Reflective Essay about a Time You Were Embarrassed

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Throughout the duration of my stay in Australia, I learned many valuable lessons about myself and others that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I encountered many unique individuals that truly changed the way I view the world. Despite a few negative encounters, the majority of my experiences abroad were positive. In this paper though, I will be taking the time to reflect upon an unexpected negative intercultural experience I had with a UTS student. I will briefly describe the situation and the lingering effects it had on me. I will critically analyze the encounter using the culture-person-situation model. Referencing this model will help me further my understanding of the incident by looking at the situation from multiple angles. This model will help me formulate questions that can be answered through thorough reflection.

During one of my classes at Uni, I began talking to a girl from Sydney. She heard my American accent and literally said, “Oh yes, an American! I have so many questions to ask you.” She proceeded to go into full question mode, without even asking me what my name was. She asked several questions pertaining to America, mostly about what college life is like. “Is it just like the movies?” she asked me. I then explained to her my experiences and she told me a few stories she had heard from friends who traveled abroad to the States. She asked me if I was in a sorority and I told her yes. Her eyes got wide and I could just tell her mind was overcome with Greek life stereotypes. Stereotypes are judgments we make about certain characteristics of others due to their group membership (Jackson 2014). Stereotyping comes from a place of ethnocentrism and more times than not is negative. I could not believe the next words out of her mouth. She asked me if I knew of any “rapey guys.” She followed up with, “It’s kind of known that in America, sororities hang out with fraternities, and fraternities rape girls.” I have never felt so uncomfortable in my whole life. I could not believe she said those words and was so quick to discuss such a sensitive topic with a stranger. I was so in shock that I couldn’t even answer. I froze up. At that moment, I felt embarrassed. I was embarrassed to be affiliated with Greek life. I was embarrassed to be from America. A guy sitting at our table overheard us and chimed in. He mentioned how a few years ago a news story came out about several Uni guys sexually assaulting girls at the University of Sydney. The girl then responded, “In Sydney, Uni doesn’t have your typical college party scene like it does in the States. To make up for that, those guys must’ve raped girls to ‘mimic American culture.’” This conversation reminded me just how hurtful stereotypes and cultural ignorance can be.

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Intercultural conflict may materialize as ‘[o]ur cultural ignorance or ineptness oftentimes clutters our ability to communicate appropriately, effectively, and adaptively across cultural and linguistic lines’ (Jackson 2014). My initial reaction to the statements was to judge her for her assumptions, believing she was a bad person for not only thinking these things but actually saying them– that’s what really got to me. I thought she was incredibly insensitive. After the class, I returned to my apartment and discussed the incident with my roommate. This discussion sparked a more in-depth analysis of the conversation. I found myself looking at the situation from another perspective. Hers.

The personal background of this individual could have had an impact on the way she interacted with me and the way she talked about such a sensitive topic so lightly. I have loved ones close to me that have been personally affected by sexual assault. This is an incredibly sensitive topic and the personal connection I have to it has made me more aware of the way I engage in conversation pertaining to it. Her failure to speak on this sensitive topic with compassion made me realize how much what you say and how say it truly matters. Where our conversation took place could have had a lot to do with the situation. We were in a UTS classroom. The same classroom we had been going to weekly for about three months. Although we had never spoken prior, our familiarity with this shared space and the fact that we were similar in age could have made her feel comfortable enough to engage in this conversation with me. The personality of the girl was 'large and in charge’ and she was extremely outspoken. I am a shy person who is not likely to spark a conversation with a stranger, especially one of such controversy.

Despite never living in or even visiting America, the girl I spoke with had plenty to say about the culture. As I was going over the conversation in my head, I asked myself what would make her think these things. I immediately began to think about how American culture is portrayed in films all over the world. Her awful assumptions are based off of stereotypical college party scenes in movies and TV shows where fraternities are portrayed in a very bad light. Although the tragedy of sexual assault exists, it is unfair and unjust to label all men affiliated with fraternities as rapists and to associate rape with American culture. Unfortunately, for the remainder of my time in Australia, I was ashamed of my affiliation with Greek life and hid this part of my cultural identity from anyone who asked. Stereotypes and assumptions are so harmful and can really affect the way people communicate. I know now that instead of hiding this part of my cultural identity, I should have embraced it and put a stop to the spread of these harmful assumptions. This would have improved our intercultural communication and improved any future encounters for the both of us.

This conversation is something I have thought about several times since it occurred. I found it to be meaningful enough to write about because it was something that really stuck with me and truly made me think. It allowed me to put myself in the position of someone else and see the world through their lens. I believe I am now a better intercultural communicator because of it. At the time of the incident, I didn’t have the courage to speak up against these assumptions and stereotypes. I now know how impactful words can be. Shedding light on this topic could have positively developed intercultural awareness for both of us. I have always been a very non-confrontational person. My conflict style regarding this incident was very ineffective. It was ineffective because I sat in silence. I said nothing and did nothing to put a stop to negative stereotyping and it had a really negative effect on me and future intercultural interactions for the both of us. After reflecting on this incident, I have discovered the negative effects of being a nonconfrontation person. Sometimes, no matter how badly you don’t want to have a confrontation, it is necessary. It is necessary if it will facilitate a positive change. In life, more specifically in the professional field, I will be working with people from different cultural backgrounds. In the workplace, employees can harbor negative attitudes towards people who differ from them in terms of religion, age, language, gender, or other variables. This can lead to a lack of tolerance, bias, and unfairness (Jackson 2014). Prejudices and stereotyping are just a few of the challenges that come along with diversity in the workplace. In situations where these things occur, it is important to be able to stand up for yourself but more importantly others. I often think about the other person sitting at the table who chimed in, breathing life into the conversation as I sat there in awkward, anxious silence. I wonder how different the outcome would have been if he had said something to put a stop to the negative stereotyping rather than continue it (something I should have done). Thinking about this person’s role in the conversation, although seemingly insignificant at the time, ended up being very crucial to the outcome of the situation. It further exemplified to me that everything you (and don’t say) matters. Because of this incident, I know how hard it is to speak up for yourself in uncomfortable situations, especially when you are the target. Part of me wished the third party in the conversation would have told the girl how insensitive she was being or simply change the subject. For any and all future encounters where this negativity is present, whether it be targeted at me, a family member, a stranger, or a coworker, I will have the courage to speak up and do right by myself and others.


  1. Jackson, Jane. Introducing Language and Intercultural Communication, Routledge, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central,
  2. Reflection and analysis of critical incidents. Culture-Person-Situation Model
  3. (Worksheet you handed out in class) Adapted from “Vielfalt erkunden – ein Konzept fur interkulturelles Training an Hochschulen,” 2010, by E. Bosse, in G. Hiller & S. Vogler-Lipp (Eds.), Schlusselqualilikation Interkulturelle Kompetenz an Hochshulen: Grundlagen, Konzepte, Methoden, pp. 109-133), Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Research.
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