Matelot: Caribbean Collaboration

I’m Austin Hicks-Frank, and I am a supply chain management and finance major. I am a sophomore in the Certificate Program for Leadership and Ethics, and am traveling to Matelot, Trinidad for our Global Service Learning Project.

Until coming to the University of Pittsburgh to study business, I lived my entire life in the Poconos in Eastern Pennsylvania. I have been snowboarding and skiing since my earliest memories. With an inclination towards adventurous activities, I have always loved traveling and finding new experiences. I am an only child with two dogs, a yellow lab and a uniquely unidentifiable mutt from Hurricane Katrina.

Through my teenage years, I thought that being a criminal defense attorney would suit me perfectly. It was a seemingly fitting career, due to my analytical mind and passion for making people see things in alternative ways. After seeing the ins-and-outs of court proceedings, I learned that the profession is a bit too slow-paced for me. Business started to become a much more appealing area to me. My initial engagement in business was with a landscaping company which my friend and I ran during the summer, mowing lawns for clients on a recurring basis. With my interest sparked, I decided to pursue a business degree at Pitt, where I’ve started another small business. I feel right at home in this city of fast-paced progress and innovation.

Upon hearing of the opportunity to participate in the International Project in Trinidad, I jumped on board. As I’ve experienced in the other CPLE courses, this group of students is exceptionally engaged with their work, going the extra mile in each project; it is exactly the type of crowd I want to surround myself with in as much of my curriculum as possible. Additionally, I was drawn to it because of the unique chance to travel to a place where tourism is uncommon and carry out a meaningful task. With my only other international experience being a trip to Spain and France, I have never been anywhere that is an extreme contrast to the US. This experience will be a big step out of my comfort zone. As we discussed in Global Service Learning, a project like this increases intercultural competence, providing another perspective on things; Through an intercultural service learning experience, “students experience perspective transformation (De Leon, 22).” By engaging with people from a dissimilar culture and collaborating on work unique to their needs, I hope to gain new strategies for working with different people and tackling different problems. It will also increase my empathy for people with opposing perspectives to my own, helping me work more effectively with them. According to De Leon’s “Developing Intercultural Competence,” students who have an experience like this tend to gain strategic ability. This benefit would help me in an innovative sense, helping me to come up with creative solutions and ways of going about projects and business ventures. Being an active participant in an intercultural service learning project will have a lot of personal benefits, including increased empathy and a more adaptive perspective going forward.

As well as some personal benefits, I hope to come out of this international project having benefitted academically and professionally. Through this experience, I anticipate that I will gain useful intercultural skills that cannot be learned in the classroom. It is shown that students who participate in a service learning course have statistically higher GPAs later in their college careers (Lockeman & Pelco 26). I think this is because when a student gets to apply their classroom knowledge to real life scenarios, they see the value of that knowledge and are more driven to be engaged in their studies thereafter. Often times, I have difficulty understanding how some of the concepts I learn in class will be applicable to my professional development. Hopefully, in this course, I will be able to put the project management skills that I learned in other courses, like Business Communications, to use. By having this opportunity to practice these skills, I believe that my perspective on academics will become more optimistic, helping me see a greater value in classroom-based learning than before.

On this project, the CPLE students will be working with Amizade and the DORCAS Women’s Group to develop the first steps for ecotourism in the city of Matelot. This work has been started by a predecessor last year, and will be continued for years to come. Last year’s CPLE group assessed the feasibility of the development of ecotourism in Matelot; they defined ecotourism as a form of tourism that lets the visitor experience the natural environment of the host location. They pointed out that this specific type of tourism takes little initial investment and can take advantage of the natural environment of the area, making it a cost effective starting point for a new industry. Additionally, they found that lodging and infrastructure have a long way to go before Matelot is ready to host tourist groups. They concluded that Matelot has a lot of potential to become a hub for ecotourism; being right on the coast in an already popular region for vacationing, it shares many attributes with other Caribbean islands that are extremely successful in the industry. It also has some unique qualities that set it apart. Despite its potential, the group determined that there is a lot of ground work to be done to prepare the island for this venture.

To pick up where our predecessors left off, we will begin developing steps for the town to start preparing for ecotourism, and then make detailed recommendations. In particular, we will be focusing on activities for visitors to engage in, customer service training for the hosts, and an analysis of social media platforms that could be useful for the venture. It will be challenging to find practical yet effective solutions for these obstacles, but we hope to help clear up the vision of how it will all be executed.

I’m extremely excited for this project in Trinidad- it will be a brand new experience, and in many aspects, I have no idea what to expect. It’s going to be incredible regardless!