Challenges & Opportunities for Growth in Trinidad

Brief Project Introduction

Before I jump into the main aspects of this blog post, I just wanted to give some context about the project our team will be working on through our Global Service Learning class. The service project that my group has been tasked with is in conjunction with a local Pittsburgh organization, Amizade, who are a fair-trade learning organization and leaders in responsible global service learning. Amizade have partnered with a plethora of organizations around the globe, one of which being DORCAS Women’s Group in Matelot, Trinidad. Over this spring break our group will be heading to Matelot, Trinidad, working with Amizade and DORCAS Women’s Group, to help in the initial steps of readying the Matelot community for ecotourism.

Impact of Cultural Norms

When conducting business in a foreign country, it is imperative to anticipate and prepare for any possible challenges you may face. When working on our plan for socially responsible ecotourism in Matelot, Trinidad, I expect to encounter some distinct challenges based on the cultural norms of the country.

Family in Business

One cultural norm in Trinidad that I anticipate being a challenge during this trip is how it is commonplace to often bring up family and friends in business operations. The United States has an aspect of this, but it is clear in the United States, in most work environments, that the conversations are almost always focused on work.

In the United States, our society is very transaction oriented. Everyone wants to get what they need, and move on in the shortest amount of time, with optimum efficiency. This is certainly not the case in many nations around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago. In Trinidad it is common to often ask personal questions, often relating to their family or friends, a concept which in America is slightly foreign, especially if you do not know the individual that well. For example, the people of Trinidad may often ask, “What do you do?” Unlike in America, where this often means occupation and employer, they do not particularly care about that, and want to more personally know about your family and life outside of the job.

This cultural norm will have a massive effect on both myself, and our entire team traveling to Matelot, as almost all of the information we are collecting will be gained through personal conversations will individuals throughout the community. I will need to adapt to this different style of business communications, and quickly, as without effective communication with the local community, we may not be able to gather the plethora of information necessary to further advance this project. If our group is unable to properly adjust our communication style to that of those in the community, we may not be able to gather crucial information about the community, and relationships amongst those in the community, that could become vital in our groups plans for sustainable ecotourism in the Matelot community.

Concept of Time in Trinidad

The second cultural norm of Trinidad that I anticipate being a challenge when conducting business, will be the laidback nature and pace of business in Trinidad. Similar to many other Caribbean nations, Trinidad and Tobago have a much more relaxed view on time, especially when compared to the United States. For any sort of business meeting, it is not uncommon to show up late, or to run over the allotted time, something that is often frowned upon in the United States.

This relaxed attitude towards time relates back to the nation’s focus on the present. Trinidadians believe that what they are currently working on or negotiating towards is important in the moment, and there is not point to look ahead or focus on a future topic when the present is here and now. This can often mean that schedules and itineraries are not strictly followed by the times listed but are still done in the sequential order listed at a slower pace.

This cultural norm, I believe, will have quite a large effect on our time in Trinidad. As our group will receive an itinerary, specifically when in Matelot, it is imperative that we do not focus on the times, but rather the groups of interactions, and make the most out of the “present,” focusing on who we are talking to at that moment, not where the itinerary says that we should be. This will really test my flexibility, to see if I am able to roll with the conversations and truly focus on the task currently in front of me, and not those further down the itinerary in the coming hours.

If our group would not be able to make this adjustment to the more relaxed view on time, we could be seen as rushing through the interactions, coming off less personable, which is crucial in all interaction when in Trinidad. So, in order to get the most information out of this experience, we must be able to make this adjustment to ensure that we truly focus on the shared goals of Amizade, the community, and the local organizations in Matelot, including DORCAS Women’s Group.

Hopefully, through preparation and constant awareness, we can adjust to these cultural norms of Trinidad that will affect conducting business and operate effectively and efficiently to reach the goals of our sustainable ecotourism project in Matelot.

Personal Learning

Even though my group are the consultants for this project, I still hope to gain a lot from this experience in Matelot. In the following sections I will outline two aspects that I hope to grow in and learn personally through this service leaning trip in Trinidad.

Cultural Awareness

One aspect which I hope to grow from this incredible experience in Matelot is my cultural awareness. Throughout this immersive learning experience, I will be able to interact with a diverse group of individuals, many of which will be coming for a very different background. In order to truly operate effectively I must truly immerse myself in the community, making sure that I am fully aware of my surroundings.

In class we often discussed the ideas of cultural competence and cultural awareness. After a single week in Trinidad, I am not looking to all of a sudden to transformed and gain cultural competence but gain awareness of the culture and analyze the difference in the cultures.

Cultural awareness is an ever-changing idea, and for me surrounds the ideas of adaptability and consciousness. I hope to gain a greater ability and aptitude for the cultural aspects of Trinidad and be able to adapt to the changing business practices and cultural norms of the island, leading increased effectiveness on our project.

This idea of cultural awareness is crucial in an ever shifting and globalizing world of business. Many recent studies, such as those we have discussed in class, have showed an increase in cultural awareness in individuals who have had an international service learning experience. This benefit that comes from an international service learning experience, is crucial not only for this project or my personal growth, but for almost any business professional today. The ability to communicate effectively with individuals of different cultures is becoming a crucial aspect of modern-day business.

Through this experience, I hope to be able to truly focus on the experience, the people, and culture of Trinidad in order to hopefully increase my cultural awareness.

Dealing with Uncertainty

One aspect that I know I am going to deal with while in country is the uncertainty that surrounds a few aspects of the community and project. Through this experience, I hope to learn more about how I personally deal with this uncertainty, and how I can better adjust to constantly changing circumstances.

With this project, comes uncertainty around the areas of buy-in of everyone in the community, competing interest groups in the community, and the assets that would actually be necessary to allow for Matelot to become a sustainable ecotourism location. It is crucial that both my group and myself really take grasp of these uncertainties and make an effort to go out and do the best so that the community and future groups can hopefully succeed.

From this service learning experience, I hope to get a better idea of how to deal with this uncertainty, as unlike most classes where strict instructions are given, this project, like the real world, is very open and loosely defined, allowing for our group to create our own way, and hopefully deal with the uncertainties of the project head on. This project will also give me an opportunity to use one of Dr. Murrell’s favorite words, “pivot.” Being able to adjust our plans on the fly, and pivot to different ideas given by the community will be crucial for the success of this project. Learning how to better pivot to changing surrounds will become crucial in this project, as well in the rest of my career in business, making it an imperative skill to have.

In conclusion, dealing with uncertainty will be a crucial aspect of our time in Matelot, and through this experience I hope gain additional ways to deal with similar uncertainties and how to pivot to ever-changing circumstances.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, I am very much looking forward to this trip to Matelot, Trinidad, which is now less than a week away. Even though there will definitely be differences in cultural norms from those in America, I hope that my team and I can effectively navigate the project, allowing for a successful plan for ecotourism, while learning a lot along the way.