This global service learning opportunity clearly presents a once in a lifetime experience. There is so much personal growth that I know can and will occur. However, along with such a high stake, unique experience such as this there are bound to be challenges. At the same time, I believe these challenges are what help to facilitate the most growth overall. Below I hope to touch upon some of these challenges (especially the cultural variations) I anticipate being challenges and how I hope to deal and grow from them.
As part of conducting any business transaction abroad, there are bound to be cultural differences. Consequently, these various, unique cultural norms can pose some challenges when trying to complete work for an international group. One overarching challenge that we will most definitely experience in Matelot in Trinidad & Tobago is a general mistrust of foreigners. I do not believe that this challenge is unique to Trinidad & Tobago, I think it is quite common whenever you go to a different country. I fear that when we arrive in country, the locals will not want to trust us because they may just view us as just tourists passing through trying to take something away from them. Thus, it becomes vital that we behave in such a manner in which the locals view us a trustworthy and are able to feel comfortable around us. In the Culture Smart book, it mentions that locals do not tend to trust foreigners until they live in the country for at least two years. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the ability to do that. So our challenge becomes learning how to be perceived as worthy of their trust. If they do not trust us, they will not give us the information we need to be successful in our project. If they trust us, they will open up which will do nothing but just add value to the experience. The book also mentions that in order to appease foreigners, people in Trinidad tend to make promises that are not easy to fulfill. This is done in an attempt to be helpful, but unfulfilled promises can create major setbacks for the project. If promises are not kept, on either side, can be detrimental to the quality of our deliverables. To avoid these setbacks, it is important for us to recognize what is actually feasible and what promises are realistically going to be able to be kept. Another aspect that may cause initial challenges are the forthright attitudes that they have. I don’t want to make assumptions for everyone but I think in America we tend to be pretty reserved, at least I know that I am. So the clash of these different attitudes could most definitely cause conflict. Their forthright attitude could be interpreted as rude and my more reserved nature could be viewed as cold and unwelcoming in their eyes. To help with this, it is best our team be very aware of this difference in attitudes and actively try to be more open and accepting of the different behavioral styles. In addition, apparently, their form of greeting varies slightly from what is custom in America. Here we have typical ceremonial business practices that are standard for most business interactions. However, in Trinidad & Tobago, they are more informal and don’t take part in as many ceremonial practices. These differences can potentially interfere with the flow of our interactions. While I doubt this will drastically impede on our ability to complete the project, it best to have everything go as smoothly as possible. So if we once again remain aware of these differences and effectively adapt to their standards we should be able to remain successful. One sort of ritual that seems to be more prevalent in Trinidad & Tobago in comparison to the USA is the avid talk of one’s family. Usually, here in America, we tend to very reserved when speaking about our personal lives. There is a very distinct, clear line between one’s personal life and one’s professional life. In Trinidad & Tobago, the line is more blurred and it is very common to ask and speak about one’s family in a business context. If our group capitalizes on that knowledge and asks about the locals, I think we will definitely be able to be more widely accepted and gain their trust. As mentioned previously, gaining their trust can prove tricky so this definitely a strategy to consider. Once again, as the theme seems to be, we definitely need to be open and ready to adapt.
There are many different ways I expect to experience personal growth while taking part in this international service learning project while in country. While there are various ways I think this learning will take place, I think a lot of it will occur under an umbrella of learning how to adapt. This stems from the concept that by being in a new, foreign environment, one will have to act differently than what he is accustomed to. It is practically inevitable and one will have to learn how to adjust their behavior in order to be successful in the environment. The environment will force me to learn and approve my ability to pivot. Intentionally fused with elements of uncertainty, this service learning project requires its participants to think on their feet and adapt their course of action at the drop of a dime. Never before in my academic career will I have been placed in such a scenario so I am anxious to see how I perform and how capable I am at improving. In addition, I believe this trip to a foreign place such as Matelot with a team that has been working together strictly domestically up to this point will also create opportunities for growth. These opportunities for growth will be more centrally focused on enhancing team dynamics and team bonding. Just by all the challenges and uncertainties our team is bound to experience while in country, I think our team will be forced to be more trusting of one another and more supportive. As discussed in class in the article “Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team” being supportive of the project, the company and one another is essential to project success. Along with support growing between team members, I think just by being in country and having the opportunity to physically meet the client and see where our project is going is to have an impact is beneficial. It will automatically increase our support of the client and project. Referring back to the article again, I think the in country experience will also increase our ability to think creatively. This, once again, relates above to the idea of being able to pivot. While in country, our team will be faced with needing to make either quick decisions or deal with previously unknown factors. Because of this, we will be challenged with coming up with creative solutions to remedy those different types of problems. Lastly, another characteristic I see our team greatly improving in is our ability to be motivational. It would be naïve to think that during the in country experience everything will go exactly as planned; there are bound to be bumps in the road and challenges. When facing these challenges, it will become imperative that our group encourage one another and remind each other of the project goal and why we are doing it in the first place.
With any client based project, I think the consultant grows a lot in terms of people skills. These skills involve things such as relationship building and communication skills. I think especially when this work is done with clients from different cultural backgrounds, these skills can grow at an exponential rate when compared to domestic clients. This is because you have to consider a lot more different cultural factors when dealing with an international client vs a non-international one. Now, as a disclaimer, aside from all the textbook and proven ways I will achieve personal growth, I think they are a lot of ways I will experience and grow from this trip in ways that my team members may or may not also experience or anticipate.
Even though I may have predicted what challenges I view occurring and how I expect to grow, realistically, there are still many unknowns. There are some challenges that will pop up in country that I may have never been able to quite anticipate. That being said, I am excited to experience that because I know inevitably it will present a really great opportunity for growth.