I am excited yet sad to be back here at Pitt! As much as I enjoy the University it was tough parting ways with paradise in Matelot, Trinidad. The whole experience completely changed my perspective on international business and connectivity within a community. Also, I miss the weather already (sorry Pittsburgh).
With a whole new environment comes an abundance of complementary challenges. After taking off from Pittsburgh, the nervousness set in and I knew it was going to be anything other than easy to face the obstacles paired with such a daunting experience. Thankfully, we adapted to the environment and honed our transferable skills to facilitate both our work in-country as well as our interactions with the community. However, timeliness, treatment of outsiders, the lack of our usual “little things”, and being a minority within a completely different country, ended up being the most significant adversities.
Before we left, I wrote about how difficult coping with a socially different view on time would be. I highlighted the concept of living in the present and that Trini-time would force us to alter our routines and pivot from our original plans on more than one instance; this was correct. However, timeliness became less of a challenge as the week progressed and we adapted to our environment. For the first couple of days, the pace at which we walked, the lateness for some of our meetings, and the looseness of the schedule ended up stressing us to no end. The pace at which we walked did not even cross my mind prior to leaving. However, one of the common reasons for lateness came from how fast other groups traveled. Admittedly, if I had not been able to check my phone for time, I would have no idea what time it actually was. By day three, we learned to use the flexibility in our scheduling to our advantage by anticipating the lateness to the best of our abilities and slightly alter our schedule to accommodate Trini-time.
On the first day, we were exposed to a majority of Matelot during their annual sports day. It was a friendly competition between different houses at the community school. We were introduced to numerous people and some of them would even approach us and introduce themselves, welcoming us. Of course, we were still just viewed as visitors. They knew we were only going to be here for a short time so most of the conversations were held at surface level, making it extremely difficult to understand life in Matelot from the side of long-term residents. We were not the first Amizade group to visit Matelot and some of the members politely asked us why we were here. The only people that immersed us within their community were those that we spent a significant amount of time with, getting to know their lives, histories, and family members; that was the tell-tale sign of furthering the depth of our relationships.
As I mentioned in my last post, the most undervalued challenge will come from the lack of the “little things” of everyday life. Simply put, what aspects of life that you may take for granted will be missed? I know for me this ended up being far more challenging than I had anticipated. As for the delay in time, the only hiccup came from not realizing our arrival time was the local time and not eastern standard time; especially since daylight savings time falls a day after our arrival, changing our local time to the time it was in Trinidad. However, what made the lack of little things so difficult was not having my usual routine. My entire sleep schedule was altered, I did not have my usual morning tea or coffee (this was on my own accord), and getting into bed meant I could not get out due to the finicky fixture I made to keep the mosquito netting in place. But in reality, that only challenged my first few days. I quickly adapted and created my own routine to have the most efficient experience in-country.
As soon as we set foot on the bridge, leading to the community sports day, I could already feel the curious gazes in our direction. Throughout the entire trip really, it was tough not to feel out of place. Even throughout my entire life, I had never been in a community completely different than mine; lacking in racial, religious, and personal similarities (besides the group I traveled with). It was tough. During our meeting with the students of the community school, our stark cultural differences exposed our inability to truly connect. After we mentioned food and music, it was clear that we were just scraping the surface and had a hard time connecting with the kids. Standing in front of them and speaking to them really stressed our minority feeling, honestly taking it to the next level. However, after the experience, we all started to gain the necessary confidence to talk to the community members and work harder to include ourselves in their lives, which lead to a deeper connection from then on.
International Service Learning: A Global Perspective
Working in a rural community has plenty of difficulties and the location played the most prominent role. With every group we met with, unemployment seemed to be the underpinning issue within the community. Furthermore, when we talked to some of the locals, they mentioned how they lived in Matelot part-time and would stay in either Port of Spain (the Capital) or Sangre Grande (the largest city on the northeast). Respectively, those cities are 4 and 2 hours away from Matelot. Understanding the differences in the people, placement, and power will lend a better understanding to the current state of business on an international level. From my time in Matelot, it was clear that the location along the shore, interconnectivity amongst the members of the community, and the significant absence of government attention have caused a tightly-knit family to be unable to match the current growth of a globalized business world, especially without the help of their government.
As for my global service learning perspective, I have completely changed how I view business as a whole. It isn’t just about our majors like finance and marketing. Instead, it is about inspiration, drive, and change. In Matelot, the best example falls with the next generation of the community. The community school students shared their experiences in the student organization geared to develop the necessary tools able to create a product, understand how varying business models function, and, ultimately, stimulate their desires to economically develop their home and the rest of the world. Further learning about this truly put what global service learning means into perspective, shaped by the notion of building a foundation vs. giving resources. The students are starting to learn the foundations of business, which will be far more beneficial than just showing up in a community, depositing, and leaving.
At our nightly reflections, one of the most commonly repeated transferable skills was self-awareness. During the trip, it was tough not to realize the roles I played in the Matelot community compared to both Pitt and Wilmington, Delaware (my home). As I mentioned before, there was a strong feeling of minority in-country, which catalyzed my awareness for my out-of-place demeanor. To state the obvious, being college students that needed to be watched over at all times stood out, especially as business students in a tough period of thinned employment. There were points where we were asked, “is this a good idea for a business.” While apt in subject-matter, our intentions were assumed improperly and the concept that we were just “visitors” crept more. However, as I became more aware, I consequently began to understand how my education from PittBusiness changed my own perspective on business. Beforehand, I really just saw business as the notion of selling a product to make money and help you live, which is not so different as how some of the members of the Matelot community viewed it. Now I am beginning to understand the various types of businesses and the roles that different personnel play in an organization.
Along with a growth in awareness, I became far more confident and curious as well. At first, I felt out of place and had a tough time mixing with the Trini culture. However, after one of my group members mentioned how much we had changed, I started realizing how our experiences would benefit our lives in the US. Without even realizing it, I started to truly love learning about the various implications of life in Matelot and Trinidad, especially from a historical side. I went from barely asking questions as I was so nervous, to learning about the history of the community after asking question upon question. I want to take what I have learned and transfer my newly acquired skills from the world, to my communities, and even just back to the classroom.
I already miss the wonderful people, sensational food, and pristine environment of paradise. I am excited to have a positive impact on the community and I cannot wait to go back on my own accord and see the growth of Matelot, the community will forever hold a place in my heart. From my experience in Trinidad, I have already developed skills that will help me and I am even more excited to see how I can use those skills to reciprocate and benefit Matelot.