My experience in Matelot is one that I will take with me throughout the rest of my life. Immersing myself in the culture and working on my service learning project gave me key lessons, knowledge and skills, and the ability to overcome challenges as well as expectations. Some of the key lessons I learned throughout my time in Matelot were to be patient, speak up, and not be afraid to try new things and have new experiences. I mention patience because throughout the trip, it was difficult for me to adjust to “Trini time” and not be on a tight schedule. I had to learn to be patient in these moments and remind myself of the purpose of the trip; to help improve these aspects that may make future travelers and student groups uncomfortable. The more that I accepted the lack of structure, the more I was able to adapt to the culture and not be angry in the moment.
Another key lesson I learned throughout my experience was to speak up if I had questions or comments. While in-country, we talked to several community organizations including DORCAS Women’s Group, Matelot Police Youth Club, and the Village Council. At first it was intimidating to speak up and talk to them comfortably. But as time went on, I realized that to get the most out of my time spent in Matelot I needed to speak my mind (in a respectful manner) and make sure I was clear on what important information was said. I also realized that the people of Matelot appreciated when I spoke up or asked questions, because they wanted to see that we were engaged and interested in what they had to say. Another takeaway from this experience was to not be intimidated to try new things or take on new challenges. At the beginning of the trip, I was somewhat uncomfortable and wary of trying some of the new foods or truly immersing myself in the experience. What I learned was to not shy away from things I am unfamiliar with and to take advantage of my time in Matelot. Having that new perspective allowed me to appreciate everything that I experienced in Matelot and let me have the best time that I could.
Throughout my trip, I also considered many of the transferable skills that would stick with me throughout my college and professional career. For myself personally, some of the skills I gained include confidence, adaptability, communication, and ability to prioritize. To begin, I feel that my experience in Matelot allowed me to become more confident in myself and my abilities. Experiences such as talking in front of big groups and not being afraid to speak up like I mentioned above made me more comfortable in my own shoes. Another skill that I was able to take away is adaptability. There were several occasions where I had to learn how to “go with the flow” and be flexible with my time. Because we were working off of limited information coming into Matelot, I also had to be able to adapt to new plans and figure out how to best manage our time spent there. Third, I feel that my communication was improved working on this service learning project. While in country, I had to be able to communicate my thoughts, ideas, and questions to the people of Matelot. That skill has continued to be valuable throughout the semester as we continue to communicate with Bridget and University of Pittsburgh staff members. Last, the ability to prioritize is a skill I left with. While in country, we had to figure out scheduling and what was best to do with the time we had to be able to do the most for the community, ourselves, and our experience.
I am confident that all these key lessons, knowledge, and skills that I gained on my service learning trip to Matelot will help me move forward toward a career for several reasons. First, one of the most obvious reasons is having an experience to talk about where I can relate the skills I learned and show how I applied them. In a recent interview, I was asked about a time that I was put in an uncomfortable situation and how I handled it. My response had to do with my experience at the Matelot High School. I talked about how we had expected to meet with the Principal of the school but instead were put in front of 30 students, when we did not have anything to talk to them about or present to them. I explained how I had to set my uncomfortable feelings aside and adapt to the situation. I was able to come up with questions to ask on the spot to keep the students engaged and make the most of the situation. One of my personal long-term goals is to try to be “comfortable with the uncomfortable,” and my experiences in Matelot have helped me continue to work towards this goal. In addition to having experiences to relay, the skills and knowledge I developed will help me be able to apply these skills as I continue to grow. By taking some of these transferable skills with me, I will be able to apply it to other situations in college and in my future career. I hope that by having these experiences and challenges that I had to overcome, I will be able to think back to those uncomfortable situations I was put in and be able to conquer whatever challenges I face in my future.
Prior to my trip, I had several cultural and personal expectations in mind that came into play when I was actually in Matelot. Reflecting on my previous blog posts, some of my expectations included having a difficult time communicating with the natives, having a hard time adjusting to their informal culture, and not wanting to be seen as a “tourist.” The first expectation I had was that it would be difficult to communicate with the people of Matelot because of their accents and their tendency to talk faster than we do in the United States. While this had some truth to it, the main issue with communication was that there was not enough of it. Several times DORCAS Women’s Group, community members, Andre, and ourselves were not on the same page concerning our itinerary or our goals for each day. That made it difficult to manage, but it is also what we hope to improve with our final deliverables. I was able to overcome this challenge by being patient and focusing on the project. I knew that communication was an issue, but it did not apply directly to me and I had to do the best I could to take note of what could be improved upon.
My second expectation was that I was going to have a difficult time adjusting to the “Trini” culture, where they are very relaxed and do not follow hard deadlines. I expected to have this because I am a very detailed oriented person who likes to get things done when they are supposed to get done, and I do not like wasting time. In country, I did have to deal with some of these challenges. On the first day we arrived, we were under the impression that we would get settled in and begin talking to community members while getting acclimated to the area. Upon arriving, we went directly to the children’s “sports” day, which was fun but we did a lot of standing around and there was confusion on what we were doing and how long we were staying. I begin to overcome challenges such as these as the week continued by accepting the way things were, and also by reminding myself of Amizade’s slogan, “okay, good.” It was a reassuring mental note that helped me get through the week and face the challenge of the unorganized structure.
Last, I was expecting to feel judged by the people of Matelot for being a tourist. While I knew that my job was not to be a tourist but to work on my service learning project, I did not know if others knew that I had good intentions. From the readings we did in class, I did not want them to think we were helping them just because we thought we were “better” and could “give” to them. Luckily, this expectation was not met because everyone in the community was very friendly and welcoming. It helped that Andre was around us, because he made us all feel comfortable and seemed to know everyone in the community and was able to introduce us to those he knew. When we were working on the library with a few of the workers, they engaged us in conversation and did what they could to make sure we had jobs to complete. It is never comfortable feeling like an outsider, but the people of Matelot lived up to their reputation of being friendly. Overall, I am very happy with the results of my trip to Trinidad. I learned so much and had many experiences that will stay with me forever. I am excited to continue working on my project for Amizade, and hope that what we discovered this year will help future CPLE groups as they continue this ten-year project. I am thankful for what this program has taught me and for the real-life experiences I have had the opportunity to take advantage of.