In just under a week, my team and I will be traveling to the beautiful island of Trinidad and I am so excited! This semester we have spent countless hours completing preliminary research, preparing our scope of work and preparing our best practices deliverable for our client, Nature Seekers. It seems as though all of the effort we have invested into this project thus far is finally about to come to fruition. While I am absolutely thrilled to meet our clients and see the subject of our project, I do predict that there will be some cultural challenges that my group will be challenged to overcome.
The first obstacle I believe we may encounter, especially in terms of conducting business, lies in communication. As discussed in Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map, while Americans are used to a very low context communication culture, which means everything that is said should be taken at face value, Trini culture is the opposite with a very high context communication style. High context cultures place high value on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions and tone of voice. As a result, our group will need to be more cognizant than usual of our body language to ensure we are maintaining an inviting and friendly image. Because Trinidad has a high context culture, personal relationships are also of great significance to locals. Before any business transactions can be started, a strong sense of trust must be established between both parties. While our group is coming into this project with a slight advantage because Pitt Business already has an established relationship with these organizations, this will still be a hurdle to overcome as they have not personally met our group yet. Typically, in the United States, business relationships are built before friendships are, so we will need to be sure that we are taking the time to get to know each of the community members that we will be working with on a personal level first. Additionally, although Trinidad’s official language is English, through discussions with previous GSL Trinidad participants and in class, I have learned that they have very thick accents that can sometimes be difficult to decipher. To combat communication errors, it is important that multiple group members are taking notes and comparing them to assure we all have a similar understanding of what is being discussed.
As previously mentioned, it is essential that we build a strong trust between all involved parties. We need to be conscious of the fact that we are coming into these interactions with these organizations as outsiders. As I was reading through our Culture Smart book, I learned that because of the long history of territory struggles between other countries and Trinidad, there is still a lingering sense of distrust when it comes to foreigners. Seeing as we do have the slight advantage of working under the Pitt Business guise I talked about above, I do not think it will be an immense issue, but it is something we need to take into account when interacting with locals and the organizations. We should show them that what we are offering is mutually beneficial.
Arguably the greatest challenge we will face is Trini Time. The Culture Map also details the time spectrum, which ranges from linear-time to flexible-time. Trinidad has a significantly more leisure pace to life than we do in the United States and definitely falls more on the flexible-time side of the spectrum. For example, in the U. S., it is customary to arrive to a meeting fifteen or so minutes early and it is extremely frowned upon to be late. Conversely, in Trinidad it is not unusual to show up to a meeting up to forty-five minutes late or even not to show up at all. This will be something our group will have to keep in mind as we conduct our business in country as we will need to be flexible. If a client we are working with does not arrive on time or does not show up, we should have a contingency plan to ensure that we are making good use of the time we have. Time flexibility will be key throughout the duration of this trip. I consider this one of my strengths as I actually dislike working on a tight, planned out schedule, but I do anticipate still experiencing a slight culture shock in terms of how laid back their timing is since I am acclimated to Americans’ concept of time.
A much more personal challenge I will face is being a picky eater. My entire life I have not eaten or liked a great variety of foods. In fact, my friends and I always joke that it seems as though the only thing I eat is pasta. However, this trip to Trinidad will really challenge me to go out of my comfort zone and try various new dishes. Because of its history, Trinidad has a great amount of population diversity with ethnicities such as East Indian, African, Syrian, French, and many more. This allows for extremely diverse cuisine that is essentially a fusion of these cultures’ typical dishes. These dishes can include anything from Indian curry to Caribbean vegetables. Although I am very nervous about trying new foods, I am excited to have to do so because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fully immerse myself into such a unique culture and trying their cuisine is a major aspect of this. On the other hand, we have also discussed the fresh bread that Trinis bake and as a major carb lover, I am absolutely eager to try some! I hope that this experience makes me less of a picky eater and more open to trying new and unique cuisine.
After this experience, I hope to increase my global competency and to become even more culturally curious. As I mentioned in my first blog post, this will be my first experience traveling out of country, which means I have not had the chance to see an entire culture firsthand. I am excited to see not only the differences, but also the similarities. I think it is important to understand why a culture is the way it is, such as how I described the reason Trinidad has such diverse cuisine above. So far, this semester has already taught me a great deal about Trinis such as their family life, their holidays, and their values, but has also opened my eyes to how much I still have to learn and I think being in country will expand upon this even more. Seeing their culture firsthand will allow me to really connect and identify with them. I hope that it incites a desire to research and delve into other cultures. We haven’t even left to go on the trip yet and the travel bug has already bit me to go explore other unique locations!
I also really want to improve upon my transferable skills, more specifically my teamwork and verbal communication skills within these teams. This project is very unique in that we are working with a team of eight people. I am a part of the Certificate Program in Leadership and Ethics (CPLE) in which we take part in various group projects. However, these undertakings are typically with only three or four other people so seeing the dynamic shift from working with four people to eight people has been interesting. There are many differing work styles and opinions to overcome. This will be very apparent in country when we are working with each other all day for about six days in a row. It will be very important to maintain an environment that is inviting of dissenting opinion to ensure everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. In class, we discussed Tricia Goss’ article “Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team”. This article claims that some of the characteristics are that “they are team players, they are dependable, they can communicate well, and they are committed”. These are all aspects in which I hope to improve upon so that I can apply these skills to team projects in the future.
On a professional note, I hope that my time in country will further improve my consulting skills because this is a field in which I am interested. In our CPLE projects, we consult with local organizations so it will be interesting to see how I need to adapt my consulting skills to fit an international context. More specifically, this time working on the project in country will teach me how to adapt my communication style on the fly which can definitely be utilized in all consulting settings.
Overall, I could not be more excited for this trip. I anticipate it being not only a challenging experience, but an extremely rewarding one that I will remember forever. I cannot wait to see how it transforms my view on the world and how much I grow both personally and professionally.
5 more days!