Five Days Away!

Bolivian companies conduct their business practices in vastly different ways than companies in the United States.  Although similarities can be observed (as Bolivia has been heavily influenced by many European countries and the United States) such as formality of dress in a meeting and the increasing use of e-mail and the Internet to communicate with colleagues, there are many more differences between the two countries.  These differences can prove to be challenging while we are in Bolivia, but I am excited to learn how to overcome these challenges and increase my global competence and awareness.

The first major challenge that I anticipate observing is the way the culture of Bolivia translates into the way they conduct their business.  Bolivians have been known to be more laid back (this does not mean they are lazy) than individuals from the United States, which means the business topic is never the first topic discussed during a business meeting.  In Bolivia, individuals focus on building relationships before talking about any business topic, meaning it can take a while to arrive at the topic the meeting was organized to discuss.  They like to talk about family and want to learn all about you before they start discussing a business topic.  Coming from the United States, where we normally start by discussing the business topic during a meeting, it will be challenging to adapt to a more informal business meeting.  Additionally, this can be a distraction by preventing the group from talking about the actual business topic and can potentially lead to an entire meeting that does not address the reason the meeting was called.  Since we only have one week in Bolivia, the United States mindset would say that it will be difficult to get all of our questions answered as the building of relationships will take away time from it and make it difficult to accomplish every task.  However, I understand that this is their way of conducting business and I will focus on building connections initially but always try to ensure that the topic we set out to discuss is addressed by the end of a meeting.

The second major challenge I anticipate encountering is the way questions are asked.  In the United States, we ask exactly what we want to know, even if it might come off as harsh, because we want an answer as soon as possible.  However, in Bolivia it can be seen as rude to ask some questions this way.  For example, in the United States we might say, “Is the market saturated?”, but in Bolivia the proper question is, “What is the market currently like?”  Although the first question is more direct and would give us the exact answer we want, the second question, although elusive, is more appropriate.  This can be challenging while in Bolivia for two reasons.  First, it can be hard to word questions in a more indirect manner when coming from a culture that asks direct questions.  I do not want to offend anyone or come off as rude in Bolivia, so this will definitely be a challenge while trying to find answers to the business questions.  Additionally, this can prove to be challenging as we might not receive the answer we were looking for.  It will be difficult to word the questions in a manner that leads them to give us the answer we are looking for, but I am excited to learn how overcome this challenge, as it will help me in my future career.

Another challenging I anticipate seeing is a Bolivian individual’s hesitation to say no.  Bolivians are very friendly people who try to avoid conflict, which leads to their reservation in times when they disagree on a topic.  This can be challenging for individuals from the United States, as we are more inclined to state our disagreement with an idea or say no to something we do not feel comfortable with.  This will be challenging for both us and them.  We do not want to come across as rude or ignorant, meaning if we disagree with an idea of theirs we need to frame it in a way that they will feel encouraged to defend their opinion.  Additionally, it will be hard for them because if they disagree with one of our business ideas, they will not say anything and we will assume they agree.  However, if they do not, then it was a wasted conversation.  A major part of business is discussing new ideas and ways to improve, and it will be challenging for us to discover their true feelings towards our ideas to help improve different aspects of their business plan.

Although there will be many challenges, there are also many personal learning skills that I expect to obtain from the international service learning experience in Bolivia.  As we have read in many of the articles, there is a distinction between not only the skills obtained from completing a service learning course compared to a community service project, but also between completing an international versus a domestic service learning project.  I have already developed a great awareness and an immense amount of knowledge about Bolivia and can see how this experience can be translated into my future career, but I am excited to acquire many new skills while I am in country.

