In less than a week, I will be starting to build relationships with the members of the DORCAS Women’s Group in Matelot, Trinidad. Our group is in the third phase of a ten-year project that is making strides towards eco-tourism. The community of Matelot does not currently have the capacity to sustain ecotourism, so taking it one step at a time we hope to build towards obtaining this capacity. During our phase, we are working on developing skills in networking and customer service through the use of collaborative workshops with the members of the DORCAS Women’s Group. We hope to utilize our experience from the professional business world in the United States of America and the culturally unique ways of networking , that we will continually learn throughout our time in Trinidad, in site visits. Many of the women have never been outside of Matelot; therefore, never having the opportunity to be on a professional site visit. Our goal as a team of student consultants is to build a relationship with the women and demonstrate how to receive the most out of a site visit by indicating what questions to ask in order to receive essential information and how to build partnerships with other companies. Our ultimate goal throughout our time in Trinidad is to build capacity for future ecotourism with the first step of building relationships with the DORCAS Women’s group. We hope these new strong relationships will develop anticipation in the minds of the women in Trinidad to work with future Pitt Business student consultants.
With these objectives and work plans in mind, our group knows that completing our goals will not come with ease. We must be ready to anticipate challenges that may arise during our time in Trinidad. These challenges will arise due to the difference in cultural norms in Trinidad compared to the United States. This shows the importance of intercultural competence, the combination of effective behavioral skills and transferable skills that develops efficient and appropriate behavior while communicating in a new culture. It is our job as student consultants to continually learn and adapt within the new culture. It is our responsibility to change, utilizing transferable skills such as adaptation and flexibility. Our capability to adapt will help us overcome the challenges that come with differences in cultural norms in Trinidad.
The first major cultural norm that will be a challenge for our group is the difference between Trinidad’s high context culture and the United States’ low context culture. Living in the United States, our group is used to a low context culture, a focus on logic and tasks. This affects how we complete business in the United States. Business in the United States tends to be to the point as people get together exclusively to complete the needed tasks. After business is completed, relationships with business partners and clients are more than likely severed. The opposite of this is true in Trinidad, a high context culture. High context cultures are situational and hold high importance on the idea of building relationships. Connections are formed over a long period of time, and business sometimes takes a backseat to initiating personal connections. In our work in Trinidad, we may struggle with the idea of first building relationships with the members of the DORCAS Women’s Group before beginning to talk business. This may also seem time consuming and unnecessary due to the limited amount of time we have with the women in Trinidad: however, this can be easily completed with an extra effort to get to know each individual personally and will overall increase the quality of conversations we have with the women. We need to take initiative to start conversations with the women by avoiding socializing in two separate groups and focusing on asking questions about their lives rather than talking solely about our own.
Communication will be key when we are making an effort to provide knowledge on SWOT analyses, professionalism, and customer service to the DORCAS Women’s Group. In Trinidad, English is their main language; however, with a thick accent, many Trinidadians may be hard to comprehend. We need to be patient with ourselves and others, understanding that communication at first between each other may be difficult. Being an agile communicator is important in this situation and we must have the ability to move along the communication spectrum. This means rewording questions when necessary when someone does not comprehend and asking for clarification from others when we are confused. Grasping the importance of being an agile communicator will hold significance when implementing our workshops in-country.
Another cultural norm that may be difficult to manage is how the individuals in Trinidad learn and the education system in Matelot. Our plans in Matelot is to provide information and insight into networking and customer service. To properly provide this information we must as a team understand how Trinidadians learn best, and more importantly which form of teaching they are familiar with. In the United States, students are used to a presentation format where a presenter informs their audience about what they intend to talk about, then step by step go through their points, and finishes their presentation with a summary of these same points. This style of teaching is uncommon in Trinidad, and we need to keep this in mind for our own presentations while in-country and adapt our style in order to better suit the needs of the individuals in Matelot. Our team decided to present our information in a collaborative workshop, including multiple visual aids and guided discussions. This allows our team to provide information in a way that the DORCAS Women’s Group will understand and will also provide our team an outlet to learn from the women’s group in return, increasing our cultural intelligence.
Cultural Intelligence involves an individual’s ability to work across cultures while managing expectations and developing effective tools to be successful. Utilizing these tools while abroad will provide me with an outlet to build a connection in Matelot and make my time there more purposeful. For this reason, I hope to gain an understanding of cultural intelligence while abroad. Cultural Intelligence consists of four main aspects: motivation, metacognition, cognition, and behavior. Each aspect of cultural intelligence will hopefully push me towards a higher level of cultural competence. First is motivation or an individual’s drive. Being in-country will provide me with a direct purpose and connection to the people and the country of Trinidad. The first couple of days in Trinidad may seem uncomfortable due to culture shock, or the unfamiliarity of a country’s ways of life. Once in-country, I hope to gain a personal connection to the work that we are completing that shifts the feeling of unfamiliarity to a comprehensive understanding of the Trinidadian culture, improving interactions with the members of the DORCAS Women’s Group. This motivation will help with the next aspect of cultural intelligence, metacognition or strategy. While in-country we will benefit from building a connection to the work we are completing, but it also will help to have a strategy to pull together our ideas in order to articulate what we do know. It may be hard at first to fully comprehend the impact that we will have on the individuals in Matelot and the impact they will have on us, but through reflection, I hope to obtain a realization of the influence this experience will have in the future. This influence will also be stronger with the third aspect of cultural intelligence, knowledge or cognition. This aspect includes leveraging our resources to develop intercultural skills. Resources can include data, articles, and others’ opinions and perspectives. While in-country I hope to obtain and apply information that we receive from the DORCAS Women’s Group to increase our effectiveness in presenting our ideas about networking and customer service. As mentioned before, one of the challenges with interacting and working in Trinidad will be the learning curve in understanding how the Women’s group interprets and grasps new material. Information that comes from the knowledge aspect of cultural intelligence, such as research and unique individual opinions, will help us overcome this challenge. This will also help us attain transferable skills such as adaptability and flexibility leading to the grasping of the final aspect of cultural intelligence, the capability to act. Many classrooms lead theoretical exercises, where an individual is presented with a situation and they need to explain how they would react in the given situation. Oftentimes, this exercise doesn’t show how an individual would actually react in a given situation due to the lack of pressure and real-world consequences. For this global service learning opportunity, this would not be the case. Our group will need to apply transferable skills such as problem-solving, flexibility, and critical thinking to think quickly on our feet to make decisions and accept change in certain situations. The decisions we make have real-life consequences and the ability to act under these pressures is something an individual can attain only through real-world experience.
Overall, during my time in Trinidad, I hope to work towards acquiring cultural competence through the development of cultural intelligence and transferable skills. Cultural competence can never be completely mastered, but with each step towards a higher competency level, I hope to gain more awareness and knowledge of intercultural communication.