Anticipating Trinidad

In less than a week, our group will be in Trinidad – somehow I still can not believe how quickly this process has been. In preparation for our trip, we have been researching many cultural norms of Trinidad and what differences we will face upon landing and meeting the people there. While we can read as many articles and watch as many videos about Trinidad’s people, general environment, and traditions, we will definitely not know the answers to every challenge and problem we will face whether working with the DORCAS women or casually exploring Matelot. It is somewhat of a scary concept, but it is also exciting, given the opportunities to learn with new people in a new environment.

One of the biggest cultural challenges I believe I will face is adapting to the generally relaxed attitude and perspective about most parts of life that they have in Trinidad. Here in the US, we are generally very work-oriented and result-driven. Particularly as business students, we typically have this mentality of constantly trying to increase or maintain productivity, even if sometimes we have to sacrifice other aspects of our lives. The short time of one week we have in Trinidad will probably make us feel more uncomfortable because we will feel like we have to get tasks done quicker, but we must remind ourselves that time moves differently, more slowly, in Trinidad. Trinidadians value enjoying life more than working. We encourage turning our passions into work (that usually returns income that we invest back into our passions). Trinidadians view work as a resource to survive or maintain their lifestyles – work just enough to do the personal activities that you need to or want to do. I am really used to structure. I enjoy having my days scheduled out and always knowing what I am going to do next, but I realize that my preferences will be tested in Trinidad. I see this cultural difference as an opportunity for my personal and professional growth. I hope to improve on being flexible with my time and energy as I know the world can be unpredictable, especially in business interactions, and if something does not go as planned, as things do often, I will be able to accept that change and to try to adapt to it.

Another cultural challenge I will probably face is difference in communication. From a global scope, the United States is one of the lowest context countries. We observe this during interactions that we rarely give a second thought on: calling our professors by their first names, encouraged to ask a lot of questions when beginning a new job, and viewing criticism on a written exam as purely academic rather than personal. We learn that good communication is explicit and straight-forward. It is best to not leave room for misinterpretation. High context countries place significance on relationships moreso than the directness or efficiency of verbal communication. Names usually have importance, embodying one’s identity. They are not just a means of grabbing a person’s attention. Acknowledging another’s title is a sign of respect and actively recognizes the relationship between you and the person you are talking to. For example, some high context countries such as Japan often add honorifics to distinguish each other’s “role” in that specific relationship. Questioning a higher-up’s instructions or directions can be received as disrespect or talking back. Academic criticism may be viewed as a negative opinion on one’s personal character. Normal communication requires reading between the lines. Of course, different countries have differing levels of context. Before travelling, it is important to learn about the destination’s communication norms to avoid seeming disrespectful or causing misinterpretation as much as we can. In our case, it is especially important to keep this difference in mind and be aware of how we word sentences and express ourselves physically to build positive and respectful relationships with the DORCAS women and others that we will meet throughout the week. Projects cannot be done and relationships cannot be built without some sort of communication. Learning how we can express our ideas so all parties understand our message will create progress towards our goals. Knowing this, I see this challenge as a professional and personal learning opportunity to recognize different ways to communicate effectively, especially for other international business interactions.

I think the most explicit challenge I will face is the lack of technology. The US focuses a lot on the advancement of technology. I hope that my career focuses on this idea because one of my interests is the vast uses of technology to make life easier. We have been informed that we will not have the same level of access in Trinidad. I am sure that while we are there, I will come across times when I think, “If we had wifi or a computer right now, we could finish this task easier and faster,” but I believe that this difference will allow me to be more creative in problem-solving and efficiency. I must remind myself every time I think of the previous quoted statement, “What other ways can I approach this task without advanced and easy technology and still successfully deliver my message?”  I also imagine that the less distracted I am from my phone or computer, the more time I have to get to know the women of the DORCAS Women’s Group and the other citizens in Trinidad to build stronger relationships with them. Given that this is one of our main goals in travelling to Trinidad, having less opportunities to continuously keep up with technology is a good way to relax and slow down to the pace of Trinidadians, and to be more aware of our surroundings and the culture around us. It is one thing to read online about travelling experiences in Trinidad, but it is another thing to be fully in the moment and to experience it in real life first hand.

I have mentioned from my expected challenges, I hope to grow in terms of my flexibility and adaptability, communication skills, and building relationships and my cultural awareness while in Trinidad. I believe that the umbrella skill that I hope to improve on is intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is effective behavior and communication in intercultural situations that derive from active cultural appreciation, including appreciation of the similarities and differences between the interacting cultures. This skill connects with my personal learning goal of becoming more time- and energy- flexible and adaptable because my usual rushed behavior in regards to time would come across as rude to Trinidadians. To improve my intercultural competence, I should see their relaxed view on time as an opportunity to build relationships with the DORCAS women. Intercultural competence also relates to my goal of recognizing different ways to communicate because I must be aware of my use of language and how the person I am interacting with may interpret my verbal and physical expressions. Building relationships and my cultural awareness is definitely tied towards intercultural competence because I know I am behaving and communicating effectively if I have form positive relationships with the DORCAS women and I come to understand why Trinidadians live the way they do.

Intercultural competence is such a big goal of mine because everyone in the world is indirectly or directly connected. But not everyone has been raised the same way and each person has their own personal and unique background. Taking each background, especially cultural background, into consideration allows us to understand how to effectively communicate and appropriately behave around them, fostering respect, diverse perspectives, and inclusive discussions. This skill is particularly important to business interactions because of the increase of globalization. I have always wanted to have travel be a huge part of the work I do in the future, but I would like to effectively travel and work internationally. I want to get to know the different cultures in each of the countries I visit because I believe building relationships with others around the globe definitely yields personal growth if I continuously and actively try to understand and appreciate what each culture has to offer.

It is a good thing that we emphasize such skills in this class before travelling abroad. While we can not predict everything that will happen, good or bad, it is important that we approach each new situation with an open mind and a positive attitude that welcomes these cultural differences. I believe this class has allowed us to become more comfortable with executing even without having all the information. As students we are generally uncomfortable with not having all the necessary information to complete a task. For example, we strive to know everything about a subject to prepare to take an exam. However travelling is not a structured idea, like an exam. We must be open to many challenges to fully get the most out of visiting a new country. With this in mind and as my mentality, I am incredibly excited to finally visit Trinidad and to meet and work with the DORCAS Women’s Group.