Going to a different country can be challenging in many ways. With just one plane ride, you become the outsider when you commonly don’t play that role. This feeling of being an outsider can be unnerving when you do not understand the customs or social norms that take place in the foriegn country you are visiting. Puerto Rico, given its status as a commonwealth of the United States, is a unique island with different culture and traditions that are not customary to the US.
Traveling to Puerto Rico is like stepping into your favorite telenovela. The music, the food, and your interactions will be ones you’ll never forget. Puerto Rico is described as a high context culture, and this describes the ways people communicate with each other. High context cultures express through the use of this type of communication goes beyond words and phrases, but is communicated through tone, personal status, and body language. Puerto Ricans are known for having a high context culture because of the ways they use nonverbal communication. For Puerto Ricans they communicate by being loud, speaking fast and talking with their hands. During conversations, you can often find yourself being interrupted or finishing the sentences of your partners.
These small gestures can become a challenge while we conduct our business in Puerto Rico. Communication is critical to any project when multiple parties are involved. As my team and I gather details about the components of their project, we will be making sure all our questions are answered. Challengers in this area may arise because of the high context communication Puerto Ricans are used to. Here in the United States which is described as a very low context culture, we usually communicate very straight forward. When something is unclear it is verbally explained, and we get straight to the point in meeting or projects, making sure all the details are forthcoming. My team and I usually conduct our group meetings by discussing the aspects of our work, and occasionally begin with a small segment of personal conversation. The primary purpose of our meetings is to examine the details of our project, discussing our roles and responsibility, and the steps we must take to reach our goal. However, meetings and gatherings will be reversed entirely upon entering Puerto Rico. Instead of our traditional American ways of conducting a meeting, Caras will most likely see this as an opportunity to get to know each other and build on the relationship. This will mean spending more time on connecting and engaging with each other and learning each other’s personalities, with concluding on the discussion of the project details.
This is much more of a personalized approach from the cultural norms in the United States. I anticipate this being one of the more challenging cultural norms, because of the small timeframe we have with Caras. Our week there will be filled with meeting and being introduced to many individuals working for Caras. I am nervous that getting to know each other will give us less time to get the information for the project. Part of our job will be to make sure we have enough time with the people how to have the answers to our question to full fill our scope of work. As a team and individually we must change our perception of how we conduct business and adapt to this form of high context communication. This will take preparation on our part before traveling. We must find the fine line where we are able to enjoy ourselves in the company our new friends and be attentive to the project that is at hand without crossing over boundaries that might seem in the wrong manner.
Because our time is short, timeliness is another cultural norm we will have to adapt to. Through research and experience, Puerto Ricans are usually late. To be late is to be on time with this culture. This could become very frustrating during our time in Puerto Rico especially if this meeting time is projected as a social event. It raises the question if we are able to collect all the information from the individuals in charge of this project. Adaptation is an important characteristic I will have to expand on in Puerto Rico. Being a college student and being on time to fit multiple events in a single day is the only way to get everything I need done. Again, this is something my team and I need to be consistent on and make sure we are forming our conversations to be socially engaging, but in a way that moves the discussion into more of a business setting, we want to be able to do our work well. We need to make sure we make the most of our short time in Puerto Rico.
Communication is essential whenever you are interacting with a culture that is different from your own. However, part of communicating is listening and understanding, with Puerto Rico being a high context culture it is essential that we all understand the end goal for this project. While we have been researching the environmental laboratory, there has been miscommunication about what type of laboratory is wanted. We have been heavily relying on the information provided by our mentors. Our goal is to provide a feasibility report at the end of the semester and to the best of our abilities effectively fulfill Caras’s expectations for the laboratory. The cultural norm separation I am worried about is that Cara’s expectations for this lab will not be fully commuicated.
As mentioned before high context cultures communication through contextual elements. For countries who are on that side of the spectrum, miscommunication tends to be the divide on what the expectations are in this project. It is our job during our time in Puerto Rico to reiterate what we think Caras wants to clearly make sure we are delivering a product they will be happy with. We need to pay attention to when something isn’t fully explained and to ask for clarification. Being able to read between the lines is a communication characteristic we need to adapt to make sure we understand all the needs for the laboratory.
Not many people see the benefit of practicing their communication skills in a different environment. It is often the statement that this type of opportunity can be done within the borders of the United States. The discussion about the kind of impact international service learning can provide students demonstrates international service learning is the best place to practice communication.
From the very beginning of this program, I have been challenged to think differently than I am used to. This program gives me the opportunity to engage with an organization outside of my usual settings and invites me to be exposed to a different type of learning. What an international service learning program adds is the ability to teach additional things of what I have been learning in the classroom.
When we get on the ground in Puerto Rico, there will be many obstacles we must tackle and again my ability to adapt will be put to the test. This is a very real-life situation to prepare for, and although my team and I are taking the wheels on this project, we will have the help of our mentors to guide us through some of our thoughts. Even though this type of cushion isn’t usually provided in the working world, things will change in Puerto Rico, and we will learn how to think on our feet when the time comes.
What I find interesting about international service-learning programs is they are specific to your academic needs. This differs from volunteering, internships, and gap-year placements because it challenges what you’ve been learning in the classroom. After graduating, I will be working with nonprofit organizations and working directly with Cara’s will provide the opportunity to learn about how different cultures run organizations.
I love that Cara’s has an environmental component in their program and that a lot of their work goes into preserving their mangroves. Spending time in the wetlands will be a fantastic learning opportunity to gain while in the country. My exposer to wetlands and mangroves is directly from the textbook or videos of people who have worked directly in them. It will be exciting to apply and learn up close and personal about how these mangroves are being preserved by the community and the species that inhabit the area. Because my area of interest includes how global warming affects communities and climate refugees, I am interested in learning how much Cara’s was impacted during the two hurricanes and what the types of sustainable architecture they plan to implement to protect themselves when this happens again.
Next week will be the continuation of this experience in Puerto Rico. Finally getting to interact with the community is going to be a fantastic learning experience. Puerto Rico is an amazing island filled with wonderful people, and I am excited to experience the island for a different purpose other than visiting family. This is a chance to be a part of something more significant and to benefit a community in need.