After nearly a month since we returned from Trinidad, there has been plenty of time to soak in the unforgettable experiences and miss paradise. I already miss the fresh fruit, beautiful landscape, and my new family in the Matelot community. During my reflection on my time in Matelot, I have already noticed some of the life lessons I learned as well as juxtaposed my presumed v. actual experiences in-country.
While in-country, we faced plenty of obstacles that forced us to take away valuable life-long lessons that are attributable to both our personal lives as well as our professional lives. Living in paradise taught us to adapt, communicate, and build a community. On a personal level, I have already noticed how my attention to detail has grown. Understanding that engaging in your community and including important information in any message promotes efficiency and clarity, allowing for room to easily pivot just in case of any unforeseen events.
Adaptability: The Art of Pivoting
With an increased focus on globalization, understanding the differences in the cultures of coworkers and clientele will be of the utmost importance. In Trinidad, we had to remove ourselves from our way of life and live alongside the community members. To start, simply being in an unknown environment is an unnerving obstacle that can only be overcome through adapting.
In-country, there was a multitude of experiences where we needed to adapt, the most prominent would be our meeting with the school principal. However, when we arrived, one of the teachers informed us that neither the principal nor the vice-principal was at the school that day. Of course, we had to perform a meeting with someone so we met with a large group of older students. One of the toughest challenges was adapting to the sheer mass of the students; there were upwards of 40 students. Through grit and following Christy’s lead, we were able to rise to the occasion.
The takeaway: be prepared to pivot! You never truly know when a sudden change will throw a wrench into your plans. In order to adapt, you must learn that sometimes saying “Okay Good” and accepting the change is the only way to overcome the obstacle.
On the job, pivoting will be a nearly daily experience, especially since there is never just one party involved, there will always be a client, coworker, or uncontrollable externality that can change even the simplest of lunch plans. By learning now, we are far better prepared to take on the uncertainty of future events and are able to pivot around whatever challenges may come our way. After all, we successfully adapted to tentative schedules, sporadic downpours, and hectic situations while traveling.
Communication: Every Detail Matters
One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome was the lack of communication. While it is understandable that with Trini-time timeliness is not stressed, it is difficult to manage as we have had no real exposure to the lifestyle. On our second day in-country, our meeting with the Police Youth Club was almost jeopardized as no members had arrived. Joanne, a member of DORCAS Women’s Group (you will hear about them in the next section), called the president of the club to remind them that they had a scheduled meeting. It was not the tardiness that was the issue but the information that had been exchanged
Communication is something that we take for granted in our everyday lives. Today, how many times have you already sent a message of some kind to a friend or coworker? In a realm of abundant Wi-Fi and a plethora of communication channels, the details of our messages are generally not seen as the utmost important since a quick follow-up text could garner the necessary information. However, when Joanne called the president of the Police Youth Club, details such as the time, duration, and flexibility of our schedule were overlooked
The takeaway: Every detail matters. Never assume that you will have the means to send a follow-up text and never assume that someone else has a flexible schedule where 30 minutes late is not that big of a deal
Communication on a broad spectrum is obviously important. However, when it comes to the details of a message, it is commonplace for us to leave some of the necessary information out. Whether you are working with clients or on a group project with coworkers, in order to achieve a goal, analyze the situation, recognize the significant information, and readily communicate your findings to whomever it may concern. Furthermore, you would rather have too much detail than not enough. Otherwise, you will fall victim to miscommunications and face the consequences that follow. In-country, falling victim to miscommunication would mean missing out on the opportunity to receive the necessary information to better the community.
Building Relationships & Establishing Community: Always Smile and Engage
Until you have lived amongst a community of 400, tightly-knit family members, you have not experienced the essence of connectivity. Our tour guide, Andre, would always tell us he was related to everyone in the village; it is tough to refute him since he knew everyone we passed. Upon our arrival, we were immediately plunged into one of the communities largest gatherings, the annual sports day. The event was centered around the community school students and a multitude of races. The field was lined by over 100 viewers, food, and speakers for announcements and music. No matter the age, everyone participated; it was about the community feeling and engaging as one big family.
The takeaway: building a sense of community and family is the sure way to negate hate and instead inspire love and well “Amizade” (which is Portuguese for friendship)
On the job, it will be impossible to avoid interaction of any kind. Having a tight-knit culture in your company will not only better yourself but the company as a whole. With everyone around you inspiring you to do your best, the only direction is upwards.
Having a community does place a sense of stewardship upon your neighbors. If things were perfect, we would live in a Utopia. However, there is always a need for help; that is where the notion of stewardship facilitates community growth. In Matelot, one of the main facilitators is the DORCAS Women’s Group. With the help of Amizade, they promote the development of the village and growth of connectivity through projects like the soup and doubles kitchen and soon-to-be-completed library for youth development. Every member of the women’s group is driven to further develop their home and it is apparent that every they act in the best interest of Matelot. As I mentioned at a company level, it boils down to the environment of growth. DORCAS will grow through the development of the Matelot community.
Anticipation v. Experience:
Before traveling to Matelot, I had a plethora of anticipated cultural and personal expectations. From the notion of Trini-time to feeling like an outsider in a tightly-knit community, my anticipated experiences generally fell short of what I actually experienced.
One of the heavily focused concepts in our culture smart book was the seemingly snide remarks of the locals. Of course, their remarks meant no kind of harm but the premise was that they did not beat around the bush when it came to vocalizing their own observations. In-country, I was prepared to face these remarks on a day-to-day basis since we looked and sounded completely different. However, while in Matelot, I had yet to hear a single remark that would seem insulting. Of course, there were a handful of observations that were vocalized but they only wanted to learn more about us instead of simply stating bold-faced remarks.
If you have been keeping up with my previous reflections, you know how much the concept of Trini-Time worried me. As someone who comes from a family where 15 minutes early was late, not having control of my own time and having a loose schedule were going to be the toughest challenges to overcome. However, I am proud to say that I took Trini-time back home and the idea of living in the present has already calmed down some of my nerves when it comes to my future. In-country, we were exposed to the disregard of timeliness but soon realized that the lifestyle offered a different perspective on time. Not having to micromanage time slots in your head truly eases the mind and once used to the lifestyle, it is a wonderful means of reducing stress.
Feeling Like an Outsider:
Lastly, although you have not yet traveled to Matelot, after reading through my past blog posts, you should realize how tightly-knit the community really is. With the Village being coined as a family it is simple to think that it will be difficult to immerse yourself in their family. However, upon meeting Andre for the first time, I knew that we were in good hands. Andre would always claim he was related to everyone in the village and introduced us to the people close to him. He made it easy for us to immerse ourselves in his family. While we may have initially felt like outsiders, we were quickly welcomed into the community
After reflecting upon my life-changing experience in Trinidad, I have realized the importance of understanding the mechanisms of a different culture. I have already attributed some of the lessons to life back at Pitt and I know I will continue to learn as I reflect further upon paradise.