We are now in the home stretch until our departure to Puerto Rico. The time has flown by, and I can’t wait five more days till I can escape the thirty-degree winter weather of Pittsburgh. In exactly one week, our team will be assisting Caras con Causa to implement a marketing initiative for their environmental field station in hopes of furthering the growth of the local mangrove station. However, to maintain oneself as a culturally conscious individual when engaging in business and personal activities abroad, it is crucial to understand the cultural norms of the country that you opt to travel to. Since culture influences a significant portion of both business interactions and personal interactions in terms of an individual’s/organization’s values, aspirations, and partnerships, understanding another group’s culture indicates respect and empathy towards their culture. By doing so, I will have the opportunity to react and adapt appropriately to unique challenges and create quality first impressions.
For instance, arriving late to gatherings in Puerto Rico justifies as “normalized” and “ordinary” in social situations and business gatherings. Individuals have the ability to arrive at an event almost 1 hour late(forty-five minutes to be precise) and still be considered as arriving on-time. The customary act of behavior to reach a destination well after the initiation of a particular social/business event reveals the distinct discrepancy between timeliness in the United States and Puerto Rico. In the United States, punctuality embodies the key to all event gatherings. In other words, the act of arriving forty-five minutes in the United States late justifies as being late. Moreover, the mainland USA values punctuality to a higher degree compared to Puerto Rico due to the phenomenon of embracing a “Linear -Time Culture” vs. a “Flexible-Time Culture.”
A “Linear-Time Culture” such as the U.S. embraces punctuality with a specific start and end time. In contrast, a country such as Puerto Rico engages in “Flexible-Time Culture” through favoring personal relationships before timeliness. Although I have experienced events/business meetings initiating late during my various vacations to India due to (“Indian Standard Time”), I need to continue to sustain and empathize with patience through embracing an “open agenda” where ideas unrelated to our team’s primary agenda with Caras arise. (Erin Meyer: “Working with Multicultural Teams”). In other words, when engaging in business practices in Puerto Rico, Americans from “mainland” USA should exhibit and follow the local customs rather than implying that the business customs and traditions from “mainland USA” such as promptness to events embody the only correct response. Therefore, recognizing and empathizing in the customary habit of events commencing late exemplifies as a critical aspect towards maintaining and strengthening the professional relationship between our student consultant team, the University of Pittsburgh, and Caras con Causa.
Relating to the diverse array of punctuality cultures, another potential challenge I perceive I will face emphasizes as building, maintaining, and furthering professional relationships in the professional workforce with our client Caras. In Puerto Rican culture, engaging in “small talk” through strengthening personal relationships before speaking professional matters increases the degree of trust and understanding in the professional workforce before the commencement of a meeting or project. Puerto Rican’s desire to engage in “small talk” due to the predominant relationship-based culture. On the contrary, the United States partakes in a task-based culture. In other words, business prioritizes the action of building deep personal relationships with one’s co-workers. Moreover, in a professional environment, the act of questioning a co-worker regarding intensely personal information about themselves or their families perceives as intrusive in contrast to the relationship-based climate of Puerto Rico in the professional environment. America’s task-based culture derives from the notion that in a professional working environment, companies oversee business in terms of the trust, which establishes off of an individual’s competence, the degree of their capability, and reliability, which favors the notion of your professional work experience vs. your personal life. Personally, I anticipate that at the initiation of each meeting, our student consultant team will partake in conversations regarding the personal and familial lives of the Caras’ staff’s families (Michael, Mariela, and Belén). Although questioning Michael, Belén, and Mariela’s information about their personal and familial lives appears to contradict our natural instincts as American students, it serves a manner of transition into our business discussions. Thus, Not only will the conversation of non-business matters serve as a manner of transition into our professional business discussion, it justifies a critical overreaching purpose: the continuation of a superior relationship between the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration and Caras con Causa and our student consultant teams empathy to adapt to the customs of diverse environments readily.
