Memories from Matelot, Takeaways from Trinidad

I honestly cannot believe we are already back from Trinidad. The memories, experiences, and laughter from this trip are truly unforgettable, and I am so sad that we are back on Pittsburgh soil. Although I have traveled a decent amount throughout my life, going to Matelot will forever be my favorite experience. The people were so genuine and welcoming, the views were incredible, and the opportunities we had during this trip were like no other. Trinidad holds a special place in my heart, and even being back for less than 24 hours while writing this, I wish I was back in Matelot liming in the river, eating delicious food and relaxing with lifelong friends who seriously could not have made this trip any better. I was able to learn a lot about myself, Trinidadian culture, Matelot and global business, which all highlights the truly incredible experience that I will never forget. Before going into the details that I’m sure you all want to hear, I would just like to thank my parents, PittBusiness, Amizade, and the community of Matelot for making saying goodbye so hard and for allowing me to study abroad on this amazing trip and changing my life and perception of the world forever.

As soon as we landed in Port of Spain, I was painfully aware of the cultural differences between Trinidad and the United States. My group and I stuck out like sore thumbs, especially when we all wore our matching Amizade shirts on the journey from Port of Spain to Matelot (we all though it was a good idea in the moment – we were painfully mistaken). During the bus ride to Matelot the day after we arrived, I seriously understood why Trinidad is known for their “Trini Time.” The journey, which was only supposed to take three and a half hours, took probably five and a half hours because we stopped about four times throughout the trip. At first, it was really frustrating as it seemed like we would never get there, but then I realized that there was no real hurry since we were not doing anything once we were to arrive in Matelot. We left Samise Villa in Port of Spain at about 9:30 (we were supposed to leave at 9 – this was the beginning of Trini Time hitting us) and first stopped for “doubles,” a classic Trini lunch consisting of egg tortilla, chickpeas, and hot pepper sauce, then about an hour later for gas, then probably 10 minutes after that for ice cream, and then a final stop at the grocery store before the last hour of the trip. Just from that trip alone, it was easy to pick up on the relaxed and stress-free culture that Trinidad thrives on, and after coming back to Pittsburgh and adjusting to the hustle and bustle of college life, it makes me appreciate the Trinidad culture even more. This was a slight challenge for my group and myself, though, because it could be slightly distracting from our project at times, and there was one day when plans got changed and moved around so that we ended up doing nothing to benefit our project. The challenge of handling relaxation caused some distractions and could also be frustrating for us when we were not sure what we were supposed to be doing next.

Another difference that I noticed on this bus ride alone was when we were ordering our doubles, the chef was not worried about when we would pay him. He just made our doubles for us, then moved on to the next customer without mentioning a price or when to pay him. He knew we would pay him back, and this is a huge difference for culture here in the United States where most of the time you pay either right after ordering or directly before. This again ties back to the stress-free norms of Trinidad and was quite interesting to observe. The open and friendly culture is really appealing, but in regards to our project and our purpose of traveling to Trinidad, we needed to adjust our “Trini Time” in order to have a successful balance between project completion, getting to know the community, and hanging out with each other as well.

This overall relates to the tight-knit community that we experienced not only in Matelot (population of 500) but in Trinidad as a whole. Everyone knows everyone, which can be both beneficial and detrimental at the same time. It was beneficial for us because we able to build relationships throughout the whole trip, get to know how the community interacts, and gain cultural and international perspectives on conducting business and how it differs from here in America.

Additionally we were also able to witness the downsides of living in a tight-knit community. From a few brief conversations with some of the women in DORCAS Women’s Group, we were able to pick up on the fact that conflict tends to be avoided. Conflict allows for teams and communities to grow and if people’s voices are not heard, then opportunities might be missed and growth might not necessarily happen as quickly or as strongly as people intended. Conflict avoidance also impacts goals for organizations and create divides, so when one person says something, the whole town will know about it within minutes, which could again prevent growth and opportunity within an organization. Avoiding conflict not only affect Matelot’s community, but it also prohibited my group from obtaining enough information to help these women in the future. These few cultural differences of a heavily relaxed aura, a tight-knit community, and conflict avoidance were some aspects that were slightly challenging to get used to, but now typing this blog in freezing Pittsburgh, I would jump at the chance to go back to Matelot one last time.

