Anticipating Challenges and Riding the Learning Curve: Countdown to Trinidad

As the trip to Trinidad quickly approaches, the realization that our group will actually have to enact the concepts and workshops of which we have been preparing to present is as prevalent as ever. Because of this, it is now extremely important to be thinking about the challenges that could potentially arise due to the differing cultural norms of Trinidad and the United States. This topic is something that our group has kept into consideration throughout the course, playing closer attention as we began to construct our deliverables and predict potential interactions that we may have with DORCAS. 

The first thing that comes to mind when addressing this topic is the differing pace of life that the individual’s native to Trinidad live. Life in Trinidad is much more slowed down than the lifestyle we are used to living here in the states, and that feeling of constantly moving in slow motion could inevitably cause mindsets of impatience and frustration among the group. Due to the trip’s duration only lasting one week, we are eager to guarantee that everything we have prepared to execute in country gets completed. But as visitors, we will have to accept their pace of life, learn to slow down, and maybe even come to terms with the fact that everything we had planned might not get accomplished despite our best efforts. Our group needs to recognize both among ourselves and each other if we are coming across as if we are aggravated or intolerant with the progress of the trip. It is our job has consultants to learn and adapt to the culture of Trinidad, not vice versa. 

In addition to adapting to Trinidad’s pace of life, a challenge I anticipate encountering relates to the task of conducting business in low context vs. high context cultures. Being raised in a low-context culture has no doubt lead me to communicate in ways that are clear-cut, honest, and unambiguous. The same holds true for my group members, and although both countries speak English, I have reservations about communicating with them in ways that are similar to how we are used to communicating here, especially in business settings. I would argue that due to Trinidad’s tendency to function as a collectivist society as well as placing a great emphasis on interpersonal relationships, that they operate as a high-context culture and rely heavily on implicit communication to get their point across. Because the work we hope to accomplish on site is based heavily in sharing knowledge and teaching, we are constantly thinking about the best way to communicate with DORCAS as to not come across as the experts or as if we believe our knowledge is superior to theirs. Should we demonstrate to DORCAS behavior that is seemingly arrogant and entitled, we may turn the women off completely from any type of interaction with us, which will inevitably prevent us from executing our scope of work. Keeping this concern in mind, we have modeled our deliverables in ways that we hope will be most effective given the culture in Trinidad and the way that the women are used to learning and receiving information. It is our hope to engage the women has much as possible, and to do that we must modify the way we think about passing knowledge onto others. 

In order to avoid the challenge described above, our group has listened heavily to advice provided to us by our resources, and even asked the women directly about the best methods to communicate information to them. Based off of this guidance, we have decided to construct a series of workshops and guided discussions with visuals and interactive elements to ensure that the women are comfortable with the topics and the individuals presenting them. We have also opted to include multiple open-ended questions throughout our meetings to verify that the women are understanding of the material being presented. 

Along similar lines, another challenge to be mindful of is the differing ways that individuals from the United States and Trinidad communicate in professional business settings. For Americans, I would argue that business interactions are to be taken seriously at all times, especially in formal meetings. However, in Trinidad, although business is taken seriously, it is much more typical to utilize humor during professional exchanges. Because of these differences, our group is already struggling to construct our workshops, specifically in networking and customer service, due to the fact that these two subjects could potentially look very different in each country. As a result of this concern, our group is maintaining an active effort to incorporate elements of humor in our presentations as well as moments where we step back and ask DORCAS directly what their experiences in regard to those two topics are. That way, we can ensure that throughout the trip we are learning together, establishing interpersonal relationships, and following through with the deliverables promised to DORCAS. 

Upon arriving in country and completing the trip, I plan to obtain an abundance of personal learning from the international service-learning experience. Specifically, I hope to expand upon my knowledge in three key categories that are specific to international service-learning projects: intercultural competence, global competency, and cultural intelligence. 

In terms of expanding my intercultural competence, I am optimistic that this experience will expose me to interactions that will allow for me to transform the knowledge that I currently have into targeted knowledge. From that point, it is my hope that this new-found knowledge will provide me with the skills necessary to effectively communicate and behave in environments that are by definition, intercultural. Specifically, as a student focusing on the study of business, I am confident that through this international service-learning project I will be better able to develop a greater competence and attitude towards relevant professional behavior in business environments that are intercultural. To summarize, by interacting with the women from DORCAS as well as other entities that possess backgrounds differing from my own, it is my hope that I will gain a sense of awareness and knowledge that will lead me to act in ways that are professionally and culturally relevant in the future. 

In addition to expanding upon my intercultural competence, I would also like to build upon the global competence that I have at this particular moment. Although these two terms sound rather similar and as if they could be used interchangeably, global competence is referring to one’s ability to recognize and act on matters of global significance. Developing and expanding upon my global competence is something that would not be possible should I not actually go abroad and experience issues of global significance in country. Learning how to navigate situations that rely heavily on the knowledge of global factors is something that I am looking forward to practicing in Trinidad and in future international experiences. 

The last key topic of which I hope to personally learn and expand upon in country is my cultural intelligence. During my time spent in Trinidad, I am excited to test what level of cultural intelligence I currently have and build upon areas of which I see room for improvement. The way I view cultural intelligence represents an individual’s, specifically an outsider’s, ability to interpret unfamiliar and unclear signals and communication in a way that a person familiar to the culture would be able to. Similarly to global competence, it is essentially impossible to improve upon this skill without experiences in country. Cultural intelligence is made up of four key components: motivation, action, metacognition, and cognition. Motivation relates to one’s drive and commitment to building upon the skill, metacognition refers to the strategy used to build the skill- similar to the way that we utilize blogs to reflect on our experiences, and cognition relates to the knowledge that an individual possesses in relation to the topic. However, action, or one’s ability to behave in a way that depicts that they have cultural intelligence, cannot be done without experiencing conflict on an international level and adapting one’s behavior based on that conflict. Because of this, I am hoping to focus on the action’s I take in country and how to modify those actions based on the reactions that I get from DORCAS. For instance, even though the women and ourselves both speak English, I am anticipating moments of confusion because of the different ways we communicate. Because of this, I am looking forward to testing my ability to pivot and recognize when DORCAS is confused by my wording and choosing to rephrase what I had said prior rather than just repeating the same sentence louder. 

Overall, I believe that anticipating what cultural norms will present challenges for conducting the business we need to conduct will speed up the personal learning process. Foreseeing challenges prior to departure essentially forces one to think about the potential ways to react in those situations, which in turn speeds up the learning process that will be experienced in country. I am excited to see if the challenges I expect to encounter will hold true, and how I will be able to modify my behavior in a way that fosters personal learning in country.