented in the grit or self-sufficiency required to study abroad, the courage to think independently, or the practicing of empathy with others through service or friendship, these are important elements of personal leadership that I expect to build upon in my remaining time here in Berlin as well as back at Pitt college experience.
Every time I have had the wonderful opportunity to live in a foreign country, I have so greatly grown and matured in quick amounts of time. By pursuing the International Internship Program in Berlin, I have had the pleasure of completing a full-time internship, gaining career experience, and further developing my set of professional skills. I find it such a unique and paramount opportunity to have the chance to go abroad, and actually live and work in a place that might develop into another home. Because I reflect very deeply and analyze nearly everything that I take in, I believe my introspection has made me a better student and worker, as I have the important ability to transform mistakes and flaws into improvement.
I think leaving the known and the familiar will always present challenges. Delving into the uncertain can be intimidating, but I believe that one’s character can be measured by choosing to throw oneself into uncertain and uncomfortable situations. And I think we often grow the most when pushed beyond our comfort zones. Traveling anywhere is a form of entering the unfamiliar. Because this is not only study abroad, but interning and working abroad, I think it has certainly challenged me to acquire a new level of self-dependency. But, I have adapted and learned how to connect with new and unfamiliar environments. After all, awareness and exposure are key proponents of growth, both in an academic/professional sense, as well as observing one’s surroundings. This has inherently strengthened my leadership ability and personal self-confidence.