Here I come, Puerto Rico!

I will be traveling to Puerto Rico next week! I am so excited and cannot wait to learn and experience visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico. Experiential learning is the best way to learn. That’s why community service differs from global service-learning. We learn as we work through our real-world project and understand why we are doing what we´re doing and what is the point of our project. This also means I must be able to reflect on what I am experiencing for me to get the most out of the trip. So, to prepare, I am reflecting on some challenges I might experience while conducting business in Puerto Rico so that I know how to handle them and make the best out of the situations.

The language barrier will not affect us as much as the other sites because most of the people in San Juan speak English. However, the main language on the island is Spanish so they probably speak Spanish the most. I speak at an intermediate Spanish level where I can hold a solid conversation, but not enough to understand slang terms, conjunct speech or dialect specific to any area. So, it will still be a challenge on that front even if I do end up using my Spanish. This may arise when we go to Cataño because the locals speak mostly Spanish and not much English.  Even though we’ll only be there for a week I hope I get a little immersed in the language and get to work on Spanish conversation and listening skills.

The way people in the US trust other people with business or work is through task-based trust. Before someone is hired for a job, the firm or person asks for a resume from the candidate to see all the experience they have, the work they´ve done and what their skills are. If they fit the criterion that would make them the best fit for the job, the candidate gets hired. While it is helpful to have to show kindness and great conversation making during an interview, they are not top priorities when choosing a candidate for many jobs in the US. However, other places, such as Puerto Rico, build business-related trust in a relationship-based manner, meaning they will trust that someone will get the job done if they know them as a person through sharing dinners, going for coffee or drinks and developing a friendship where they can say “Hey, I like you as a person and I trust that you will work to get things done.” The relationships tend to develop for longer rather than in the US where the relationships we make with the people we work with are often short and easily dropped. This aspect of work-trust will be different for us since we are so used to just getting business out of the way before starting any type of relationship, but when we get in-country, we should expect to be eating meals and getting coffee or just passing time with the people we are working with to see the best results from our work. We must make sure we aren’t just hitting them with business questions, but rather ask them about their day or their families before business. This will be a challenge but will also improve flexibility and knowing how to cater to different groups of people.

I also expect that since Puerto Rico communicates differently than in the US in general, I will struggle with getting the full idea of what people are telling me.  Puerto Rico communicates with high contextual phrases. According to the Culture Maps lecture, high context cultures communicate in a nuanced, sophisticated way that has layers and is meant to be read in between the lines. The US is a low context culture where we explain plainly, repeatedly what we want to say and give summaries about what we had just said to make sure everyone understands what we are saying, then ask for any clarification questions. Since Puerto Rico operates under a different communication style, I expect that this will challenge us to work on our active listening skills.

People from the US tend to struggle with active listening, as we listen to what people are saying but in the meantime are thinking of our immediate response to what they say without truly listening to what people are telling us so that we can formulate a thoughtful response. I know I am guilty of this because people will talk to me and I’ll talk over them because I get excited to say what I have to say but without realizing it, I talk over someone or not entirely hear what they have to say. My words are no more important than theirs. This happens a lot in the US but is considered rude in Puerto Rico, so I want to actively work through that aspect when talking with the people at Caras and anyone else I converse with down there.

Time management and my idea of efficiency may be challenged once we are in Puerto Rico. I have a Google calendar where I put down all my classes, activities, scheduled naps, calls, meetings, and more minute by minute, along with my planner that has all my assignments and tasks for the week in it. I like having my whole day scheduled out to the minute and arriving places early. Otherwise, I get stressed about when I will get things done and where and when I have to be somewhere. However, Puerto Ricans do not place as much importance on punctuality as people from the mainland US. When people in the US say that a meeting starts at 1 pm, you will expect people to start filtering in at 12:45 and the meeting to start at 1 pm. However, in Puerto Rico, people will show up 45 minutes late at times. They do not mean any disrespect by it; it is just the way they operate. So, we’ll have to work on our patience to make sure not to get frustrated if we are waiting on everyone to show up at a meeting.

When working in Puerto Rico, my team and I will be working closely for the whole week. So, our team management skills will strengthen. We will hold each other more accountable once we are in-country. While we do have deadlines currently as we are taking the Global Service-Learning class, having only a week to perform in-country tasks will put immense pressure on us so we will have to rely on each other to work through tasks together. In the “Project Team Challenges” handout, we saw how a lack of accountability in a team can cause resentment towards each other in the group when tasks don’t get completed and cause more things to not get done.

I also hope my leadership skills will strengthen. Having such an important project to work on has led me to be more proactive in the way I work. With this project, I can’t just make up information and claim I did the work. This type of project is an all-hands-on-deck type of project where everyone must do their part or else someone else (Caras) will suffer the consequences. This project does not directly affect us, so we could just distance ourselves from it and do the job halfway and earn a C for the class. However, this is not a “C’s get degrees” class. People are relying on us to do our part so that they can do theirs as well. It is not fair to Caras for us to not take on leadership roles and complete tasks that we must complete. From this, I hope my leadership skills will develop.

I also hope the immersive learning will limit my Eurocentric thinking. Eurocentrism is a way of thinking that people in parts of Europe and the US believe that the world revolves around them and that everything we do and think is perfect compared to the rest of the world. I make a point in my life to make sure I am aware that other people think differently than I do and that does not necessarily mean that their way is any lesser than mine. We have a tendency, as US citizens, to assume that everyone looks up to us for all we do and that the ways we conduct business, talk, and act are the best way for everyone to act. While what we do here works for us, it doesn’t mean it is the way everyone must live. People don’t realize that there doesn’t always have to be a wrong and right way. There can be multiple right ways to do things! We read in the “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning” reading that during a service-learning experience, you see first-hand how people outside the US think differently than us. Not everything that we do is the only and best way to do things. I must keep an open mind and truly analyze the way things are done to take it in. I want to gain a perspective from people outside the mainland US on how people communicate, handle business, and any other aspects I would not know, the unknown unknowns, to limit my Eurocentric thinking.

The date for departure came so soon but I am excited. Although I can never be prepared for everything that I may experience in Puerto Rico, I am as ready as I’ll ever be. That’s why sitting at a desk and writing down information about how people in Puerto Rico conduct business, talk, and act will not have as lasting of an impact on me as going there myself and experiencing what it is like first-hand. I am hoping with my reflection of what to expect, I will be ready to face the challenges ahead of me in Puerto Rico. ¡Allá voy, Puerto Rico!