Lessons from Paradise


Throughout this experience, I encountered things I never expected to happen. However, by experiencing this program in this manner, I have learned many lessons and gained numerous insights. Below I hope to touch upon how this experience affected me.

  1. This experience has definitely challenged me in ways I have never been challenged before; as a result, I learned various lessons. I would say the main lessons I learned revolved around the steps and things involved in creating an ethical partnership with the client. The most prominent value I believe I worked on during this experience was acting with integrity. During the in-country portion of the program, our group discovered that there was substantial interpersonal conflict between Amizade’s Matelot location stakeholders. This conflict was between the site director, Michelle, and Amizade’s main partner in Matelot, the DORCAS Women’s Group. The conflict was clearly made evident when the site director spent a full hour and a half expressing her worries and stress to our group. That made it clear that there were two different sides to the situation in this location. So despite the butting opinions between Michelle and DORCAS, I had to make sure that I maintained my integrity and treated everyone equally. This also became an issue of treating all people with equal respect. The stakeholders in Matelot were not determined to treat each other with complete respect due to the interpersonal conflict, so I tried to honor the dignity in each person. Because of this tense situation, I also was obligated to take personal responsibility and create a “climate of safety and well-being for all involved.” This involved allowing Michelle to feel comfortable to share her opinions with us while not allowing it to affect how we treated the women of DORCAS. It became imperative that we treated everyone with the same level of respect regardless of their past personal history.
  2. The main skills I gained through the experience definitely were centered around the idea of adaptability and managing stakeholder relationships. Throughout the entire trip, we quickly became accustomed to expecting the unexpected. For example, when we visited the local school, we were under the impression that we were just going to meet with the vice principal to gather some data about the school and student body. However, when we arrived, we were told the vice president was taking a sick day. Instead, we were thrust in front of an assembly consisting of the majority of students. We then had to quickly adapt and make the best of the situation in order to not appear awkward and lost. So as a group, including Christy, we pulled ourselves together and tried to lead a question and order session in a manner that appeared as if we had planned it that way all along. Of course, it did not go perfectly; there were definitely some uncomfortable moments. However, we were able to pivot and make the most of an unexpected, uncomfortable situation. I think I can easily apply this as I move forward in my career. In general, things will never always go exactly as you planned. So its important that you are to adapt to this sudden change and not just freeze up. This is pretty applicable to all career types and just life in general. In addition, as discussed in question one, I had to learn how to manage relationships of different stakeholders. What made this even more challenging was that the stakeholders were at odds with each other. Through this experience, I really practiced managing these relationships in the most effective, dignified way possible. This will definitely be a value skill in my career. Even in my experience in internships and clubs here in Pittsburgh, people butt heads and do not get along. However, it is imperative that this does not affect the project. One must treat each person with equal respect as in to not further the conflict and protect the mission of the project. I know for sure that this will not be the last time I experience this type of conflict. In fact, I am pretty sure this may be the most common problem to occur, especially in the business world which involves a lot of group work and management of different clients. Therefore, this lesson in how to properly deal with this sort of conflict when it occurs will prove very valuable. Especially if my career leads me down a path in Human Resources, this will prove a vital skill to master.
  3. Through my stay in Matelot, I experienced a cultural expectation that was neither 100% true or 100% false. When reflecting on this, it makes sense because people are just people wherever you go and are going to be unique and don’t have to fit into a strict cultural norm. The culture smart book correctly identified some cultural norms, but they did not apply to everyone. Based on my past reflection, one of my biggest concerns was a norm the culture smart book touched open referring to the fact that locals would make and not keep promises to foreigners. For the most part, I found this to be untrue. For example, whenever a member from DORCAS said they would do an activity with us, they kept their promise and we did it. This applied to many of the cooking lessons we had and the crafts. As I already stated, this did not apply to everyone and everything. For instance, there was talk during our entire stay that we would be able to go the waterfall. However, this was too big of a promise and unrealistic so unfortunately we were not able to go. I think people told us we would go because they wanted to impress us even though, in the end, it would not have been possible. I believe this demonstrated what the book was referring to. However, I could see this happening everywhere and I am not completely confident that it’s a cultural thing. One cultural expectation that was very prevalent in Matelot was the idea of island time. While Michelle, in theory, had a very structured schedule, our activities and meetings rarely stuck to this schedule. Michelle would have a meeting scheduled at noon, for example, but the people we were supposed to meet with would not arrive until a half hour later. This made it very difficult for our group to work effectively because we were accustomed to strict time schedules and having everything planned beforehand. In order to overcome this, our group had to learn how to pivot and adapt. We needed to adjust our game plan in order to still accomplish everything that we needed to get done. This concept of island time, however, did not apply to all scenarios. When our group went to KPMG for a site visit, they had a clear outline and time breakdown of what our visit was going to look like. And interestingly enough, when they found out that we had an hour less of time for the visit than they anticipated, they did not know really how to react. Instead of mending the schedule of the site visit to just highlight the key components, they tried to condense all the activities of a two hour visit into an hour time frame. This made the entire experience feel more rushed and stressful than it needed to be. To overcome this challenge, we just had to embrace the experience and act as amiably as possible in order to preserve and strengthen the College of Business Administration’s relationship with KPMG. So clearly, even though the office was in Port of Spain, in a professional environment, the concept of time is a lot more structured. Regardless of the part of Trinidad we were in, I expected to be mistrusted and brushed off because I was clearly a foreigner. For the most part, I did not find this to be the case. People were very friendly; this was something the culture smart book relayed very well. Most people were very open and willing to talk to you which does not usually apply to all parts of the world. Once again, of course this did not apply to everyone and some locals just minded their own business and did not interact with us which is completely understandable. They are not obligated to interact with us. So overall, trying to get people to communicate with us was not really at all a problem in our case. Actually, at some points it seemed that people would overshare. An example would include Michelle’s hour and a half verbal release of many of her issues. While it may have been inappropriate, in terms of the project, in order to gain valuable insight, I preferred for people to overshare rather than to not share at all.

Overall, this entire experience has been unforgettable and taught me things academically, professionally and especially personally that I would not have been able to learn in another type of environment.