Cultural and Personal Learning

We are leaving in less than a week for Trinidad and Tobago, and this leaves me feeling both excited and nervous! I am nervous because I know that I will face some challenges in country while I am conducting the necessary business for my service learning project with Amizade and DORCAS Women’s Group. Some of these challenges are personal obstacles, and others have to do with adapting to the cultural norms of Matelot, where we will be spending the majority of our time and collecting our most critical information. The first challenge I expect to face is a more obvious one, but one that deems very important. This challenge is communication. Even though the first language of Trinidad is English, from what I have read in my Culture Smart Book and from what Danielle Andrews-Brown has told me is that the natives tend to talk extremely quickly and with heavy accents. This could be an issue when conducting business because a huge part of what we are doing in country is asking questions and gaging the peoples’ feelings on tourism and eventually ecotourism. I will have to be conscientious and alert when speaking to the natives, so I can take in all of the important information.

Another cultural norm of Trinidad that I expect to be a challenge is their formality (or rather informality). In Trinidad, the people tend to be more relaxed in conversation and enjoy talking about themselves and their family. I expect for the people of the Matelot community to be excited to share with us their personal information and stories. While this is all important for my understanding of the culture, I do not want to stray away or get distracted from discovering their thoughts on ecotourism which is one of our main goals of our in-country experience. I hope to overcome this by sticking to the list of questions that my group has developed. We have a mix of personal and professional questions that we would like to be answered to aid us in completing our deliverables when we return back home. On the other hand, something that is reassuring is what Danielle had to say about the Trini’s work ethic on serious issues. She told us that when they are working, they are working, which I hope we get to see and experience as well.

Although the people of Trinidad have been described as some of the friendliest people, they still may have biased thoughts about foreigners. The Culture Smart Book describes them as having a lingering suspicion that foreigners are there to take something away from them. If this is true, I foresee this as being a challenge when bringing up the topic of tourism to the Matelot Community. This is because we do not want to make the wrong impression and/or say anything that could be taken as offensive to a native. For example, we do not want to flat out say that they are not ready for ecotourism as it may be taken the wrong way. We also want to be careful when describing our potential plans for Amizade, because they may be afraid we will be taking away the beauty and authenticity of the community if we are not clear. It is important to build positive relationships with the people not only for us to be on good terms with them, but as well as Amizade and future CPLE students.

It is in situations such as these that I hope to begin to develop intercultural competence, which is described as effective and appropriate behavior and communication in intercultural situations. I know that I will have to adapt these skills in order to have productive and meaningful discussions in Trinidad and Tobago. After this trip, I personally hope to be able to transfer these skills to other countries I travel to and in the United States. No matter where I am, I believe it is essential to be able to appropriately communicate in not only business settings but personal settings as well. I hope that by talking to and interacting with the Matelot community I will learn how to quickly adapt to their conversations and pick up on what I should or should not say. I want to be able to engage myself in these conversations and not feel like so much of an outsider. Intercultural awareness can also be described as awareness, knowledge, and skills. These three things are something I hope to develop while I am on my trip. To be able to make the most of my time, I must be aware of my environment as well as everything that is said. With the knowledge I gain, I want to be able to apply it to my specific project and then to other aspects of my life when I return home.

In the classroom, a huge portion of our time has been spent distinguishing the difference between service learning and community service and the benefits of each. I have experienced a handful of community service events which always make me feel good and feel like I have “contributed,” but I do not gain a lot of personal knowledge or takeaways from these events. On this service learning trip to Trinidad and Tobago, I hope to better myself while helping others. I am striving to accomplish this goal in several ways. One of the first ways that I hope to better myself through service learning is to become more politically aware. Sometimes it is difficult for me to keep up with global politics and business. I hope that this trip will open my eyes to some of the main differences between my home country and a foreign one. I think it is amazing that Trinidad has a woman president currently and am curious as to how the people there will respond and react to that. In addition, service learning is described as a means to discovering a change in the person carrying out the project, not necessarily the one receiving the help. While this sounds vague, I do hope to come back and see a change in myself. I want to have a better understanding of a country that is extremely different from my own, and I think it will give me a much better appreciation of what I have. I also hope to learn more about myself on the trip. Statistics say that many students who are undecided as to their majors who take on service leadership projects are more likely to choose a career that involves service and the projects help them decide what they ultimately want to do. Because my major is still technically undeclared, I am curious to see if this trip leads to the “spark” in what I want to do with my future career.

Being in the Certificate Program of Leadership and Ethics, leadership is something that is very important to me. I believe the week spent in Matelot will strongly help me develop skills that I will transfer to my future leadership learning and experiences. This is one of my first projects where I have had to take charge (along with my group) to decide what to do. I have already learned a lot about critical thinking when we made the scope of work and applying it in country will help me to be able to carry out those skills. It will be up to me to take charge and to ask questions and not be afraid to do so. Although we have a basic itinerary, it will be up to my group and I to decide what needs done in country to help us accomplish our goals. Not having everything done and planned for me is intimidating. But I believe this intimidation and factor of discomfort is what will help me grow and develop as a leader. If I do not use my leadership skills while abroad, it will be hard to finish the project and make sure that our time in Trinidad is used wisely. I hope that by stepping out of my comfort zone I will be able to become a better leader and use what I learn when I come home.

I anticipate that traveling to Trinidad and Tobago will be a challenge for me but that it will help me grow and develop personally and intellectually. I am excited to be able to experience and witness the culture other than what I have read from books and heard from Danielle. This will be my first time traveling to a country that is very different from my own and one that is not planned and scheduled out for me. I am excited to be able to gain some independence and to take on this important project with my group. When I return home after a week, I have high hopes that all or most of my learning goals will be accomplished. When I come back, I hope to be able to transfer my knowledge and experience to other projects, assignments, and careers throughout my life. I am looking forward to leaving on Saturday and cannot wait to be able to take my findings and finish the project by the end of the semester!

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