With the in-country portion of the GSL course rapidly approaching, everything we are doing to prepare holds more weight. Getting to talk with some of the women in the DORCAS women’s group on the phone also helped the reality set in that we are actually going to be traveling to the place we have spent so much time researching and working on deliverables for.
Our deliverables are all based around professionalism and customer service. I think trying to teach these things in any country different from the one you live in would be difficult because every country has different ideas about what it means to be professional or what good customer service looks like. Specifically in Trinidad, there are a few cultural differences that might challenge some of our deliverables.
I think the first one, that will be especially difficult for me personally is the pace of life there. Talking with Hillary at the orientation she warned us that things are not going to be moving very quickly. As someone who is always filling every second of my day with something to do, the laid back environment is going to take some getting used to. For example, we are planning on doing SWOT analysis’ on the way to site visits, to not waste any time while in transit. This idea of doing work while on the road might not be something the women are used to. They might be wanting to use that time to relax and socialize, which would conflict with our plans. This could possibly cause some awkwardness as well as derail the timeline we developed. We are going to need to be flexible and realize that we may not be able to execute our plans exactly as we had wanted to.
This relaxed way of life might affect our networking presentation as well. In the US, especially as a business student, we are told to always be networking. You never know who you might meet that might be able to help you and we are constantly reminded of this. In Trinidad, time spent socializing is meant to be relaxing and fun, not about trying to advance your career. However, they do base a lot of business on relationships so they might even have advice for us about how to effectively build a network.
Another norm that I think may challenge us is the high vs. low context cultures. The US is a low context culture which means the context of the relationship between people doesn’t matter as much as other places. Of course, we have seniority and superiority but it is not as important as other places. Also, we make it more obvious and spelled out. This goes for other things as well, Americans have no problem getting right to the point and spelling out exactly what they are planning to say. We don’t leave a lot left to figure out from what we present and what we say to people. Since we are so used to living in this culture, that is the style of presentations and discussions we have planned. This might come across to the women like we are being blunt or rude, since they are used a culture that is much higher context. I think this will be the hardest challenge we face while in Trinidad because it is so ingrained. In class, when asked if we thought the US was a high or low context culture I initially guessed we were on the higher side. When I found out that we are one of the lowest context cultures I was shocked, further proving how ingrained this way of life is for me. I have traveled to other high context cultures but I haven’t gone to one with this specific lense to observe through. I am interested in trying to pick up on that way of life and try and adapt our discussions to fit that context.
I am hoping to strengthen my transferable skills by testing them in an international space. Whenever you travel abroad there are extra challenges placed upon you that will help to grow your skills exponentially. This relates to what we read and talked about in class, intercultural competence. The idea of “effective and appropriate behavior and communication” is what makes doing things internationally different than doing them at home. For example, if I was tasked with giving a presentation on customer service to a group of Pitt Business students, I wouldn’t need to think very hard about what type of communication would be effective and appropriate. Since they are my peers who I am always together with I wouldn’t need to take much effort to alter what I want to say to get my point across. This is not the case when I am traveling to Trinidad. My group and I are going to need to take extra precaution with everything we present to ensure that it is effective and appropriate. This will call upon our communication skills as well as our adaptability skills. Communication is a transferable skill that is grown most effectively abroad, or where you are somewhere where you are less comfortable.
There are couple elements of communication that will be developed while in Trinidad. The first being the style of communication when giving a presentation or leading a discussion. We don’t know what types of educations the women have had so we don’t know what a presentation or a discussion looks like to them. This will mean we need to be able to adjust our communication style based simply off what we are seeing the women do and say. If they seem unengaged, that is a problem that is on us as we are not effectively communicating. A large part of communicating while abroad is listening. As much as we are giving presentations, we are also learning how to read the reactions to presentations. This is not something we really need to do while in school because the standard for presentations is so prescribed.
I am interested in developing my team work skills alongside this. Being flexible about communicating is easy when you are doing it just yourself, but all of these presentations will be done in a group. This will mean our group needs to be really good at playing off one another and knowing when someone changes something up to just go with it an be flexible if something you were possibly looking forward to doesn’t go as planned. The teamwork we think of when doing group projects for a grade is very different from teamwork where the outcome is for something larger than just a grade. If we are unable to work together as a team, that will be damaging to the DORCAS women as they won’t get as much out of this project as we are hoping.
We also don’t only need to work as a team with each other, but with the women as well. Something that will be important is making sure we are getting maximum input from them. Building relationships early on in the trip will help the women to feel comfortable giving their input. If we were to be challenged on something we presented, I think that would help us grow more than if the women just agree with everything we say. But that type of dialogue can only happen if there is space for it to happen, especially in a high context culture. The challenge will be developing this space on such a short trip. This will mean we need to be prepared to ask a lot of questions and make sure the lanes of communication are opened early. Getting to know people is an important life skill and this will be a good challenge for developing that. I am excited for this challenge because I don’t think it’s something that can be learned in the classroom.
Overall, I think without the challenges, I wouldn’t be able to gain any of the learning I am hoping for. If we go on the trip and there are no challenges, it might be nice in the moment but in the long run it won’t help me grow or develop in any way. How we face and work with the challenges that are going to be presented to us is how we build cultural intelligence and competence. The only way to truly discover what is effective and appropriate is to actually go somewhere and try it. I know that I am going to make mistakes while there, but when those mistakes are made I will know I am becoming more culturally aware. I am excited to go to Trinidad and finally start doing what we’ve been planning these past few months!