(Soon to be) Living the Trini Life

In almost one week I’ll be flying to the Caribbean and living the Trini life, although this spring break trip is all about business. I will be a part of a student consulting team at the University of Pittsburgh, working for our client Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group, two organizations that are located in Trinidad. 

Before arriving in-country, my teammates and I have started to put the final pieces together to prepare for the trip. As per our scope of work, the first deliverable we’ll be handing our client Nature Seekers is a Best Practices report on Ecotourism groups similar to Nature Seekers. The goal of this report is to give Nature Seekers a set of ideas that have worked for groups similar to their own. We plan to present this to them in-country, where any ideas can be measured on their feasibility by the organization itself. Aside from this, we’ve come up with a platform of questions and information we need to obtain while in-country. Much of this has to do with the creation of a marketing plan, which we will be creating shortly after arriving home from Trinidad. Additionally, the second group we’ll be working with, DORCAS Women’s Group, will be studied in order to find ways to create a mutually beneficial partnership between them and Nature Seekers. Finally, we’ve been preparing for all of the culture shocks and challenges we may face in-country. This is vital to our project and mission, for we cannot help our client if we don’t understand their culture and the way they do business. This, in turn, is one of our biggest challenges.

Trini culture is much different than the U.S. This is due partly to their extremely diverse population, arguably, one of the most diverse populations in the Caribbean. Knowing this, we must adjust to ensure we stay culturally sensitive rather than be ignorant Americans as many cultures tend to view us. In terms of business, the differences are explained in Erin Myer’s Book the Culture Map, she breaks down the culture of countries across the world into eight main categories for which they conduct business in. These categories being, communication, evaluation, persuasion, leadership, decisions, trust, disagreement and scheduling. These eight elements provide insight to working effectively and sensitively with other countries in the global marketplace, all of which are vital towards creating a successful finished product for a global client.

This culture map is extremely applicable to my teammate’s and I’s consulting project with our client in Trinidad. In reference to Trinidad’s culture map, the following is how both Trinidad and the U.S. rank on the scale of each aspect of culture.

Communicating: low-context (U.S.) vs. high-context (Trinidad)
Evaluating: Neutral (Both)  Deciding: Neutral (Both)
Persuading: applications-first (Both) 
Leading: egalitarian (U.S) vs. hierarchical (Trinidad)
Trusting: task-based (U.S) vs. relationship-based (Trinidad)
Disagreeing: neutral (Both) (U.S.) vs. flexible-time (Trinidad)

As seen above, many of the aspects of culture are complete opposites for the U.S. and Trinidad. For example, the U.S. is a low-context communication country, meaning we need every detail to be said in order to conduct business. On the other hand, Trinidad leaves much detail to reading in-between the lines. This can be difficult for us. For we are familiar with receiving every detail in a syllabus or description etc. This being said while in-country, we’ll have to recognize that we may not have all the details therefore will have to fill in the gaps ourselves. It will be uncomfortable, but as they are our client, we should adjust to them and their culture. 

Another key difference is the trusting element of culture. Americans tend to have a very task-based, work-first relationship with their business partners. We tend to do business with those who give us success and do their job well. Whereas in Trinidad, they tend to do business with friends and people they get along with. Yes, doing your job well is still important. But here in the U.S., we have the saying “keep work and personal life separate” and “it’s just business.” To Trinis it’s much more. It’s about relationships and enjoying who you work with. There is also no rush when creating these relationships. They don’t follow the “get right down to business mentality”, for they like to get to know the person first. For my teammates and I, this process might take time, but the time spent speaking with our client is work in itself. This work forms the trust that allows business to occur. For myself, I need to be patient and know that just because we aren’t physically doing a business deal doesn’t mean we aren’t working towards our project. The trust must be built first, then the business and information gathering can occur second. It’ll be a challenge, but one I am aware of and willing to adapt to as best I can.

Finally, our biggest obstacle will be Trini time as Americans like to call it. Unlike the U.S., Trinis do not follow a strict schedule. Often times, Trinis are a half-hour or full hour late to meetings, events etc. It may even be considered rude to arrive early. Because of our lack of time in country, and our tendency to stress timing so much in the U.S., we will be pressed to rush things. After all, we’re only there for six days and have much to accomplish in that time period. I know already that we will be uncomfortable with lateness of the locals. This will be our greatest adjustment. We will have to take a deep breath, avoid getting irritated, and realize their fluid scheduling isn’t something we should take person. This is their culture and we shouldn’t blame them for how they live. I myself will struggle with this greatly. I am someone who can never be late and is extremely irritable without the consistency of a schedule. I don’t like to run it by ear as most would say. It’s in not only my best interest, but the client’s as well for me to adapt to their culture. 

Due to all of these difficulties, I feel as though I would have to greatly adjust and learn how to adapt to problems that arise as well as be flexible in the workplace. This is not just a global skill, but one that is vital to business in the U.S. too. Flexibility allows you to be a multi-purpose asset for a team, organization etc. You can “roll with the punches” and fix issues that arise. As much as we would love it if things always ran smoothly, the reality is you can’t account for everything. These problems may come up at any point, and we are expected to deal with them and then move on. I hope to be honing this skill, in remaining calm when a problem arises, thinking clearly through the options and the ultimately adapting or implementing a solution. A key to this is remaining calm and keeping an open mind. I have a tendency to panic and come to a solution quick. At times this inhibits me from picking the best solution because I rush the process and don’t think clearly. It also creates a lot more stress on not only myself but those around me who also become uneasy as I start to unnerve. I find that this is a weakness of mine, and one I prefer not to address. Being in Trinidad is forcing me to do just this, for I have to practice how to stay calm and collected to solve the problem at hand. In concurrence with this, I struggle at times to be flexible. I like things to be done consistently and orderly, when things change, I get irritated and flustered. Flexibility is something employers, and people in general look for in others. Narrow-minded people simply make life more difficult, and I hope to be expanding my mind on this trip.

On a more personal note, I hope to grow by seeing the culture of others. As I’ve said in my previous blog, seeing the world is so important. From this you gain a world view that allows you to think of more than just yourself. There is a lot out there that I want to see, and this is just the start. I have a passion within myself to help others. I find great interest in volunteering and see myself working for a non-profit one day. This project fits exactly my interests, and I hope to learn from their work and one day be able to implement something like this myself. I look at it as a shadowing experience in a way, for I get to see how a non-profit runs, and an ecotourism conservation one at that. 

In terms of servant leadership. This trip is all about how we can become servant leaders to benefit others. By seeing the living situation of others, we can learn to be more empathetic, a key quality in a servant leader. This additionally helps with several other servant leadership qualities such as having an awareness towards the world, healing in being the understanding individual who can be trusted with problems, stewardship in helping locals build their organization and more. My point is, all of these are skills are greatly enhanced by the awareness of the condition that others in the world live in. You cannot truly grasp this unless you are there, talking to someone just like you, do you really understand their situation. After all, we are all the same people. 

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll be speaking with you, I’ll have gone to Trinidad and back! I can’t wait to tell you guys all about the trip. Until next time…

Tina