Growing Here, Growing There

There are many adjustments I know I will have to make to be able to properly conduct business in Bolivia. I am entering a completely different continent, country, city, and culture. Simple things I may not even think about may prove to be the largest issues (like hand gestures and personal space differences). To start, Bolivians make it a point to get to know you very well before doing business. They want to know who you are and what you are about. they will spend a lot of time getting to know you before thinking about business. Even though the group went last year, they want to know us.

Also the language barrier will be a huge backset in my case. Language is always the first thing people think of when going to other countries, but the past group stressed that most people working with CEOLI do not speak any english. The majority of our group does not speak or understand Spanish. Some of our members can understand it, but cannot speak it very well. I do not know any Spanish, so I know this will prove to be a problem for me. With only one translator, I think the group will struggle with the language barrier, especially since we are going over to conduct business, and not as tourists.

I also think our agenda differences will be hard to get used too. The United States culture has taught me to be very punctual and stick to a plan, whereas in Bolivia, I feel things may be a little all over the place. They are going to have so many things to show us, and we are going to want to map out every minute of the trip, whereas they will want to go with the flow of things until they get to know us a little better. When conducting business, the Bolivians are very punctual and like an agenda, but I feel they will not view our relationship as business just yet. I think it will be seen as a relationship (which it very much is) that needs to be fostered. This is less of a professional encounter and more of a friendly encounter at this point in the 10 year commitment.

Another thing is that Americans typically work through the day until 5, and then go home and spend time with their family. The Bolivians typically take a mid day break to debrief and relax with family, since family is a central unit to almost all Bolivians’ lives. This will cut our time with them shorter, and when wanting to get things done, the Bolivians may not want to conduct business at particular times.

It will be difficult not to compare my United States standards to Bolivian standards. Their culture values different things, and our mean standard of living is higher than that of Bolivia. I have an idea of how life should be, but that it all based on my experiences living in the States, whereas their cultural values and focuses are different, creating a different learning environment and a different way of living. This also creates a different way of doing business.

For personal learning, I hope to create a better connection between my classmates and me. Nadia De Leon writes in her article about international service learning that service learning (in general) can help bring people together from all other countries and places. Our group is made up of two different organizations; DSP and PBL. This proves to be challenging since our organizations are very different, and other PBL members went on this same trip last year, putting PBL at a slight advantage. On the other hand, I am very excited to jointly share this experience with DSP. I hope it will create a bond between the organizations, maybe even allowing the organizations to collaborate on other things as well. We are both very passionate about CEOLI and the project we are working on. I look forward to the growth of a relationship between the organizations, and I hope it will lead to many more friendships.

Also, the more obvious reasoning behind De Leon’s statement, is that this trip will bring our group and the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia together. The group of students that went last year started the relationship with CEOLI and Amizade, and this year we will be continuing to foster the relationship. We are still in the early stages of the project (year 3 out of a 10 year commitment; and this is the second group of people going) so creating good relational foundations are very important for the progress of future groups.

I hope to learn more about global business and how it is to be conducted. Every international business experience is different from any other because of cultural differences between countries, but this trip will give me a foundation on how to go about learning about other cultures and how to properly conduct business in that respective country. Elizabeth Niehaus and Léna Kavaliauskas Crain mention this struggle in their article about global versus local service learning. They talk about students not being able to integrate themselves into a different culture with conflicting world-views and different economic situations. These recognizable differences pointed out in the article prove to make lasting impacts on the people who participate in international service learning. It creates a greater about of change within a person than domestic service learning.

The entire setup of the service learning class excites me. I get to help CEOLI, who has an incredible about of ideas, implement these ideas into feasible projects to help them create revenue and better their school. I am learning about businesses, global business, consulting, scopes of work, and being a team player all while helping an actual organization. Most projects done in other classes do not have real clients, therefore, not giving students the motivation to work hard and do the best they can. In this service learning class, I am impacting people’s lives. I am creating a bond between CEOLI and me.

This past Friday I had the privilege of meeting with a worker from Amizade who has been to CEOLI in Bolivia and knows the project through and through. This meeting, although it was in Lawrenceville PA and not Cochabamba, made me realize how real this project is. It put a face to the name, and made me realize what we are doing and why we are doing it. Bolivia is going to be so impactful! Amizade helped us realize what we should concentrate on in country, and what types of questions are appropriate to ask. The meeting was like a head start for the trip, giving us a small update on what the school is currently doing and some projects they have going on.

I want to learn what CEOLI wants from this relationship. CEOLI has help from different outlets, but I want to know specifically what they want from us. We can talk about it in class, but I feel we cannot get a honest answer until we ask them ourselves. This situation will help me learn how to deal with clients and understand what they are asking for (if in a consulting position). This will also help me learn how to handle global clients, and how to work out cultural differences so that all parties have a clear image of what everyone wants/is being ask of them.

This trip gives us the amazing opportunity to emerge ourselves in the community we are directly impacting. Elizabeth Niehaus and Léna Kavaliauskas Crain talk about how international service learning “reports higher levels of interaction and engagement with community members” (Act Local or Global? : Comparing Student Experiences in Domestic and International Service-Learning Programs, 37). This will show me that all the work we are doing has impacts on other people, and we need to be mindful of how we are changing the community. This will also prepare me for future projects, and to always be mindful of the impact my actions have on a community (anywhere I do business).

Lastly, I hope to be a more well rounded and cultured person after the trip to Bolivia. When living a certain lifestyle your entire life, you begin to think that is how everyone lives. For the most part, this is not the case. I am so privileged to have been raised by a loving family, and with enough support to be able to attend college without worry, and hopefully get a good job in the future because of my education and past experiences. This trip will show me a different reality; a different way of living. Something different from what I have known my entire life. Nothing I have ever experienced will ever be like this. This trip will change how I view the world, and hopefully how I go about living my life in the world. I also hope this trip opens my eyes to the fact of how little I know about the world around me. Every person you meet has a different story from the last, and everyone grows up with different perspectives on life. I hope this trip puts into perspective that I am one of many, and that even with all our differences, we can all do something to help each other.