Reflecting on Matelot

Spending the past week in Trinidad has truly been an incredible experience. During the trip, our group was able to talk with numerous community groups and members, allowing us to gain a further insight into the dynamics of the community, and exactly how our team can potentially aid the Matelot community. Hopefully over the next few weeks our group can continue to develop an effective plan to help improve the current Amizade program in place and the Matelot community as a whole.

Cultural Norms

During this service learning trip our group did encounter some different cultural and ethical norms. One major cultural difference that was clear throughout the trip was the concept of “Trini time” or “island time.” This concept basically surrounds how many people in Trinidad view time and schedules more loosely, especially compared to the United States. Going into this experience, this was a cultural difference that I did expect to encounter, and it was definitely present on numerous occasions during our week in Matelot, Trinidad.

To deal with this cultural difference, our group had to often pivot and adjust to changing circumstances. For instance, when meeting with the Police Youth Group, a local community organization, the meeting did not take place until over 45 minutes after the scheduled time. This meant that both myself and everyone else in the group and to adjust properly and truly be prepared for these meetings, as we often did not have the full scheduled time to talk with the community members and groups. Even though our group had prepared to have this “Trini time” effect our interactions throughout the week, it still initially took a lot of adjusting. Especially during our first few meetings in the week, it was slightly frustrating to have the whole group prepared for the meeting, only to wait for long periods of time. Though, as the week progressed, our group was able to adjust and use any scheduled meeting time before community members arrived to further prepare and make sure that everyone was on the same page. I believe that this allowed for our group to more effectively operate in our conversations, and really lead into the questions which we felt was the most important to ask for each specific group.

A second cultural or ethical norm which I confronted while in Trinidad was the familial nature of communication and business, specifically in Matelot. This was definitely expected in a small town of around 500 people at the literal end of a road, but I did not initially expect the community to be so close-knit. I feel in the United States you can often live without really even knowing your neighbor, which is definitely not the case in Matelot. This definitely became clear when our tour guide Andre called at least half of the community his cousin, and we often stopped even few minutes while walking for him to talk to a different member of the community. This close community dynamic was definitely interesting to witness, and definitely took some adjusting to, as it really became clear that any small change will have a drastic impact on the community, as almost every member of the community was intertwined.

To adjust to this cultural norm, it was imperative that we truly always were evaluating the big picture idea. Doing this assured that we see what effects could become present from implementing part of an ecotourism plan, or even simply increasing the amount of Amizade program that travel to Matelot. This familial nature of communication and business definitely took some adjusting to, but through effective communication and planning I believe that our team was able to effectively navigate the Matelot community.

Global Business

This experience has definitively evolved my perspective of global business. One aspect which I feel is crucial to consider in all business, especially on a global scale, is communication. I always knew that effective communication is crucial for all business purposes, but this trip truly affirmed that, and showed that many issues can become present when communication between some parties are lacking.

This importance of communication definitely became clear on multiple occasions while we were in Matelot. These situations have definitely altered my view on global business, and truly placed my focus on the importance of communication in international business operations. On multiple occasions there seemed to be a slight communication gap between Amizade, the Amizade site coordinator in Matelot, and the community groups. These communication gaps further affirmed the importance of communication on a global scale. In some situations, facts may seem trivial, especially when a message must travel thousands of miles, but these details are often crucial. In order for business operations to run smoothly across nation borders, communication lines must constantly be open, as with gaps in communication, as seen occasionally on this trip, can lead to some scheduling and general communication errors.

The second aspect of global business that I was truly able to learn more about first hand was how important it is to have a good understanding of business traditions in the nations you are doing business in. With business operations becoming ever more global, it is crucial to understand how other nation’s culture and lifestyle effect everyday business. The importance of this cross-cultural business understanding became very clear during this service learning trip.

A major aspect of this cross-cultural business understanding, specifically in Trinidad, relates back to what I mentioned earlier in the blog, that being the lax view of time. An aspect such as this may seem like a minute detail in preparation or when studying up on the culture, but in practice is crucial in understanding how to effectively operate in the business landscapes across cultures. If my group and I were unable to adjust to this, we could have come off very insincere and looked as if we were just rushing through our interactions, which we would definitely not want. Through this trip I gained a new appreciation for being able to adjust to cultural differences, and definitely saw the importance of understanding the norms and how they affect business operations.

Lessons for the Trip

Through this experience, I have not only learned much more about the culture and business operations of Trinidad, and Matelot specifically, but also much about myself. This experience definitely tested my patience on occasions, and definitely made me realize that in some situations I just need to relax and go with the flow of “island time.” With most meetings in country not starting on time, it tested my ability to adapt and become more flexible in situations as they naturally developed. This skill of adaptability is crucial in all business settings, as surroundings are always changing, so having the ability to test my adeptness at this skill in Trinidad was an invaluable experience.

Throughout this service learning trip, I was also able to learn more about international service, how important it is, and how it can be both beneficial and even have negative consequences in some local communities. Firstly, I have definitely learned the importance of balancing the goals of an organization such as Amizade, with that of the Matelot community. Especially with the potential end goal being ecotourism, it is crucial that we focus on the sustainable efforts in the community, that do not have a negative effect on the community dynamics, culture, or natural resources of the community. I remember in class talking about a service project from a different university in which engineering students build a well in a rural African village. This project not only did not aid the community, but tore it apart, as many of the women in the village then lost time to bond when going to retrieve water, only causing more strife in the community. It is important that our team learned from examples like this, and really focused on the needs and wants of the community to ensure that we are acting in their best interest.

A second aspect about service learning which I learned more about, and felt was slightly applicable, is the idea of “deposit and leave.” This concept basically surrounds the premise that we spend a week in the community addressing a small issue, then simply leave our efforts behind with no future plan. I was hoping that none this project would not feel like this concept, though this idea of “deposit and leave” definitely felt present when working on the library. Part of the service aspect for the trip was constructing a library, which I definitely feel is beneficial for the community, as there was currently no library. Though, it just seems to go against some of the aspects from class between community service and service learning. Of course, this was only a fraction of our time and effort that we spend working on the construction, but this part of the project, for me, highlighted what service is often looked upon as, and what it could be.

Overall, this service learning trip to Matelot was an incredible experience. It was great to be able to be immersed into a very different culture than that of the United States and see how the whole community interacts with each other. Hopefully over the coming weeks our group will be able to develop an effective plan to help Amizade drive more programs and revenue to the Matelot community, aiding in their development towards ecotourism.