A main component of our trip to Matelot involved obtaining information in regards to conducting business in Trinidad and then comparing it to US culture to hopefully benefit the women in the future with how they can successfully integrate certain aspects of business to help their organization grow. Global business is pertinent in today’s world because it is almost impossible to avoid international interaction. Emerging myself into another cultures was an eye-opening experience, and emphasizing the differences between two cultures regarding business relations was really interesting to observe and certainly brought new perspectives while learning about global business. A major difference between Trinidad and the United States is the quality of customer service. In the States, there is typically a training process for sufficient and satisfying customer services, whereas in Trinidad, it’s safe to say that customer service pretty much does not exist. This was really interesting for me to realize because a majority of business focuses on returning customers; therefore customer service is a crucial part of business. There was also a significant lack of networking and knowledge of how to network which also surprised me as networking is another significant part of business. Realizing and understanding this allowed me to conclude that global business is a lot more complex than I believed it to be. Partnerships are an important component for developing organizations such as the DORCAS Women’s Group, however, after our interactive networking workshop, we saw immediate results when we went on site visits later in the week. A few of the members who accompanied us caught on quickly to the importance of networking and were asking all the right questions at the end and were wondering about how to follow up with the people we met. It was exciting to see change happening right in front of our eyes and it also made us feel as though we made a positive impact on the women and helped prepare them for the future.

From this trip to Trinidad and interacting with the community and DORCAS Women’s Group, my perspective of global business has changed. It interesting to see how there are unique group dynamics and power structures within different groups and countries and how these affect the business attitudes in certain cultures. Pivoting on the spot is crucial as something that might make sense here in the States may not even be relevant in other cultures. Adapting and being flexible are highly important and almost expected since, as a guest in a different country, you are expected to bend to their rules. “Going with the flow,” especially on Trini time, is key to being able to conduct proper business globally and making the most out of a visit to new country.

Finally, although I learned a lot about Trinidad and what is has to offer, I also learned a lot about myself. Before this trip, I thought I was adaptable. I mean, I was, but only to an extent. I had never visited a country like Trinidad before and now I truly understand what it means to be adaptable and flexible. Adjusting to Trini time, being in a country that is pretty much the opposite of the United States, and interacting with people I’ve never had the chance to talk to or learn from really showed me what exactly it means to be flexible. Flexibility is all about taking what you originally thought or wanted to do and bending it to fit others’ expectations, whether it be with talking or with meetings. Flexibility allows you to overcome a fear of change, to grow as a person, and to set new goals. Personal flexibility and adaptability is a truly incredible and useful skill that I will be able to utilize in all kinds of scenarios in life.

In addition to flexibility and adaptability, I was able to learn a lot more about communication and how that can relate to servant leadership. Communication was certainly a huge challenge that my group and I faced, not necessarily because of the different accent, but due to certain phrases and an overall understanding that is unique to each language. During our customer service workshop, the women in DORCAS Women’s Group (and Andre) were able to understand what we were explaining because there is a significant lack of customer service in Trinidad and they were aware it needs to change. For the networking workshop, however, the women were struggling to understand what we were explaining due to a lack of networking and also due to our attempt at communication. Trying to discuss a foreign subject is difficult to being with and because we were attempting to explain lingo that is specific to business in the US, it was even more difficult. Through this experience, I was able to learn more about transferable skills and realizing why exactly they are called “transferable.” Being able to connect with others through their own language and having to become adaptable/pivot on the spot when needed is what communication is all about. Learning how to effectively communicate with others and actually seeing results (when the women were networking at our site visits) showed me that I had actually been able to successfully communicate at an international level, and that is something that I would not have been able to learn just from sitting in the classroom.

Finally, I learned a lot about servant leadership. Servant leadership focuses on how others perceive you and your effectiveness rather than how you perceive yourself. Sure, I can say I am a good leader, but that does not really mean anything if my team members are complaining about me behind my back. Throughout this trip, servant leadership played a large role because the women had to trust what we were saying and believe we were aware and knowledgeable enough to utilize our tips on how to successfully conduct business. Watching the women network and asking to follow up could not have been more exciting, and moreover, it proved my group and I were effective. Bridget, one of the Amizade representatives, told us that this trip would be successful if the women had learned from us and seemed comfortable around us. We were able to build strong relationships and pass on useful knowledge while creating a welcoming environment. We were able to have others perceive us as effective and that is certainly a highlight from this trip. The women were incredible, and as I’ve said many times throughout this blog post, I would much rather have stayed in Matelot than be back in Pittsburgh.

Overall, Trinidad taught me a lot. I did not realize I would takeaway as much from international service learning as I did. I learned a lot , but also the people we were with learned a lot as well. Global service learning makes you realize the importance of transferable skills, cultural competency, and servant leadership not only at an international level, but at a domestic and personal level as well. This trip, in my personal opinion, could not have gone better and I am forever grateful for the people who were able to make this journey possible. It was so unique and without traveling to Matelot, the project would not even be close to the same. It brought so many interesting and different aspects to this class that will not only help us, but will help the future of DORCAS Women’s Group as well. It was just incredible and I will truly treasure this experience everyday. To quote Andre, our unofficial tour guide, “My heart is in Matelot.”