Traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia will my first international experience. The furthest I have ever traveled before this was a school trip from Pittsburgh to Orlando, Florida my junior year. My family was never the type to take extravagant vacations or vacations at all for that matter. We would go camping on weekends throughout the summer because my dad owns his own business and could never get away for long periods of time. Due to this lack of traveling I have had throughout my life, I have never been in a situation where I was in an environment completely different from me. I have always been an advocate for embracing diversity. I have been a part of many organizations and groups that have focused on celebrating diversity, but I see some cultural difference becoming challenges for me when trying to do business in Bolivia.
My group and I learned through our research for the cultural presentation some of the different cultural norms present in Bolivia. One of the first possible difficulties for me will be that I am a very straightforward person. When I am given a job to do, I want to learn and get as much done as possible. I can also easily work with anyone and I do not feel the need to establish a full relationship before taking on a project or job. Bolivians are known to want to fully establish a relationship before moving forward with business. They are going to be more likely to talk to me to try to get to know who I am as a person before they discover what my specific role is on the project. It is a big focus for all of us going on this trip to never show signs of impatience or rushing in meetings or conversations to maintain a positive relationship between Pitt Business and CEOLI since we want to continue working with them for the next ten years.
On top of all the differences that will be mentioned, language will not make the trip any easier. Trying to communicate my ideas will be difficult starting with language in general and reaching all the way to differences in pace when discussing business. Bolivians are also known to have slower more relaxed conversations. I talk very fast. The presence of the translator will easily slow me down, but there are times people I see every day cannot fully understand what I am trying to say. It is recommended to slow down conversations and not rush through what is trying to be said, this is definitely something to remind myself before each day. I can also see myself forgetting to give the formal “Buenos Dias” expected by most Bolivians. It was mentioned in our cultural presentation it is common for foreigners to get corrected for forgetting to formally acknowledge the beginning of the conversation. The last thing any of my groups members want to do would be to offend anyone helping us or working with us in Cochabamba. Finally, regarding personal conversations, Bolivians are known for closeness within conversations. I am a person who values my personal space. I do not like when my personal space is invaded without permission. Obviously, if a child comes up to me and they stand close that would be different for me. A child trying to talk to me or play with me or dance with me is a very different situation then speaking with someone around my age or older about business. I am going to have to allow myself to be comfortable engaging with some close talkers.
Titles and signs of authority are extremely important to Bolivians. A tactic I am going to try is to write down titles and names of anyone I meet. It is common to use “Señor” or “Señora” if an official title has not been given. As a sign of respect, I will strive to remember all important names of people I encounter throughout the trip and recognize them by the appropriate title. The goal of us traveling to Cochabamba is to get as much information as we can to move forward with the project and to build relationships. The relationship building aspect of the trip starts with respect.
One of the biggest things I have learned from the prior Bolivia group, is the recent introduction of higher regulations on nonprofits in Bolivia. They were telling me that nonprofits are now being required to pay the same taxes normal for profit companies are expected to pay. Due to this new regulation, companies like CEOLI have even less money to try to develop new ways of doing things. This will be a challenge to my group in regard to the recommendations we can make for them moving forward. We could have many great ideas on how to move forward and advance CEOLI, but if we can’t think of ways for them to carry out the plans and make it somewhat affordable, then our ideas are less than helpful. I feel as though my group has some all-star members who could think up incredible ideas to move CEOLI in the right direction, the being financially able to move their ideas to the next level is the major concern. This can also create uncomfortable situations if an idea is brought up that CEOLI has thought of, but cannot make it happen because of lack of funds.
I am extremely excited to be in country. I am looking forward to all the learning opportunities we will be given in country. I am mainly trying to increase my global awareness. Like I stated above, I am incredibly interested in embracing diversity and learning about the differences in how people live day to day, especially in business. It’s one thing to be in a class and work through a case study, you can have as little involvement as you want and there are no extreme consequences, except your grade. When in a service learning class, you have a real client to work with and try to help. Some transferrable skills I think will be big when in country that I have already seen developing within my group include time management, listening, and communication. While in country, we only have a limited time there. The last thing I want is to get back home and say, “I wish I would have gotten more information”. Our time management skills are going to be put to the test. We need to plan our days as strategically as possible to optimize our time in country. Listening will be incredibly helpful in country. Throughout this project, we have thought about and discussed ideas for CEOLI to possibly implement. All of that could change once we are in Bolivia. We need to ask a lot of questions to fully understand what they have tried, what did not work, and what their current goals are moving forward. It is important to pick up little things that might say to trigger ideas on our end or that contradict something we wanted to do and we need to be able to adapt our plans to what they want. We cannot lose sight of the fact that CEOLI is a real company with people looking to us as leaders to help them, this is not a case study, we are truly affecting real lives so what they say goes in the end. One of the most important skills we will need to demonstrate is communication. If we can’t communicate our ideas to CEOLI, nothing will get done. All our facts will need to completely be in order and we need to be able to have answers to any question they could have regarding our plans. They need to be able to understand what we are trying to accomplish to be able to give us the information we need to follow through with our plans and be able to inform future groups on the status of the project in the future.
In country, we will be able to develop these skills and then some. Obviously, an international experience will generate so many more learning opportunities other than the ones listed above. I am excited to develop consulting skills along with a deeper cultural awareness. I hope this trip introduces to me ways to make myself a better student and business professional in all aspects of my life. In the end, I hope to not only feel like I have gained skills to help me with my future, but to also be a valuable team member. In servant leadership, it is not about how you see yourself as a leader, but how other perceive you as a leader. I want my group to think back on this project and think of me in a positive light like I will for them, as they have all expressed strengths throughout this process. I am looking forward to being in Bolivia with my group to work together since we all have different backgrounds and have already shown ways to help and teach each other while we help the people of Bolivia.