Looking Back on Paradise

It only took one week in paradise for me to grow and learn alongside an amazing group of people and an inspirational community. Through this experience I was able to confront cultural norms I did not expect to experience while in Trinidad and more specifically in Matelot. Prior to the trip I was under the impression that the Trini culture would be laid back, but I did not realize how this would affect our project while in Matelot. After the first day in the town it was clear that the culture was very relaxed, and it would be easy for our group to slack off and become distracted from our purpose of travel. Throughout our days in the town the group had to make the extra effort to relax and match this pace of life, but also to continue our conversations with the DORCAS Women’s Group.

We never walked through the town alone, so we were always accompanied by one of the women from the group or someone closely related to DORCAS. It was during these times that we were able to experience this slow pace of life walking around Matelot and taking in the beautiful scenery. At the same time, however, we were able to speak with the people accompanying us to learn more about Matelot and the current position the community was in to build capacity to develop ecotourism.

In addition, the slow-paced lifestyle was accompanied by a friendly and inspirational community. When walking through the town anyone we passed would wave and say hello. Some even stopped to talk with us about the community, our project, or almost anything. The culture here was very welcoming and this was evident when we had the opportunity to talk with students from the high school in Matelot.

The students were very welcoming and open to talking with us about their experiences in Matelot and what they believe the community could improve upon. One thing I found very interesting was how the students were very entrepreneurial and technology oriented. Within Matelot, there is so much untapped potential that can be utilized down the road to develop ecotourism and provide the youth with the ability to stay in matelot. Many of the students wish to stay in the community but a lack of jobs and, for some, a lack of entertainment makes this difficult.

These cultural differences were an adjustment as in the USA I am not used to taking the time to slow down and breathe, simply taking in the world around. Also, this openness and talking to anyone on the street is not something I would ever expect to see in the USA, so it was strange at first. In Pittsburgh I could never walk down the street and wave or say “hello” to everyone I pass, or I would be met with looks of confusion and distrust. Both were things that felt normal once we had been in Matelot for a day and they both aided in the project. People were willing to talk with us so we could gather and share information effectively.

In general, I feel I learned more about global business and this has caused my perspective to change. While in Trinidad there were points of frustration where it felt as if the group before us could have provided more information or if we had simply known more before arriving the project would have made more sense. Prior to departure I was still confused about exactly what we were going to do in Matelot and what role we were playing in building the capacity of DORCAS. While in country everything started to make more sense when we were able to talk with the DORCAS Women’s Group and the community. Through this experience I feel I was able to develop transferable skills in handling this frustration and being able to find missing information to begin to piece the project together.

One deliverable of the project was a networking workshop prior to the site visits in country. This conversation was difficult because the group we would be traveling with mainly had professional experiences in the form of job interviews. While this is a form of networking it is slightly different than what we would be doing when going on site visits and trying to network to form possible partnerships down the line. After the conversation on networking it was incredible to see how the group interacted with the various sites we visited. On one site, Nature Seekers, it was interesting to watch the group network and ask questions beyond anything we had expected for their first time on a site visit.

It was at this point that I realized the group may not have able to relate directly to what we had discussed in the networking presentation, but they were able to pick out relevant points and utilize them. On every site visit they made sure to gather contact information from the person we spoke with and spent at least ten minutes after the presentation networking with the organizations. While these may be minor things, the DORCAS Women’s Group was building connections and developing a network without needing any additional help from us.

Through this workshop and the site visits the pieces of the project began to make more sense. I could see that even though we only spoke with the DORCAS Women’s Group about networking for an hour they retained relevant information that they could utilize on the site visits and again down the road to build partnerships. Even though this may not seem like much we were beginning to build capacity for the DORCAS Women’s Group to form a network in Trinidad.

This changed my perspective on global business because when conducting business abroad you will never be able to have all the answers especially when working on a project prior to visiting the site. Without interacting closely with a group or the community they are in there will always be missing pieces. Global business is different than completing projects locally because one must understand the culture and the community they are working in for all the pieces of a project to come together and make sense.

Through this experience in Trinidad I feel that I have grown as a person and learned more about international service. Personally, I found it difficult to understand and sometimes be understood by the people we were talking with especially younger members of the community. I really had to focus on what was being said and think carefully about my responses. Going into this experience I was expecting there to be some difficulty, but I did not realize how hard it would be to understand and be understood. I often found myself thinking through what I would say or trying to rephrase my thoughts to be as clear and concise as possible.

This is relevant not only in Trinidad, but anywhere because being able to articulate clear and concise thoughts is a transferable skill I can grow upon and use in any situation. I also learned more about myself by taking the time to relax and live in the moment. Being a student and involved on campus can be overwhelming and I often find I do not have much time to think or stop stressing. During a debrief one of the DORCAS women joined us and she explained to us that the people of Matelot look younger because they take the time to breathe, laugh, and experience the world around them. She asked that the one thing we take away from the trip is to remember to breathe. That really stuck out to me because I often spend my time jumping from task to task, but I never take a moment to look around, take in the world, and just breathe.

I have also learned and continue to learn about the importance of international service and service learning. We were in Trinidad to build capacity, but I also felt that I learned from the DORCAS Women’s Group. Having the time to talk with the group and get to know them was incredible because they offered a new perspective on life and I found this very interesting. I was able to see the two-way street of service learning because while we were talking with the DORCAS Women’s Group, they were increasing the tools they had, but I was also learning.

International service is not simply completing a community service project and moving on. During reflection our group talked about the impact this experience has had on us. Next year over spring break I know I will be thinking back to Trinidad and about the work we did and wondering about what has changed and the developments the DORCAS Women’s Group has made. I learned that international service may only be in country for one week, but it is an experience that will stay with me well into the future. Having the ability to complete a project with a group in another country is a very rewarding experience because you become more invested. Through researching Trinidad and understanding the culture I was more prepared and invested in the project. Then, having the opportunity to spend a week building relationships with the DORCAS Women’s Group and the community my investment in the project only grew. Being more invested in the project allowed me to get more out of the experience and to learn more. International service increased my devotion and interest to the project because there is more preparation and dedication that must go into working with a group in another country.

All in all, my trip to paradise was unforgettable. I feel that the experience has not only helped me grow as a person, but it has also shifted my perspective on global business and international service. I have a new appreciation for the impact one week can have on building capacity and building relationships with a group abroad.