Our trip to Matelot, Trinidad was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Throughout the week that we spent there, I learned many valuable lessons, gained countless invaluable experiences, and gained a new appreciation for the diversity in the world and the different cultures that people live in. None of this would have been possible without the help of my team, the Trini Six, and our fearless leader, Christy Malone. Overall, this spring break trip is something that I will never forget, and I will be forever grateful for getting to be a part of the team that participated in this project.
The first major lesson that I learned on this trip is that it is so important to always be willing to try new things regardless of what your eyes or nose are telling you. Without diving fearlessly into some of the more extravagant features of their culture, such as eating a chicken foot or neck, I never would have been able to fully immerse myself in their culture, and I would have been missing out on a large part of the experience. In the past, I have always been hesitant to try new foods when traveling to different places. However, before this trip, I decided that I would eat everything and anything that was put in front of me no matter what. Some of those things were pleasantly delicious, and some were not quite as satisfying, but all of it contributed to this valuable lesson that I brought home with me. Since I was willing to try anything, I feel that it made my experience so much richer and more satisfying, and I could return home with a sense of accomplishment that I was truly able to learn everything I possibly could while I was there.
The second major lesson I learned was to appreciate everything that I have because I truly am blessed with the life that I have been given. Traveling to Trinidad opened my eyes to this in two different ways. First, as I mentioned in my previous blog, the living conditions were worse than I anticipated, and were rather hard to adjust to. It can be easy to complain about the quality of houses in Oakland when I am at home with friends, but I still found myself missing my own bed after just a few nights in Matelot. Although I was eventually able to adjust, the first few nights were hard to handle as far as bugs, dirt, heat, and sleeping with a mosquito net on top of me. This made me realize that no matter how I view what I have now, it could always be worse. This taught me to look for even the smallest positives in any situation to help get through something that I am struggling with. This is a lesson that a mentor of mine tried to teach me many years ago, and although I thought I understood her lesson at the time, this experience truly opened my eyes to what she was trying to show me. The second way I learned to appreciate what I have is just the sheer fact that I was able to participate in this trip. It made me realize how lucky I am that I am healthy and fortunate enough to be able to travel to other countries and learn about the people and the culture there. I am very thankful that I was able to participate in this trip and gain these invaluable experiences and life lessons while in Matelot.
Throughout the week, we would have debrief meetings at night after the full day’s activities where we would talk about what happened during the day and what transferable skills we felt that we gained by doing a certain activity during the day. After returning to the United States, the transferable skills that I believe I gained from the entire week are communication, adaptability, and teamwork. For communication, it was very hard to understand the people in the community with the speed and accent that they talked with. As the week progressed however, I felt as if I was much more capable of understanding what they were talking about. One specific example of this was toward the end of the week when we were working on the library project. Myself and a couple of the other team members were joking around and holding a full friendly conversation with the two community members that were working on the library. It felt very encouraging to be able to communicate with them and joke around where it was clear that we were not struggling to understand each other, but rather could speak freely and had similar interests. For adaptability, adjusting to the disorganization and loose interpretation of time that the Trinis have was difficult. However, it became less frustrating and much easier to go with the flow as the week carried on. I found myself willing to do whatever activity they told us we were going to do rather than wanting to know well in advance what they had planned for us. For me, the transition was all about being open to whatever came my way and solving whatever problems came up with an open mind. The last transferable skill I feel that I made great progress on was teamwork. Although the CPLE has contributed to this skill outside of this trip, I felt closer and more connected to a team than I ever had before because we needed to lean on each other due to all of the uncertainty in an environment that none of us had ever experienced before. I felt as if I was able to get a lot more work done more efficiently with this group than any other before because of we were able to connect and work together.
Another skill I felt that I developed through this trip was patience. I mentioned the challenge of island time already, but that is where the majority of the patience was developed for me. At the beginning of the week, it was frustrating and sometimes a little bit annoying to have to wait at least a half hour after our meetings were supposed to start for the group to show up. However, as the week went on, I found myself much more relaxed and calm, and hardly even noticed that the groups we were supposed to meet with were late. I just sat back and enjoyed the beauty of Matelot and told myself that the meeting would start whenever it started. I had nowhere else to be, so I was not in any rush to leave. These are skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my life both personally and professionally, proving further that this experience was truly invaluable to me.
The majority of my expectations for Matelot came from pictures, the Culture Smart book, and our in-class discussions prior to spring break. My expectations for what Matelot would look like were far from reality. Although it was hard to tell what Matelot looked like from the pictures we saw, I still formed a guess as to what I thought it was. First, it appeared to be mostly flat in the pictures that I remember seeing, which could not be farther from the truth. After living in and around Pittsburgh my whole life, I thought that everywhere else seemed comparatively flat. However, Matelot is essentially one big hill. Half of the town is going up one side of the hill, and the other half is going down the other side of the hill. Another misconception I had was the size of the town. I knew that it would be very small from discussions, but it was even smaller than I expected. We were able to walk from one side of town to the complete opposite side of town in about five to ten minutes. The rest of the presumptions that I made about Matelot, from discussions and Culture Smart, were mostly correct. As far as the leisurely attitude, the friendliness, and the close-knit nature of the community, those were all just as I expected they would be before we arrived.
As previously mentioned, the biggest challenges that we faced were the communication barrier and our initial exposure to “island time”. The communication barrier was tough because we were unable to communicate efficiently and effectively at the beginning of the trip. As frustrating as it was for me to repeatedly ask someone what they were saying, I am sure it was just as frustrating for them to have to repeat themselves to me four times. I overcame this challenge by paying close attention in conversations throughout the week and just continuing to try to understand no matter how frustrating it got. Eventually, it started to become easier to understand what they were saying, and I was able to hold real conversations with people by the end of the week.
Island time was challenging because it is just so different from the way I am used to living my life. As I stated earlier though, as I developed my adaptation and patience skills throughout the week, I was much more relaxed and able to effectively transition to their interpretation of time to minimize my frustrations.
Matelot, Trinidad is now a part of my life that I will cherish forever, and I am so grateful for getting to be a part of this phenomenal experience.