Challenges and Learning Experiences in Trinidad

In some of the first few days of class we took time to define what “service learning” really is. We discussed what it entails and how it affects us personally in regard to this class. Service learning is the combination of applying academics (what is learned in the classroom) to hands on experience (the personal service aspect). Service learning is a step more than volunteering due to this academic component done beforehand. In the article we read in class called “Comparing the Effects of Community Service and Service-Learning”, the research conducted on over 22,000 students proves that service-learning promotes a better racial understanding, growth in academic skills (like GPA and writing skills), and future likelihood of participating in a service related career. Through the CPLE, we will be conducting service learning in a foreign country by working with companies, DORCA’s Women’s Group and Nature Seekers, in-country to solve marketing, distribution, and other business concerns. Service learning is vital in establishing a richer understanding of culture and getting more out of one’s travel experience as you are physically invested with the work you are doing in the community in-country. In the article “Ethics in Project Management”, one of the key ethical principles is caring for your community and the community of your stakeholders, which we will be able to do firsthand with our consulting work. However, no matter where you travel to, cultural adjustments need to be made and challenges regarding customs, traditions, and language will be faced. With no exception, challenges will definitely be faced on our trip to Trinidad and Tobago.

Not only is adjusting to cultural norms a challenge for a tourist, but it is especially important for our trip to Trinidad and Tobago. It becomes of deeper importance to us as we are conducting business in country and working alongside Trini natives, so it is essential to understand these norms to prevent offending them or getting the wrong impression from them. The first thing that will be a challenge to adjust to is the concept of “Trini time”. In Trinidad, time is a very laid-back concept. In our Culture Smart class presentation, we discussed how in the United States if a business meeting starts at nine it is appropriate to show up 15 minutes early. However, in Trinidad it is normal to show up up to 40 minutes late before it is considered rude. This will be a major challenge for us to adjust to as we will have to be patient in waiting for our client and understand that it is just a part of their culture and that they are not being disrespectful. Secondly, it is important to consider their views on friendship as we will be traveling as tourists. In Trinidad, friendships are meant to last a lifetime and therefore take a lot of time to establish. This is vital when considering how to behave because although they will be very hospitable it is important to still treat people with respect and not in a casual “friend”-like interaction. The categories of friends versus acquaintance versus tourist are very separated. In the document we read for class called “Building an Ethical Partnership”, it highlights a few things our group should keep in mind while communicating with our clients. It is vital to take accountability, have respect, value the well-being of all, have integrity, and collaborate. These characteristics will be important for us to remember when identifying our status and position in Trinidad in comparison to our clients. The next possible challenge is language. Although they speak English, Trini slang is very different to us as we have likely never heard these words before. For example, in the Culture Smart book, the two most common phrases are “Fete” and “Lime” meaning large parties and small gatherings. Communicating across cultural boundaries is always a challenge when going abroad so we should not be too surprised to come across this. Additionally, technology is a newer concept that is more limited in the area unlike in the United States. However on phone call with Nature Seekers clients they discussed the importance of marketing through social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook which shows that it is in use but does not equate to such a wide reach like it would in the U.S which will be more difficult to utilize. While accents aren’t technically a cultural “norm” understanding the thickness of their English will be a challenge. Likewise, expressing the “why” and the “how” that we discussed in class with Meade so they understand why we are there, why we care, and how we can and will help them reach their goals might be a challenge if they do not understand us. Lastly, keeping an open mind throughout the entire process might not necessarily seem difficult but thoughts and judgements can be easily influenced especially when surrounded by a new environment. The article “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning”, discusses that numerous service-learning experiences have actually strengthened rather than diminished cultural stereotypes, which is definitely something we want to avoid. In this case, keeping an open and accepting mind for new traditions and culture will prevent any stereotypes from forming.

Not only have I gained valuable information about service learning before going on this trip, but I will return from it with even more knowledge. I will learn more not only as a participant of a service-learning trip but as a team member and as an individual. To start off, I will gain a deeper understanding and respect for the business culture in a new country. Working hands on with clients will teach me how companies operate and communicate with each other in Trinidad. In May of last year, I studied abroad in Milan, Italy for two weeks. Now, going to Trinidad I will be able to compare these experiences and more importantly compare the business culture from each country to widen my international lens. I believe each study abroad experience serves as a complement to the previous and enriches each experience even more. Furthermore, because of this focus on business culture I will pick up on and analyze business practices in Trinidad that will allow my group to build off of our best practices report which is one of our deliverables listed in our scope of work. On another note, I believe we will all develop as team members since this is a major group assignment. Because of this group work, I will be able to improve upon my communication skills which is one of the ten project team challenges we discussed in class. Additionally, because of this increase in communication ability that comes with working in a group we will be able to clearly define our goals, take accountability, and deal with any possible changes to our scope of work. Also, even though I am not a marketing major, since we are working on a marketing plan and dealing with solving problems in regard to distribution, I believe my creativity skills will be challenged allowing me to develop more skills in the marketing field. The article I mentioned earlier called “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning”, gives me the understanding that after this service trip I will be more appreciative and grateful for the privilege and opportunities provided to us in the United States compared the rural culture of Matelot. Overall, I will be able to expand upon my business skills and business knowledge in a new setting by interacting with and solving problems for new foreign clients.

In the end, this will be a positive experience to broaden multiple aspects of myself as a student in the College of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh. I will expand upon my cultural knowledge and experiences by visiting a new location and working with local clients. As well, I will develop as an individual by challenging myself to adjust to the concepts of Trini time, limited technology, and social norms. Finally, I will grow as a team member by being challenged to work with a group in a new and unfamiliar setting by improving upon my communication and problem-solving skills.