The first personal learning objective that I expect to obtain from this experience is many transferable skills.  Although I feel I have started developing some of these skills from the in-class discussions, I know that I will further develop them while I am in Bolivia.  Communication, leadership, and problem solving are a few examples of these transferable skills.  In Bolivia, communicating with individuals who do not speak English will be a challenge.  This will not only be a challenge during this experience, but I will be faced with communicating with individuals who do not speak English throughout my life, so this experience will be very valuable.  I expect this experience to teach me how to communicate with those who do not speak the same language as me. Furthermore, this experience will not only develop my communication skills with individuals who do not speak the same language, but it will also develop my communication skills in other ways.  As mentioned earlier, Bolivians are more reserved and like to avoid conflict.  This experience will show me how to adapt to different forms of communication, depending on the culture in which I am conducting business.  Another transferable skill that I will further develop is leadership.  This entire project is based around leadership, as we are acting as consultants for CEOLI.  While we are in country, there will be many challenges that we did not anticipate, and we will have to work as leaders to overcome them.  This leads into another transferable skill, which is problem solving.  In my opinion, leadership and problem solving are very similar, as leaders must be able to solve problems in complex environments.  This is the exact situation we will be put into, and it will be interesting to observe how I am able to overcome these challenges and further develop my leadership and problem solving skills.

Additionally, there are many differences between the skills that individuals who complete an international service learning project obtains in comparison to a domestic service learning project.  As evidenced by the article, “Act Local or Global?: Comparing Student Experiences in Domestic and International Service-Learning Programs” by Elizabeth Niehaus and Lena Crain, individuals who study abroad felt they more frequently interacted with community members, learned more from the community, had a more emotionally intense and challenging experience, learned more about social issues, and interacted with people who were more different than themselves.  This shows the importance of an international experience, as it puts individuals in a situation where they can develop skills that domestic projects do not provide.  The two major personal learning objectives that I will obtain from conducting this project abroad are a better understanding of civic engagement and global citizenship.  In my opinion, in order to truly develop both of these, you need to understand that other cultures are different than yours and that what you are doing makes a large impact on these different cultures.  As stated above, international service learning projects require students to interact more heavily with a community that is vastly different than their own, which helps individuals realize that other countries’ cultures are indeed different. Additionally, individuals learn a lot more about other cultures from this unique experience, which contributes to both civic engagement and global citizenship.  These two competencies are extremely important in today’s business world.  As business is becoming a global field, it is imperative that individuals realize the differences in cultures and that business is conducted differently, and this international service learning experience will help me develop the skills needed to recognize this.

Another personal learning skill I expect to obtain is a deeper understanding of intercultural competence.  As stated in “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in In Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning” by Nadia De Leon, “Many professional fields today acknowledge the importance of intercultural competence in conducting work ethically and efficiently… if our young people do not learn about other societies, they may well be unable to cope with the complexities of their own.”  This quote shows the increasing importance of developing intercultural competence in today’s world, as it not only helps with conducting business globally, but it also helps domestically.  As mentioned in class, one will never fully achieve intercultural competence, as there are too many countries around the world and not enough time to visit everyone.  However, one can become better and work towards ultimate intercultural competence by constantly referencing the three parts of intercultural competence: awareness, knowledge, and skills.  Awareness and knowledge can be developed domestically.  These two components consist of learning as much information as possible about a specific culture so that one knows how to conduct themselves when they interact with an individual from that culture.  However, knowing how to do something and actually being able to do it are much different.  This is why skills must be developed while in a different country because one is actually interacting with those individuals.  I feel as though I have already developed an immense awareness and knowledge about Bolivian culture, but have not developed the skills, as we have not been to the country yet.  These skills include transferable skills, such as communication and problem solving, as well as learning how to translate this experience into a broader sense.  The skills I will obtain from going to Bolivia can be implemented in both the United States and other foreign countries.  I hope this experience will enable me to understand different cultures and communicate in a more effective way with individuals who are different than myself.

There are many challenges that I know I will face while I am in Bolivia due to the differences in culture between Bolivia and the United States.  There will also be unforeseen challenges that will test my skills and will enable me to develop skills that I do not currently have.  A few personal learning skills that I expect to obtain while abroad are a better understanding of intercultural competence, civic engagement, and global citizenship.  There will also be many personal skills that I develop abroad that I currently do not expect, but I am excited to see how I change for the better because of this trip.