Reflecting on Trinidad

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this global service learning experience is to take a second to slow down and breathe. Due to the fast pace of American life, we go throughout our day moving at one hundred miles per hour without ever taking a second to take a breath or decompress. For example, students are constantly stressed about what grade they will get on the upcoming test or making sure they give the best presentation in the class. We even eat our meals and work at the same time, which is not common in other cultures. While we were in-country, we even walked significantly faster than the Trinis. We are so conditioned to focus on getting to our destination because of the fast pace, we would walk around too fast while in-country. We would walk everywhere while we were in Matelot, during these walks, there would be multiple times where we would have to stop and wait for the DORCAS Women to catch up because we were so far ahead of them. We felt bad every time because we never noticed until we were far ahead or learned how to walk slower. The DORCAS Women would constantly have to remind us to slow down. I saw the benefits of giving myself a chance to breathe and slow down during my week in Trinidad. I felt that I was in a better mood more often as well as mentally stronger. My opinion on my phone usage—specifically social media—also changed a bit as a result of this program. For a majority of the trip, trying to use your phone was useless because there was limited cell phone service and Wifi in Matelot. Not being connected to the outside world via social media was a nice change of pace. Looking back, I realized that I looked at my phone approximately ten times throughout the whole week, when that can be done within the span of an hour with cell phone service. I had no reason to look at my phone because I knew there wouldn’t be any notifications from Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram to give me an excuse to use my phone. To try and mimic the lack of cell phone service experienced in Trinidad, I have turned off the notifications for all of my social media apps in an effort to use my phone less.

During my trip in Trinidad, I was able to develop multiple transferable skills. Flexibility and communication were the main skills that I was able to enhance. These two skills were tested constantly throughout the whole trip. Flexibility was key while in-country because of the slow pace and lack of schedule lifestyle, like I described in my previous blog. The group constantly had to be on their toes because activities planned each day were at risk of being altered due to the lack of scheduling in Trinidad. There was an instance where something exactly like this happened. Our group was supposed to conduct the networking discussion the Wednesday of spring break, but this did not happen. Instead, it was delayed until the next day because the members of the DORCAS Women’s Group that were supposed to be in attendance for the discussion weren’t available. This was brought to our attention Wednesday morning, so the group had to be flexible and adjust to the women’s availability the day of the discussion. Developing this transferable skill is crucial because instances where flexibility is required are common in a business setting, so I will need this skill to be prepared for my career. Communication is also one of these important transferable skills that is utilized commonly in the business world. Communicating effectively with the DORCAS Women was key during the project for two reasons. The first being our group’s goal of discussion style networking and customer service workshops. It was important to us that we avoid running the workshops by talking at the DORCAS Women. We didn’t want to give the impression that we thought we knew everything about customer service or networking—especially in Trini culture—because we don’t. Our group made sure to communicate that constantly with the women and this took competent communication skills. The second reason for skilled communication being essential to the success of the project was our goal of building relationships and trust with the women. Accomplishing this goal was a key step in the project because if the DORCAS Women didn’t trust or have a good enough relationship with us, then it would have been more difficult to hold a productive conversation with them during the workshops. The task of building relationships and trust was a continuous process for the entire week. Our hard work showed during the customer service workshop when two members of the DORCAS Women’s group performed an impromptu skit depicting what customer service is like in Trinidad. This is something that may not have happened if they were not comfortable enough to do it around us. I think the group’s diligence when it came to holding conversations and getting to know the DORCAS Women was successful. Once I graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, I will be able to use the communication skills I developed for efficient and effective communication when I join the workforce. Additionally, building my communication and flexibility transferable skills in a different country makes the development that much more valuable in my opinion. Knowledge that I gained during my week in Trinidad was cultural competence. No matter what, I will never fully understand the Trini culture. However, experiencing a culture with an open mind helps you see the world from different perspectives which really interests me. This growth in my cultural competence that I witnessed during and after the week is knowledge that will aid me in both my academic and professional career. Pitt Business and the workplace alike are diverse communities. Everyday during class, I interact with people from different backgrounds. This global service learning project helped me understand the importance of realizing that others have different perspectives because of their diverse backgrounds. The best way to embrace this fact is with open mindedness. If you approach diversity with a closed mind, you’ll never fully appreciate the different perspectives people have to offer. The same holds true in modern business organizations. Diversity and inclusion is a substantial characteristic of the business world today. The transferable skills of communication and flexibility that I developed and the enhanced knowledge and understanding of cultural competence, are valuable tools that I will be able to utilize in my academic and professional career.

Based on the Culture Smart book that we were required to read prior to arriving in Trinidad, most of my expectations of the Trini way of life were not met. An example of this disconnect between the book and real life comes to mind immediately. One aspect of Trini culture that was outlined by the Culture Smart authors is the phrase “lime”. The verb “to lime” is Trini slang that means to “chill” or “hangout”. The book said that Trinis use this term constantly, but it was completely wrong. We saw lime written on some billboards and signs, but never heard it said much in conversation. Despite this, the one expectation that was met was the friendly nature of Trinis. The Culture Smart book described Trinis as friendly people who love to smile and laugh, especially at themselves, and this held true. Trinis love making jokes and making people laugh. My peers and I laughed for a considerable portion of the trip. As for the friendliness, we saw the best of it  in Matelot. Everyone you walked by waved to you and struck up a conversation with you. This took us some time to adjust to because it is uncommon to wave to everyone you see in the United States. Although we felt uncomfortable waving to everyone we saw the first day, we got the hang of it within a couple days and it definitely felt more natural by the end of the week. One day we were all playing the card game UNO and one of the DORCAS Women decided to join. She was having a good time with us. She was smiling, making jokes, and even decided to engage in some friendly trash talk with us during the game which was entertaining. A characteristic of Trini culture that exceeded my expectations was the noticable difference between the pace of day in the United States and Trinidad. Reading about and experiencing Trini time were two completely different cases. The Culture Smart book talked about the slow pace of the Trini lifestyle, but it was much harder to adjust to when we were experiencing it in-country. We overcame this challenge by accepting the fact that this is how the pace of the day would be for the whole week and there was nothing we could do about it. The first day, it was difficult to adapt to a schedule that was fluid when we are used to a rigorous one in the United States. However, after we experienced the culture shock of this one the first day, we altered our mindset well.