The attribute of the “Linear-Time Culture” of the United States vs. “Flexible-Time Culture” and “Task-Based Culture” vs. “Relationship-Based Culture” of Puerto embodies a larger purpose: communication in a high-context vs. low context culture. Over the past decade, the business and professional realm have increasingly highlighted the significance of intercultural communication. Moreover, various cultures and environments vary in terms of the prominence of how communication is perceived. The term “high-context” and “low-context” refer to the diverse mechanisms in which individuals communicate. Americans communicate in a “low-context” manner, meaning that when we speak, we express our thoughts and ideas clearly and concisely. Moreover, Americans convey precisely what they embody without implying implicit meanings to communicate directly with other individuals. On the contrary, Puerto Ricans communicate in a “high-context” manner, meaning that Puerto Ricans depend on the context of the issue to convey information. As a result, Puerto Ricans more so imply their thoughts and ideas reflected through the notions of their body language and their environment. In today’s dynamic business professional environment, the collision of “high-context” and “low context” cultures often lead to confusion of communication. As an American university student traveling abroad to Puerto, our student consultant team should routinely ask questions and clarify any information given to us by Caras con Causa’s staff not clear. Furthermore, effective communication and maintaining cognizant of cultural norms between our student consultant team and Caras holds the key to accomplishing our deliverables promptly: an action that otherwise has the potential to hinder the success of our project.
Despite the foreseeable cultural variations that I anticipate our student consultant team to encounter foreseeably, I argue that I will have the opportunity to improve from a personal standpoint during the in-country portion of the trip: the gravity regarding the value of reflection in a service-learning environment. Our service-learning class discussed that with the conclusion of each night in the in-country portion of our trip, each student consultant team has the opportunity to recount on what the team learned, the actions needed to be completed, and the plan of action for the next day based on all of the information comprehended. Since our team practically only has approximately six days in-country with our client Caras, active reflection deems as imperative to the efficiency and productivity of our deliverables. Through the notion of engaging in active reflection, our team acquires more vital soft skills and problem-solving skills, precipitating a higher probability for our student consultant team to more creatively solve problems in the context of a diverse culture: a truly unique benefit to the Global Service-Learning programs.
The unique capabilities of the Global Service-Learning Program, as mentioned above, brings me to my second aspiration in the international portion of my study abroad journey: effective utilization of soft skills. In class, Bryan and Hillary discussed that Global Service-Learning experiences such as our Puerto Rico allows young professionals and college students to home in on broadening our soft skills: a skill that I argue separates “above-average” candidates from “exceptional candidates.” The term “soft skills” refers to the degree in which an individual collaborates or interacts with others. One aspect regarding soft skills from class that I found surprising consisted of the fact that the importance of soft skills is highly underemphasized compared to hard skills(teachable and measurable skills). While “teachable and measurable” skills enable an individual to “get their feet through the door,” an individual’s soft skills such as their adaptability, attitude, sensitivity, and communication essentially represent the skills required from an individual to excel as a leader in the professional realm. For instance, from the sensitivity aspect, I should avoid speaking about culturally sensitive certain topics such as the controversy regarding Puerto Rico as a statehood. Over the past couple of decades, the issue of statehood in Puerto Rico deems as controversial due to the diverse opinions from the hurricanes, earthquakes, politics, and its one hundred thirty-billion-dollar debt crisis. Especially since Puerto Ricans deem American citizens as standing in a position of privilege, it is vital for our student consultant team and I to thoroughly listen to the perspectives of the Puerto Rican citizens and Caras staff. Intermingling politics into business affairs, given the controversial nature of the topic and the diverse array of opinions amongst the Puerto Rican citizens, only have the potential to complicate the ten-year partnership between the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration and Caras con Causa. Through the action of behaving sensitively, we withhold the opportunity to not only amplify the relationship with Caras but to aid in the contextualization of Caras’ potential issues: two actions that encompass the ability to provide Caras with a superior product and feasible recommendations.
All in all, I’m incredibly excited to embark on my first study abroad adventure to San Juan in five days. While I anticipate that challenges will arise, I argue that the information learned regarding Puerto Rico’s economy, politics, social culture, and the business environment will enable me to have the most authentic and impactful study abroad experience while acting in a culturally sensitive manner.
Nos Vemos en cinco días, San Juan!!