It is absolutely unbelievable how close I am to finally getting my feet wet, and traveling internationally. Not only that, but the thrill and excitement of meeting with every member in the DORCAS Women’s group as well, and helping them with their long-term goal. In the past blog post, I talked about the importance of service in my life. As it stands, this will be the longest, most intensive, and perhaps even most helpful service project I have ever been apart of. That fact alone is exciting, anxiety-provoking (in a good way), and practically all other emotions in between. The sheer amount of preparation that has all been leading up to this Saturday, is mind-boggling. We have spent months now working toward this goal of ours to create a living scope of work document, and then preparing all of the deliverables to be brought along with us. This process has been extremely fun, especially thinking and wondering about the amazing interactions we are going to have with the people of Trinidad.
Just the other day, we got the amazing opportunity to briefly speak to two of the women we will be working directly with in Trinidad. The genuine authenticity in their accents, excitement and hope for this trip, and friendly tone all combined to light up a wave of exhilaration. It is really funny how one simple phone call can just make everything so real. It is relatively easy to feel somewhat detached from this whole program at times, because when personal events are going on around you, the first thing on your mind isn’t necessarily a small community on the northern coast of Trinidad. But like I said before, that phone call made it all so real, so tangible, and so feasible. One other way I felt this feeling, was actually just from going out and doing shopping for the preparation of this trip. Going to Target to pick up bug spray really challenged me to think about everything that can and maybe will happen on this trip. Simple things like bug spray, sun screen, and other random items had me daydreaming of a beautiful land far away, while for most people, it would probably just make them think of a simple hike in the woods. But these two situations have helped to make me think a lot more about what this trip is realistically going to look like, thus shaping my expectations. In a few short days, we will be directly impacting the lives of these people. Since this experience is going to be so authentic and genuine, it will be so fun to really get engrossed into the culture while we are there. I am very excited to try all new foods, learn new colloquialisms, and gain more insight into the lives of people there.
Doing the cultural presentation was a great way to gain some knowledge on the culture and everyday life in Trinidad. Now, of course it is impossible to generalize an entire people on one tiny PowerPoint presentation. No amount of research would ever be able to fully prepare somebody for the full immersion of diving into a new culture. At the end of the day, all we can do is our best. And that is just what we did. Going through and doing thorough research on what we might be able to expect on our trip was so eye opening. There were so many dishes that I didn’t even know existed, that I now definitely want to try. Along with this, the sports, religions, languages, music, art, and more all seem so beautiful and amazing in their own respective way.
While these cultural differences will be a blast to experience in some ways, they will certainly prove to be a challenge in others. One minor challenge that our group will definitely have to think about, is just the accents that the people of Trinidad will bring with them. I actually know a woman from my hometown who was born and raised in Trinidad, so hearing her accent over the years might help me to initially get over that communication obstacle. It is funny to think about how we speak the same language, English, but their own inflections imparted on it can make it completely different. Again, this will most likely be a minor difficulty that we will get over after increased exposure to it, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. Keeping a cool, calm, and collected head will prove to be extremely useful. As they say, patience is a virtue. This all will obviously be extremely important as we are going through our project. The ability to effectively communicate is by no means an easy skill to master. People seriously spend years studying it, and even within our own culture it can be largely imperfect at times. So now adding the fact that it is communicating across cultures, this just adds another dimension of challenge. Making sure that we are understood by all is our responsibility, and perhaps the most important one we have on this trip.
Speaking on some more cultural differences, it is noted in many research sources that the people of Trinidad like to poke fun at each other and themselves. In my personal experiences, I have found that in the USA, people usually won’t generally appreciate any sort of gags aimed at them, and especially if it is from strangers. We can be so serious sometimes, and it’s a sign of true friendship if you are able to make fun of your buddy, because they know that at the end of the day, there are no ill-wills or feelings of true dislike. This pertains to our project, because a huge part of it is building relationships. This won’t be possible if we aren’t able to loosen up, relax, and laugh at ourselves. Just being comfortable enough to laugh along with the joke, even if it is at the expense of you, is important because it shows a level of vulnerability that can lead to trust. We just all have to remember to open up, understand that nobody is being mean-spirited, and most importantly just laugh.
Another cultural difference that will be interesting to navigate around, is how they handle down time. The general perception of the people of Trinidad, is that they absolutely relish their free time. Relaxing and taking it easy is the utmost priority, as families and groups of friends can always be found at the beach. Listening to live music, attending festivals and celebrations, and cooking food by a river are all common sights to see. But while the general attitude revolves around the idea of relaxation, this does NOT directly translate to the world of business. It is expected of you to arrive on time to meetings, send agendas prior to them, and conduct yourself in a very professional manner. So straddling this fine line of casual and professional life may prove to be yet another difference that will act as an obstacle for us on this project. One last point regarding professional mannerisms/communication, presentations are done a bit differently as well in Trinidad. Visual aids such as pictures and charts are not uncommon, and its usually customary to set up an agenda outlining how long the presentation will be as well as a brief overview of the content. And again, understanding these differences and not going into situations, like site visits, with zero preparation will be entirely invaluable.
So, then, all of this information raises this question: What expectations do I have going into this experience, regarding personal learning? My biggest answer to this is an idea that I have touched on multiple times, but even still cannot stress its importance enough. I want to be able to gain a new level of understanding into the world around me. I am most excited about getting an entirely new perspective on life itself. I mean seriously, it will be so interesting to see what every life is like for people of other cultures and backgrounds. What are some simple joys I do not yet know or understand? What are legitimate fears or threats that I will come to understand? These questions, along with an unending amount of others will be so fascinating to see. With this project and this trip being so hands on (staying at the houses with the people, cooking and eating food with everybody, etc.), I do not doubt the fun I will have, but more importantly, the knowledge I will gain. I expect to essentially come back to the United States with a feeling of my eyes being opened. We learn a great deal about how professional business is conducted here at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration, but how many people can say they have gotten a personal and individual glimpse of the inner workings of business in an entirely new culture? That is the broad beauty of this program. Hands-on, personal experience that will serve to not only help me grow as a student, but an individual as well.