T – 5 days: It’s Time for Trinidad!

“There is no education like adversity”

– Benjamin Disraeli

    With a new environment comes new challenges. In less than a week, we will be in a starkly different community without the comforts of our everyday lives, Matelot, Trinidad. (I am quite nervous). Up until this point, the largest step out of my comfort zone was coming to school in Pittsburgh, a much bigger area than where I grew up. But how often is such a unique and powerful learning experience offered, especially one that entices a serious cultural immersion? Nonetheless, “there is no education like adversity,” With four distinct challenges our group must face- time, networking, lack of the “little things,” and minority- how much will we have grown and learned come our return?

The term Trini-time was not coined by accident. Growing up in a family where 15 minutes early was somehow late, I know this will be my largest obstacle to overcome. The Trinidadian view of time flows in tandem with their focus on a stress-free lifestyle. We must be careful not to view this as a means of laziness since timeliness and productivity do not always correlate, especially in the wealthiest Caribbean nation and third wealthiest country in the Americas. In addition, keeping a consistent itinerary will be next to impossible, understanding that, culturally, time has a different meaning to Trinidadians. Instead, it is important to follow the sincerest applicability in the words of one of the most influential icons in pop culture, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” How often do we look ahead and work for the future? Living in the present is one of the most overlooked means of productivity; this is Trini-time. I struggle immensely with working in the present. In order to settle down and work, I need to plan out my whole week and allot the proper time to each facet of my life before I can even type a single word. Especially in a stress-induced epidemic, Trinidadians take advantage of the flow of life, work when they know they can give the utmost quality, and regard the stresses of timeliness only when it truly is a limitation, preserving themselves at the same time.

Although I come from a community similar in size to Matelot, I have never had the difficult challenge of being an outsider, a minority. For instance, I went to the same school from kindergarten until my senior year of high school. As friendly as the members of the community will be, I understand the invasive feeling that outsiders bring thanks to my tight-knit hometown. During our week-long tenure, there will be a lot of gossips and it will be obvious that we will be viewed as visitors, not members. In addition, although I value privacy, it is nostalgic (in a good and bad way) to see the lack of obscurity in everyone’s lives. Being the outsiders will lend a few eyes in our direction and I am assuming that we will end up being the talk of the town at one point or another. To overcome our status of visitors, we must form bonds with the entire community and make known that PittBusiness as a whole is excited to work with the community, growing together over the 10-year tenure.

Translating the idea of being an outsider to the notion of networking is a quick flashback to all our orientation weeks at Pitt. The idea of meeting close to 1000 individuals in only a week and remembering details about both them and their families will be sincerely humbling. While we may be viewed as only visitors, it is ultimately important to recognize our impact on the community, both positive and negative, and tightening the relationship between PittBusiness and Matelot will be quintessential. Therefore, mapping out the network of Matelot, forming bonds with the locals, and understanding the community’s mindset about ecotourism will be one of the most difficult challenges for the group as a whole, it is simply a lot of work in such a short span of time.

Another challenging cultural norm in the Matelot community will be the way the locals remark their observations. Trinidadians are known to be direct when they speak, as in they do not beat around the bush. Visitors may view their remarks as chiding and overstepping boundaries, which are general social norms in the US. For the first few comments, it may even be difficult to separate my own feelings from the true meaning of their statements; they seriously mean no harm. Furthermore, I must avoid making any thoughtless responses, as I am one to return a witty comment (meaning no harm of course) as a reflex to any comments.

The final challenge of this service-learning experience is the absence of our everyday routines. Although this is not necessarily a social norm, it is an extremely relevant challenge we will need to face due to the sheer difference in location to Pitt. While a one-hour time difference may be offsetting, the true differentiator lies with the fact that my daily routines heavily revolve around technology. First thing in the morning, I check my phone, read some news, and text my friends before I leave for class or the library. Having limited access to the internet and overall electricity will not be easy. As a boy scout and on my own accord, I have spent over 100 days camping, living in the wilderness and on the ocean; I love it. Hopefully, I am still somewhat accustomed to spending time away from technology, electricity, and hot water. Furthermore, as we are in college, an enormous portion of our time is spent socializing and studying with our usual friend groups. While in Matelot, a large portion of our time will be spent socializing with the locals and forming those aforementioned bonds. Hopefully, we will be so busy and our routine will be so malleable that we will adapt quickly to life in Matelot.

“I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders”

– A sampling of a Proverb

   In ultimatum, from my international service learning experience in Trinidad, I will learn how to hold a stronger degree of awareness for cultural differences, how to develop patience derived from the notion of Trini-time, and how to adapt to a starkly new environment, even without having the seemingly imperative “little things” of my daily routines. In less than a week, we will be in a completely different country, with a set of unique challenges some of us have never faced before. However, in the words of the proverb, this will be a powerful learning experience. We will not shy away, instead, we will learn and overcome the aforementioned challenges in Matelot, Trinidad.

As the year of diversity here at the University of Pittsburgh, my fellow classmates and I come from different backgrounds. Whether they are from a different country, different state, or even something as small as having played a different sport growing up, everyone is different. After our cultural immersion in Trinidad, we will develop a better understanding of both the cultural differences and lifestyle differences of each person we interact with. For instance, Trinidad is one of the most religiously sound nations in the World. Where others fight constantly, Trinidad has the answer to smooth-over the multitude of religious quarrels, which date as far back as time itself. A simple answer, they understand how each religion thinks and what aspects of their faith are sensitive to them. In Trinidad, it is common for members of other religions to partake in the religious holidays of different groups. I hope to expand my ability to understand various religions in my local area and take part in their inclusive holidays, especially since I was raised Lutheran. Away from religion, I hope I can involve myself in different cultures’ celebrations and practices to better understand my friends and others around me.

Barring the stress of deadlines, coping with the work in front of you is the best means of maintaining quality and cognitive control. Doing so helps you sleep easy at night and reduces the likelihood of legitimate health problems. However, with Trini-time comes a necessary balance of meeting deadlines and outlining my weekly activities. In order to take away the important aspects of the Trini perception of time, I must face the adversity provided by a lack of timeliness. A strong leader knows how to pivot when faced with a looming obstruction. So, when I am pushed out of my comfort zone by a looser itinerary and timeliness, I will need to develop a certain patience to analyze a given situation and find a way to adapt and work with it.

Lastly, If you are like me, successfully following a daily routine is the precursor to a good day. Conversely, failure means an unproductive and wasted day. With a set structure of meetings, classes, and extracurriculars, it is tough not to follow the same motions each day. In Matelot, I will have a completely different routine and schedule, and not due to the change in time zones. The fact that I am certainly addicted to technology is cause for a tough first few days. Learning how to pivot when faced with an alteration in my daily routine can turn a majority of my unproductive days into successful ones. When I return, I will need to further hone my ability to adapt to differences in my daily routines. I will need to take initiative in changing it myself. For instance, should I read the news on my phone or grab a newspaper from the lobby in the morning? The next time I get ready for class, I will alter my routine and cope with a slight difference in my everyday practices.

I am earnestly excited to be in Trinidad come this time next week. I know this will be a truly life-changing experience, and that opportunities like these only come around so often. Tune in March 11th for my next update on my experience in Trinidad!