It amazes me that I am sitting here typing my last blog for this class. Global service learning in Trinidad has been one of the coolest and greatest experiences of my life, and I am so excited for future groups to participate in an adventure as awesome as this. After being home for nearly a month, it has given me time to reflect on the incredible lessons and values gained from our trip overseas. These valuable lessons will be applicable to all kinds of scenarios later in life and they have also helped me grow both personally and professionally as a person.
As mentioned before, there have been a few key takeaways from this global service learning experience that have really impacted my learning and perspective of this project in its entirety. First and foremost, it is important to highlight the fact that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad.” Directly after landing in Port of Spain and wandering through the airport, it was extremely apparent that we did not belong when everyone was staring at us and wondering why we were there. The culture and environment of Trinidad is completely different to the ambiance here in the United States and that hit us right in the face as soon as we touched down in Port of Spain. After being pushed out of my comfort zone, I was able to realize that just because Trinidad is completely different, it just means they are unique in their own way, and their way is the “normal” way down in the Caribbean. After that realization, I started to relax, let my guard down, and soon there was no issue in joining the locals in their concept of “Trini time.” This concept of differentiation and utilization of time also taught me that relaxation does not necessarily mean being unproductive (at least in Trinidad). Multiple times throughout the trip, we were told to slow our pace of walking or to not try to anticipate what was coming next. This is the exact opposite of the hustle and bustle we are used to here in the United States, however, I prefer the relaxed time of Trinidad as a whole. This challenge was the main problem I faced while in-country, however, I was able to overcome it quickly and move forward with the project, all while divulging into this brand-new culture and loving every minute of it.
A second key takeaway from this experience is that adaptability is crucial, and although I have always been aware of this lesson, it did not really sink in until this trip. In-country, there were a plethora of instances where we needed/were expected to adapt and go with the flow of Trini time instead of sticking to our original schedule. We did not exactly have a choice as to whether or not we were adaptable as we were essentially forced into it, and although this experience was more of an extreme case, it still taught us a crucial transferable skill that will be useful later in life. Sometimes, accepting change is the only way to move forward, and a majority of the time, good things come with it. In the real world, flexibility will be expected of us nearly every day, especially since there is never just one party involved; there will always be a client, coworker, or some uncontrollable environmental factor that can change even the simplest of plans. By learning and experiencing this now, we are better prepared to take on the uncertainty of future events and are able to pivot around whatever challenges may come our way.
A final important lesson that I was able to gain from traveling to Trinidad is the concept that clear communication is key to any situation, whether it is professional tour of KPMG or a relaxed game of Uno on the porch. Referring back to my first blog post, communication was challenge that I knew was going to be difficult to overcome, and although we were mostly successful at communicating our thoughts and ideas and vice versa, there was still room for improvement. There was not only a language barrier (even though Trinis speak English, there is an extremely thick accent that makes it difficult to understand everything that is being said), but also the effects of Trini time impacted our scheduling and the amount of information we were hoping to get out of the trip as a whole. This was especially apparent during our networking workshop with the DORCAS Women’s Group as it seemed as though they were struggling to understand what we were trying to convey and that was due to our group not wording it correctly but also due to their lack of knowledge about the subject. We left the workshop feeling as though we had tried our best even though we knew the women did not understand what we were saying, and it is important to realize that this will not be the last time any of us leave a meeting feeling that way. Communication is something we take for granted, and when we are faced with a challenge, it can be difficult to understand why something is not going according to plan (although most of the time it is due to lack of communication). On a broad spectrum, communication is crucial and recognizing that can make all the difference. Without communication, a key detail could be left out which could then throw off the entire project, meeting or team in general. It allows us to build a sense of community and develop both personally and professionally.
Moving forward toward a career, the skills, understanding, and knowledge gained on this trip will be extremely beneficial. Understanding new perspectives and taking them into account can bring in new ideas as well as making a team better and more competitive as a whole. In general, keeping an open mind and being ready for new opportunities or challenges that make yourself the best person you can be. Being in new situations brings new ideas and differences and this will be apparent when I eventually am starting out in a new job or new internship. I cannot be afraid to ask for clarification or allow for new perspectives to influence me because if I do not understand something, someone else might and they may also be willing to help or explain the unfamiliar concept to me. Understanding differences will allow me to gain these new perspectives and realize that just because something is different does not mean that it is wrong or unworthy. It allows one to become flexible and adaptable and to be prepared for any curve-balls that might be thrown their way. Additionally, proper communication is a part of any business environment and being faced with these challenges at such a young age allows me to gain other experiences and reflect back on the ones in Trinidad while expanding my idea of communication and how exactly it can affect people or the work place in general.
On the other hand, international interaction is a part of any kind of business and gaining this international experience will help me prepare for future situations where I am either interacting with people of foreign cultures or am actually visiting the country itself. Both business and cultural norms are different in every country, yet the key similarities of being adaptable, allowing for open communication, and adjusting to the culture are expected of you no matter where you are. This experience has set a foundation for me to utilize those ideas and skills later on in the work place.
Finally, with any trip comes anticipation and expectations. Referring back to my first blog post, I believed that this trip would allow for individual flourishment, professional development and civic engagement for not only myself, but for the town of Matelot as well. I was also certain that I would gain professional transferable skills while working with an incredible group of women who care about the improvement of their own community. I would be able to listen, learn, and gain valuable information from not only my seven other teammates, but also from DORCAS Women’s group and the community of Matelot as a whole. Although I feel as though these expectations were fulfilled throughout this trip, it is also apparent that there is still room for improvement. I am still learning and growing as a person and these skills are only at their entry levels – there is still plenty of time for these skills to fully adapt.
In addition to that realization, I also feel as though I expected that the differences between the Trini culture and the United States culture would limit our ability to work together and communicate with one another. After reflecting on our conversations with the DORCAS women and the community in general, I realized that our differences actually brought us closer and allowed us to gain more out of this trip rather than having the differences get in the way. This idea again relates to the fact that keeping an open mind will reveal opportunities that would not have been originally recognized if I had just stuck with the mindset that there would be an awkward barrier between us and the locals in Trinidad.
Overall, participating in global service learning in Trinidad is an opportunity that I will forever cherish. As mentioned before, Trinidad holds a special place in my heart, and I was able to learn a lot about myself, Trinidadian culture, Matelot and global business, which all highlights this incredible opportunity that I wish everyone else would experience. I am lucky enough to complete this trip and hope that future groups cherish how truly amazing this study abroad trip is.