As we finish putting the final touches on our presentation, it is hard to believe that my journey through the global servicing learning course is coming to an end in just two short weeks. Anticipation to go to Matelot quickly turned into excitement to now reflecting and appreciating the experiences I was given throughout this semester. During these last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on the key lessons and takeaways from my experience abroad and each lesson I believe will have an impact on my future success in my personal life and my career.
The first key lesson I learned throughout this experience is the importance of taking a step back. Whether this is through self-reflection or group debriefs it is important to take time to realize all you have experienced in one day, especially in an unfamiliar scenario. While in Matelot, the eight members of our group were constantly seeing new things, trying new foods, learning new information about the sites and the people, and encountering new challenges. In these scenarios, it was important to first take notes throughout the day, about everything, even if I believed that I would remember it a couple of weeks after. Sometimes I would read through my notes and forget about certain things that occurred during that day. Going through these notes helped me gather a deeper understanding of the experience that I had personally each day. Along with this personal reflection the course built in group debriefs at the end of every day. This debrief process was essential to ensure our group was not leaning towards “Scope creep”, meaning that our group was staying on track with our projected outcomes. In these debriefs, we were given time to reflect on the scope to ensure that our group was on progress to complete each deliverable, implementing the necessary steps each day to finish certain parts of our project while dealing with the limited time we had in country. Debriefs also gave our group time to address any group conflicts. Group conflicts could include anything from inter-personal dilemmas to contradictory opinions on the next steps to take in our project. Although this was not a prevalent problem in our group, setting aside this time allowed for members of the group to address any concerns they had about the project. Lastly, I believe the debriefs gave our group the chance to catch up with each other personally. During a trip abroad, culture shock, a disoriented feeling from being in an unfamiliar setting, can cause unease and due to the quick adjustment needed with a short program such as global service learning, it became important to check in on our group members ensuring they were feeling mentality and physically stable.
The second key lesson I believe I learned from this experience is the importance of being an agile communicator. Being an agile communicator involves the capabilities and skills to adjust your communication style to best fit the individual one is communicating with. A large part of our learning curve in communication with the DORCAS Women’s group was being able to rephrase or reword sentences when we were misunderstood. To go along with this, it was also important for us to listen carefully when talking to the community members in Matelot. The majority of the time when talking directly to these individuals they would slow down their language and speak more clearly; however, when a conversation occurred between two community members in Matelot, the language began to speed up and become a little more unclear. In these scenarios, careful listening was key to understanding the individual’s accents. Another large aspect of communication in Trinidad comes from the idea of high context and low context cultures. In the United States, we are a very low context culture meaning in communication we tend to go straight to the point and tend to be more task-oriented and logical. This kind of communication does not work in Trinidad, where individuals have a higher context culture. High Context cultures focus on relationship-building. This relationship-building aspect was evident in Trinidad as before we would talk about any tasks that needed to be completed that day, we would focus on getting to know each other and asking about each other’s days. It was important to understand the difference between these communication styles in order to receive the most out of our short time in country. It was up to our group as the Pitt Business Student Consultants to adjust our communication style in order to effectively interact with our clients abroad.
The third and last key takeaway I have received from this experience is the importance of transferable skills. Transferable skills are qualities that an individual can take from one experience to the next. Some of these skills include flexibility, adaptability, dependability, and organization, all of which I learned throughout my experience in class and in Trinidad. First, I obtained flexibility and adaptability through working directly with the DORCAS Women’s group. Before taking this class I always depended on a strict schedule and saw no upsides to living life without a pattern. I kept myself busy for most hours of the day and never took a moment to relax. In Trinidad, it quickly became obvious, from the moment we stepped off the bus in Matelot, this kind of thinking was not going to work. While our group looked for answers to questions like “where are we staying” and “what are we going to do next,” the community members in Matelot warned us to not rush and to take time to relax. We quickly learned a new balance of relaxing and working. The community members emphasized the importance of taking time to ourselves while completing our work in an efficient and diligent way.
Another transferable skill that I gained from this experience is organizational skills. Due to multiple flowing parts of this project, it was important to keep documents, due dates, and information organized. This also incorporates the idea of knowing whom to go to when we needed to ask a question. Since there are multiple people collaborating on these projects it was important for our team to utilize the right sources. This was done through maintaining question documents and ensuring our team knew the role of each individual staff member involved in the process. Lastly, in this project, I learned the importance of dependability. With a collaborative project such as this one, it is important to be able to depend on your teammates to complete certain parts of the project or answer questions when you have them. Throughout this project, I learned that if one person fails to complete their part on time, it hurts the team as a whole. Looking back on my first blog, I wished to obtain all three of these transferable skills from my experience abroad and I believe that my time in Trinidad gave me the opportunity to gain and expand on all three of these aspects.
Each of these key takeaways and learnings from my experience in Trinidad will assist me in my future, whether that’s in my career or personal life. This experience has helped me expand on my sense of self-efficacy, an individual’s belief in their ability to achieve their goals. Coming into this project, our group had to design our project deliverables and end goal. The vagueness of the project was so frustrating and many of us, including myself, had the sense that we would never achieve our project goals; however, throughout this project, these thoughts changed. By setting individual goals, taking tasks head on and learning from mistakes our confidence as a team grew. Personally, my sense of accomplishment increased exponentially from our first meeting as a group. Throughout the process, I began to feel more confident in our ability to set goals and achieve them within a certain time period. In my experience in Trinidad, I also grew towards being a more interculturally competent individual, someone who utilizes a combination of effective behavioral skills and transferable skills to develop efficient and appropriate behavior while communicating in a new culture. In my future career, growth towards intercultural competence will be vital due to the necessary interactions that business associates have while working with people from across the globe. Each individual culture has different characteristics that combine to shift the way business is done in diverse parts of the world. Acknowledging this difference is only one of the first steps in becoming culturally competent. As I made these first steps through this global service learning project, I noticed the importance of continuing to work toward cultural competence in my personal and future careers.
Going back and reflecting further on the rest of my first blog, I described many of the expectations that I thought would come from this experience and most of them if not all of them have been met. First, I wished for the experience of working within cross-functional teams. A cross-functional team is a group of individuals with different skill sets and specialties that come together to complete a common goal. Each of the individual members on my team had different skill sets, majors, and strengths. Throughout working with each of them, it became evident whom to utilize for which aspects of the project. For example, it became evident who was better at presenting, who had strong skills in organization and communication to be a faculty liaison, and who had strong skills in writing or note-taking. Learning the strengths of every individual on our team allowed us to work more cohesively and put our best work forward.
Even though our team worked cohesively together, roadblocks and challenges still arose during our project and it was vital for our group to work as a team to overcome them. The main challenge that arose through our experience in Trinidad was balancing time. As mention before, Trinidadians emphasize the importance of relaxing. This emphasis correlates with the idea of “Trini Time” where a meeting could be scheduled at five and everyone would show up at six. Our team struggled with the idea of “Trini Time” because we wished to make the most out of our short week in Matelot and when things were pushed back or put on the back burner it seemed as though we were wasting time. Our team overcame this challenge by learning to pivot and we quickly learned that the constantly changing times of our presentations was unimportant as long as it was completed before we left.
All in All, our week in Trinidad felt too short. Although it was filled with academic challenges, culture shock, and struggles to overcome a learning curve, I would not change any aspect of this course. This experience truly made my sophomore year feel complete. I wish to thank the DORCAS Women’s group, the community members in Matelot, the GSL staff, and my team for allowing this experience to exceed my expectations.