It’s crazy to think that we are now just a week away from leaving for Trinidad. It feels like just last week I had gotten accepted into the program and now here we are preparing our first reports for Nature Seekers and beginning to pack before we leave next weekend.
Because we are getting so close to leaving, it is important to consider some of the challenges that I expect to face while we are there. The first big challenge to consider is the accent that they have in Trinidad. Although they are an English-speaking country, they do also have a heavy accent and use slang words that are a lot different than how we talk hear in the United States. It is important to keep in mind that even though they will be speaking English, we may not understand exactly what they are saying. There may be times where they say a word that might not be familiar to us and so we may not know what it means. To help deal with this, we may have to ask them to repeat what they said just to clarify and make sure we are on the same page as them.
Another challenge that we expect to face, and possibly the biggest challenge of them all, is having to deal with Trini time. Here in the US, we’re used to constantly being in a rush for everything. Everything here is structure, fast-paced, and on time. In Trinidad, however, they have a much slower pace of life. They like to take things slowly rather than speeding through everything. To counteract this, we need to make sure to remain flexible. It will definitely take us outside our comfort zone and will be something that we aren’t used to doing here, but as long as we go in prepared for it, it will not be as hard for us to adjust. It is important to keep in mind that it is nothing against us, but just the way that they do things in Trinidad. Additionally, Trini time means that there may be some meetings where the client shows up a lot later than we had planned on meeting. To make sure that we are still productive during the time lost as a result of this, we may have to create backup plans and figure out what work we can do to ensure that we don’t waste time.
Another difference in cultural norms between the US and Trinidad is how trust is built. In the Culture Map, a book we discussed in class written by Erin Meyer, one of the 8 cultural distinctions she discussed in the book is how trust is built. Here in the United States, trusting is task-based, which means it is built through business-related activities. People in higher positions of power or with a strong resume are given more trust because they have proven themselves in a business sense. In Trinidad, on the other hand, trusting is relationship-based. Because of this, building relationships with our clients like Nature Seekers is extremely important. This difference will mean that there will be some meetings that we have where we will just have casual conversation with our clients instead of discussing marketing or other business aspects of the company and while that may not feel like we are being productive, we are actually helping to build a relationship with the client. It will be important for us to keep in mind that what may feel like lost time is actually going to go a long way towards building a relationship with Nature Seekers and the DORCAS Women’s Group and gaining the trust needed for us to aid them in achieving their goals.
The final challenge that I anticipate us having during our time in Trinidad is another topic discussed in the Culture Map, communication. I touched on the accents and slang earlier, but another difference in communication is whether it is low-context or high-context. Here in the US, we are very much a low-context country. What this means is that our communication is precise, simple, and clear. We make sure to clarify everything to ensure there is no misunderstanding. An example of this would be how we always finish off presentations with a conclusion, in which we touch on all of the key points mentioned throughout the presentation. We do this to ensure that everything is clear and understood. Trinidad and Tobago, on the other hand, is more of a high-context community, meaning that communication can be sophisticated and layered. For example, they may not say something relevant to our project because they assume that it is implied and that we already know it. This will be challenging for us when working on the project because there might be certain information that we need for our reports that isn’t told to us because they assume that we already know it or that it is implied given the rest of the information we received. It will be important to keep this in mind and understand that we might not get all of the information that we had originally had hoped for, and so we will have to make do with what we have to perform the tasks specified in our scope of work to the best of our ability.
Along with some of the potential challenges we may face during our time in Trinidad we also talked in class about some of the advantages and growth that students who participate in service learning programs should expect. During my time in Trinidad, the largest amount of learning I expect to obtain is valuable experience working with clients. One of the main benefits of service learning is that you not only learn in the classroom, but you also get to take what you learn in the classroom and apply it to the real world. For example, a lot of the concepts that I have learned throughout my marketing classes I will now be able to apply to our project when we create a marketing plan for Nature Seekers and their Turtle Warriors bracelets. As I talked about in my previous blog, applying what is learned in the classroom to the real world working with actual clients offers extremely valuable firsthand experience.
Along with the experience I expect to gain from the trip, I also expect to just learn more about another culture. In my last blog, I talked about how I have only left the country a handful of times. The only time I have left the east coast of North America was when I travelled to Vietnam during the Plus3 program. Now I have another opportunity to leave the country, and I hope to learn more about how the culture in Trinidad differs from here in the US. Experiencing other cultures around the world offers so many opportunities for growth and just a better understanding overall about how cultures differ in different areas. I talked earlier about Trini time, as well as the differences in communication and importance of building relationships and I hope to use these differences to strengthen my ability to adapt and become more flexible. There will be a variety of different situations during our time in Trinidad where I will have to use critical thinking and make sure I am able to adapt and remain flexible and open. Although I believe that adapting and flexibility are two of my stronger traits, there is still a lot of room to grow and this is the perfect opportunity to do that.
Finally, we talked in class about all of the studies that have been done about service learning and why it is beneficial to students. Studies done on the topic have shown that participating in service learning results in positive educational outcomes. For example, service learning results in growth in critical thinking as well as writing abilities. Critical thinking and writing skills are two key attributes in business regardless of the field you are involved in, showing why this is so valuable. I hope to experience growth in these attributes, along with the other attributes that studies have proven are positively correlated to service learning, during my time in Trinidad.
Overall, I am extremely excited to travel to Trinidad. Although there are some challenges we expect to face while we are there, there are so many experiences that I expect to be invaluable. Not only will I learn a lot during this service learning trip, but I also expect to enjoy my time there and create so many memories that I will never forget. I hope to make so many connections during my time abroad, not only with my fellow classmates that I will be travelling with, but with the Trinis we will be interacting with, whether it be the high school students in Matelot or the Nature Seekers employees we will be working with in Matura. I look forward to updating everyone on all my experiences after we arrive back in the United States!