Wow. Time is really flying – I can’t believe we leave for Trinidad in five days. It does not seem like it is that close, but the anticipation is building. While I am extremely excited, I am also nervous. This will be my first time outside of the country and it will be a completely different experience compared to the Spring break of other college students. However, based on the reviews I have heard from alum of this program, it will be the most rewarding trip and an experience I will never forget. So, as I get ready to go, that is what occupies my mind.
I have learned significant amounts about Trinidad through our class discussions. Specifically, how Trinis do business. There are some key Trini phrases I learned, one of which being “Trini time.” Trini time is the kind of joking, but also totally serious, way of saying that Trini people are never on time. In fact, it is customary to arrive late to meetings and events. However, if you are more than 45 minutes late, that is when it is considered rude. Since this is a cultural norm, I anticipate this being a key challenge in conducting the business we need to do while on our trip. Since we only have about 2.5 days with each of our clients, we will need to be as time efficient as possible. However, we will need to anticipate and plan for this, as it is custom.
Liming is another Trini term that I learned as part of our research on Trinidad. Liming means not rushing and truly living in and enjoying the moment that is happening. While I have full respect for this concept and am truly looking forward to it, my group’s purpose is to fulfill a project for our clients, so this could quickly become a challenge. From testimonials from past students who traveled to Trinidad, they were able to get some questions answered while sitting in the local river or walking around Matelot, but most of the time, they were told to relax and enjoy liming around. My goal will be to “lime”, since this is my Spring break, but also be efficient in doing so, so my group has the most information possible in order to adequately prepare and finish our deliverables. The main idea that comes to mind from theories we have discussed in class relating to the ideas of Trini time and liming is adaptability and flexibility. These are essential for a strong business professional, and I truly believe this will be the perfect time to learn these lessons and improve upon these skills.
Another potential challenge could be communication issues. In our preparation for Trinidad, we asked our main client for some documents prior to our arrival so we had a better understanding of their operations. Our only pre-trip deliverable is a best practices report. In this report, we researched several companies that focused on eco-tourism, sustainability, and other key practices – similar to the goals of our client. In our report, we provided an overview of each company and what they do in terms of marketing, distribution, and stakeholder engagement practices. From this, we created a list of ideas our client could implement. However, we were really hoping for some more information on their current practices so we could find even more similar organizations and more adequately meet our client’s needs. However, due to the holiday Carnival being during this time, we were not able to get the documents we requested prior to our trip. While we anticipated the possibility of this occurring, we do not want to be rude or unprofessional by requesting the documents a third time, so we generated the best practices report the best we could without the information from our client. While we are in country, my team and I will need to be concise and clear in our conversations when asking for additional information. Communication is an issue we talked about heavily in class, especially in a project team setting. Therefore, my team and I will have to figure out how to most effectively and respectfully communicate with our Trini clients by keeping communication and feedback flowing, but without being too aggressive.
Furthermore, we will be visiting the local high school in Matelot. A challenge I could see occurring here is lack of interest. Rural Trinidad areas are experiencing a trend called “brain drain,” meaning that the more educated people are leaving in order to get better jobs. From the Culture Smart book, I found out that Trinidad is one of the most well-educated countries in the world with a literacy rate of around 97%. I will be curious to see if the high school students will engage with us and share their ideas about how to grow our client’s outreach. Since many of them are looking to leave rural Matelot, I could see our meeting with the high school students being rather quiet. However, I hope that we will be able to engage them and that they will share their input, as it would help us with our partnership analysis between our client in Matelot and our client in Matura. Since they are both rural areas, we believe there is potential for a strong partnership between the two organizations and our hope is that our partnership analysis deliverable will portray that.
As I mentioned before, flexibility and adaptability are essential for a strong business professional. I believe these two skills will be shaped and strengthened by this international service-learning experience. Trinidad, despite it being an English-speaking country, is truly a whole different culture. We have discussed in class that a few of us may go through “culture shock,” meaning we will be so taken aback by how different the culture of the United States is compared to the culture there that it could completely shake us, in a positive or negative way. My hope is that I experience this to a degree. Not so much that I cannot focus on anything but my shock, but enough that I am able to take in the differences in order to recognize that business is global. How business is done around the world can vary dramatically and experiencing that firsthand will be essential for me to strengthen my flexibility and adaptability.
I also believe that my consulting skills have and will greatly improve from this experience. Prior to this class, I had never written a scope of work before. This was truly an experience for me that I did not realize was so critical in the field of consulting. I learned that the scope of works act as a contract between my team and our client, so it needed to be taken very seriously. This was shown to us through turning in multiple drafts and doing multiple rounds of revision. Through feedback from multiple professors and professionals, I realized that the scope needed to be very detailed, which I did not know prior to this class. When we first discussed the scope, I just thought it would briefly outline the project and we could add or take away things as necessary. This is not at all the case. Our scope outlines exactly what we have done and what we will do for the entirety of the semester, including what our deliverables are and what will be included in them, a project timeline, and the resources we will need for our project. I can only imagine how greatly my consulting skills will change while on the trip, since we will be meeting our clients in person instead of through a video chat.
Furthermore, I believe my interpersonal skills, such as communication, empathy, and problem solving will greatly develop. While I consider myself to be a pretty good communicator, I also believe it is a skill I need to work on. I am known to “get in my head” sometimes, so being able to share my thoughts in a respectful and effective way to both my client and my team will be critical while in country. Since I will be meeting our clients in person, I believe this skill will greatly improve since it will feel more “real,” compared to video chat. As part of communication, I also believe my listening will improve in two key areas. I will have to listen to my clients, especially about their ideas, how they conduct business, and other topics important for the completion of our project. Even though Trinidad is an English-speaking country, Trinis have thick accents, so I will have to pay extra attention in order to better hear what they say. I will also have to listen to my teammates and their concerns, questions, and ideas. In class, we have discussed the importance of active listening in order to better engage as a team and with our clients. Utilizing the ideas from our reading materials and in-class discussions will be critical in order for my team to successfully complete our project. Empathy is one of my Clifton Strength Finder strengths, but I anticipate that living like a Trini for a week will greatly improve this strength. Reading about a way of life compared to experiencing it is a whole new ball game. Hillary, our site leader for Trinidad, has constantly reminded us that the accommodations we will have in-country are, as she phrases it, more “rustic” than what we are used to. After seeing some photos, I would tend to agree, but as I said before, seeing it and experiencing it are not the same. Participating in the nature hike, liming around in the river, and eating Trini meals will all be times my empathy can strengthen because I will be in the moment and walking in their shoes, rather than merely thinking about it, as I am now. Lastly, problem solving is an area that I anticipate a monumental change in. Since we will be in a different country which holds different values, there is a high likelihood that a variety of problems occur. Whether this be our clients being late or not showing up at all, a communication barrier or issue, or something as trivial as car sickness, I know problem solving will need to occur throughout the week, improving that skill as a result.
Overall, I believe my international service-learning experience in Trinidad will be an extremely influential one. Not only do I anticipate a change in my business skill set, but a change in myself as a whole. I am extremely thankful to be given this opportunity, and I know I will be even more grateful after the trip. See you all soon!