On Transitioning to Work in Jamaica


In the Caribbean Acquisition Project (CAP) one of the issues that surfaced was that of the built in assumption that the Caribbean worker is the same from country to country.

As my wife has been telling me – “It’s one thing to act like we’re all one Caribbean in New York or Miami, and quite another to take over a company in another Caribbean country.” In other words, if there are cultural issues when a company from Antigua takes over one from Barbuda, or one from Nevis takes over one from St. Kitts, or one from Trinidad takes over one from Tobago; then there must be issues when the differences are more significant.

I’ve seen senior executives moved from their home country to new countries in the region, and the only preparation they were given was a map.

There is no Department of Cross Cultural Management Studies at UWI.

Yet, with the advent of CSME, it’s likely that there will be more and more of these kind of executive transfers. At the moment, there is nothing like a “boot camp” to prepare expat executives. What would such a learning experience look like?

  1. It would be built on facts
    Many executives coming to
    Jamaica arrive pre-loaded with some combination of the best things imaginable, and the worst.

    Is this an island paradise? Or a breeding ground for hardened criminals? Is it the cradle of reggae and rap music? Or is it a place that encourages violence against gays? Does it have a full, functioning and vibrant democracy, or is it a place where vigilante justice takes place even in high schools? Should the relocation be welcomed, or cursed? Can ackee kill you? Is it safe to eat fruit sold at a stop-light?

    These questions can all be debated by an expat, and should be. Yet, there are hard facts are available to guide a working visitor, and they can be used to help make critical decisions.

  2. It would be experiential
    This could not occur in the classroom only. In the past few years, I was lucky enough take 3 ghetto tours. I took the first in
    Soweto, the second in Crossroads and the third in a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

    They were all well off the beaten path, and were the highlight of their respective trips. The sights, temperatures, smells and scope of each place were unimaginable from text or video, and today they remain in my memory in a way that will never be lost. I once heard someone say that the most important things in our lives cannot be learned, but they can only be experienced.

    A course for expats would have to put people in contact with other people, and give them a sense of an unfamiliar environment in the host country by immersing them in what might be a somewhat uncomfortable situation. In fact, there would have to be several such experiences. The key would be to manage them in a way that learning is possible, and transforming.

  3. It would be reflective
    Whereas it might seem that the process of learning to operate and manage in a new culture is a matter of learning information, the truth is that no two people experience with a new culture in the same way. In other words, the experience has everything to do with the interaction of two different cultures and not on one culture or the other.

    Also, different people within different cultures interact with new cultures differently, so that, for example, a Black American’s experience of Jamaica would be very different than a white American’s.

    Instead of trying to customize the course to every single possible variation, it’s much more powerful to teach the visitor some tools to understand their own background, and their own blind-spots. They would learn to be reflective in a way that would teach them to understand how they react to unfamiliar situations, and give themselves a chance to respond effectively regardless of whatever new situation they find themselves in.

I think that a course that hits these three elements – fact based, experiential and reflective would be a lot of fun to design, and to conduct for real-life people.