Throughout my Global Service Learning experience in Trinidad, there were so many different lessons I learned along the way. Going into this trip, I was very excited to see a brand new culture for the first time. I went on a road trip across the country with my older sister when I was in 8th grade or so, and that was the only real travel I had done prior to this trip. I say this because I never got a real, authentic look at cultures that weren’t a derivation of the United States one. Sure, the south is a pretty different place than, say, New York City, but we can all still relate on many things. Even though certain inflections and views may be different, we are all still citizens of the United States of America. So I knew that going to Trinidad was going to be a completely new experience with many valuable lessons wrapped up in it. I wanted to go in with a completely open mind so that I could fully immerse myself in the wonders of a brand new culture.
All of that being said, the first lesson that I learned was actually back home in the States. In our Global Service Learning class, there were many different terms and key ideas taught, but one of the most important ones was global competency. We focused on this one a great deal, and I found it to be extremely valuable and useful, as I realized the benefits immediately after landing in-country. Global competency is not like a certain endpoint that you get to where you can say “Ok I am globally competent now”. It’s not one spot that you stop at, but a living, ever-changing term that one can always strive towards, but never fully attain. Because of the ever-changing world we live in, it is simply not possible to declare yourself totally globally competent. However the idea is to always remain conscious of your point of view, and how it may differ from those around you due to a difference in backgrounds, upbringings, environments, etc. One of the most fascinating things that I learned throughout this lesson was that its actually not technically correct to refer to ourselves, United States citizens, as Americans. While we ARE from America, we are not the ONLY country in ‘America’. That being said, it can be/is seen as offensive to other people who also live in ‘America’, because the implication that the United States of America is the only important or relevant country is what is given off. Even saying just the United States isn’t technically correct either because many other countries of the world are many different States united under one central governing entity. So our ability to remain conscious of the words we were using in passing to people in Trinidad was certainly put to the test. It also challenged us to properly refer to ourselves in a respectful yet accurate way in our handouts to the DORCAS Women.
The second lesson I’d say I learned throughout the course of this trip was the ability to remain agile, flexible, and adaptable. I spoke in great detail about this on the previous reflection, but its importance cannot be overstated. This was a central idea not only during the in-country experience, but throughout the entire class as well. It all started with a lack of real central guidance on our scope of works. We were more or less told to just sort of dive in with loose guidelines, and that we’d get the hang of it. And while it was difficult and even frustrating at times in the beginning, the process of actually hammering it out and coming up with a final scope was extremely rewarding. We were able to achieve two things; produce a document that we felt very proud of, and get closer with each other as a team. The theme of having to remain on our toes at all times, trying to anticipate the next challenge or obstacle continued throughout the course, but really showed itself in-country. The difference in culture required us to adapt to our environment and still excel in our mission. This task, while extremely trying, was one that I believe we achieved. Whether it be through the exposure of this idea in the class already or anything else, we were able to settle in and do a decent job of not letting the adversity control us and negatively affect our goals. So at the end of the day, we used what we learned through the course and our own personal experiences to adapt to things like “Trini Time”, changing schedules, and other phenomena or occurrences that we were not able to predict prior to actually setting our feet down in the new country.
The last lesson I learned pertained to communication. This trip certainly added a new level of depth, or an additional layer to the concept of communication. Like most of the lessons do, this one is very intertwined with the rest as well. Communication with the Trinidadian people that we worked with throughout this trip would have been nearly impossible without a level of global competency and flexibility. It truly is amazing how someone can speak the exact same language as you but due to their local accent being so heavy, it sounded like a completely different lexicon that they were using. We had to learn to become even better listeners than we were, and then also be sure that everything we were saying was being understood too. And honestly all that requires is a baseline level of respect and plain old common courtesy, which of course we had no issue with. We spoke with some of the DORCAS Women directly about what our speaking/talking patterns sound like and what theirs do too. We had an open channel of respectful communication that allowed us to speak on our differences and not identify any inherent benefits or drawbacks, because they did not exist. Innately, these things were just differences, and that’s it. They weren’t naturally good or bad, just different. But it was very interesting at first trying to understand exactly what was being said by the native Trinidadian people like Andre, Michelle and Joanne, but we were able to get a much better handle of it by the end of the week.
All in all, these lessons all helped each and every one of us develop personally and as a group. Global competency is a skill that believe it or not, still holds value outside of the global realm. I think one of the most important parts of that lesson was not only the main idea of global competency, but also how it was presented to us. Often times we are given ideas, skills, and pieces of knowledge that we are told can be mastered. Like for instance, one can become a master of knowing the human body and diseases than can and do affect it. That person will get his or her PhD in medicine or whatnot and become a doctor. But the idea of global competency is much more abstract and complex than that. Its not a simple formula that you follow to get to a set, specific answer. It’s not that at all. The most important takeaway for me was that this concept is not possible to be mastered. While this may act as a deterrent for some, the rest of the population that is eager to learn and become more globally competent has the right idea about it. That while, yes, you can never truly get to a point of total satisfaction, the true value lies in the process or in the moment. This means that with no endpoint in the realm of reality, the work done to become more globally competent is where the positive results are seen. Again, there’s no set goal, but it’s the idea that every day one can strive to become a better person. So that idea was important to me personally, however beyond that, this skill applies in a career setting in multiple different ways. The only other one I will talk about, however, is remaining conscious at all times of what you are saying and doing. While it may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised at how many things in a day that you say that could be seen as insensitive or rude. So always remaining fully aware of the messages you are getting across to other people is the other main benefit here.
Since flexibility and communication in this specific way are pretty closely related, they also are comparable in terms of what they can do for personal and professional development. Communication is always a challenge. Because each and every person on planet earth is a unique, different individual, things that are meant aren’t always how things are taken. So communication is already a tough skill in isolation, but especially in a business setting where success and excellence hinge massively on efficient and effective communication. The interrelatedness comes into play when you think again about how every person is different. The ability to be agile and not exhibit an unbendable rigidity becomes vastly important when thinking about how certain messages may be received, how to think and accurately convey messages on the fly, and other situations like that.
Finally, I have some closing thoughts on my expectations going into this trip. In my first blog post on here, I mentioned how I wanted to become a more worldly individual and gain perspective and insight into how people in other countries perceive the world around them. I can confidently say that throughout the duration of this trip, I was able to successfully complete both of those goals. The Global Service Learning experience I had in Trinidad was truly one-of-a-kind, and I loved every second of it. I was able to experience the world and help people and raise them up in an effort to achieve excellence. We strove to do the best we could, and I am satisfied and proud of what we were able to accomplish. One thing is for sure though, nothing could have made me expect just how life-changing this whole endeavor was for me. My gratitude and appreciate extends to everybody involved in this wonderful, wacky, fun, challenging, amazing experience.
[MSR1]Blog 4 – Due 4/10. Please answer these three reflection questions:
1. What are the key lessons that you learned throughout the experience?
2. How do you see using the skills and knowledge gained as you move forward toward a career [MSR1]?
3. How did the cultural and personal expectations you anticipated prior to the international component play out in the real world? What expectations were met? Which were not? What challenges arose and how did you overcome them? Please refer to your first reflection paper.