We are less than a week away from traveling to Cochabamba, Bolivia! As each day goes by the trip begins to feel more and more real. I could not be more excited to be about to embark on a trip with 10 or so other individuals and have the opportunity to work with great organizations such as CEOLI and Amizade. I know that both myself and the rest of the team are excited to gain a new experience in such a beautiful part of the world and also be able to learn more about the amazing work that is completed by CEOLI.
As the trip speeds closer, I have been reflecting on what our in-country experience will be like. After the discussion both in our class and with the individuals who went on the trip in the past, I have realized that there may be a few challenges in how we conduct business due to differences in cultural norms between Bolivia and the United States. In addition, I truly believe these challenges and other things that I will have the opportunity to experience on this trip will help me to learn and develop personal skills/perspectives that will be invaluable in the future.
As this class has a service learning focus, we have been exposed to different perspectives and taught about how this trip will affect both the people we are working with and ourselves in a more significant way than a traditional study abroad trip. One specific thing that we have learned is that we should view the experience through a different lens than the traditional experience. While the traditional experience can be an extremely shaping force in the lives of the people that go through it, it often tends to be a one-way interaction. Though this service-learning experience, we want to focus on developing a two-way interaction between both ourselves and the culture we are interacting with.
With this being said, the first challenge that I can envision us running into in regards to the business world is the increased informality in business dealings compared to the United States. In Bolivia, business meetings are conducted with a much greater informality than in the United States. There is often a large focus spent on getting to know the party you are interacting with before any serious business is discussed. There is a high value placed on developing relationships with others and it is imperative to have trust with other parties, not just in business but in any interactions. While this occurs at times in the United States, it is not the norm. It is going to be imperative that as a team we do not go into the country with a U.S business mindset. This is especially true as we are continuing on the based set forth by the previous team and are setting up the platform for teams in the future. Last year, the team that went to CEOLI had several days that they spent time developing relationships and building rapport with the children and the administrators of CEOLI. I think this was integral in setting them up for success for the rest of their time there. We hope to be able to do the same thing and continue to develop the relationships between CEOLI and the Pitt Business teams.
A second difference that we will encounter that may present a personal challenge for me to adapt to is the lack of a strict time schedule. I am one of those people that schedules out their lives in an extreme way. There was one time in my life, where I had my entire semester scheduled out to the minute to ensure that I completed everything that I needed to accomplish. While this may be a little extreme, the business world in the United States runs on a very strict time schedule. You hear at recruiting events and interviews that if you are not 15 minutes early…you are late. This is not the case in Bolivia. As they have a more informal business culture, the timing of the day can be much more fluid. The advice we have received is to have a general plan about what activities you want to do and want to want to accomplish on a specific day and then to allow for significant variations from any initial plan. Although this may be the most significant challenge for me to adjust too, I believe that it will actually be beneficial. Often times when you stick to an extremely tight schedule, you pass through the days without actually experiencing it. I am hoping that we will be able to make the most of our time in this amazing country and I think that the informality with time will help to facilitate this.
I believe that this trip will be an immense personal learning experience for myself and my teammates. It is almost impossible to go on an international trip and experience a different culture without being changed in some way. In addition, I believe that service learning focus that we have developed through the classes will help to facilitate this.
The first area where I believe I will growth personally is in my global awareness. In our class, we have the opportunity to learn the difference between global competence and global awareness. While they may sound like they are fairly similar, and they do have some shared ideas, they are very different. Going to another country and experiencing a different culture will never make you fully globally competent. In reality, can you ever fully be “globally competent?” However, it does give you the opportunity to become more globally aware and that is one of the areas where I believe I will personally growth. Even with the time we have spent in the classroom researching the country and discussing what is going on in it, I think that I have started to develop my global acumen. Through this experience, I hope to continue to grow a deeper understanding of the culture in Bolivia, some of the challenges they face, and see the treasures make them unique. This is itself helping to develop my global awareness which is necessary to thrive in the global business world.
Something that was highly focused on during our lectures on service learning is how service learning experiences help to develop transferable skills. Transferable skills are not hard technical skills such as coding or analysis but are “soft skills” that make a much more well-rounded individual. These skills are just as highly sought after by employers and are proven to help advance the careers of the individuals that possess them. Some of the key skills that I think I will have the opportunity to develop are communication and leadership.
Communication is hands down the most important skills that can be held by an individual, both in the business world and throughout life as a whole. Without good communication, you can have the best ideas in the world but they will never be implemented. This trip will provide a unique experience in communication. Bolivia is a Spanish speaking country and I (and almost everyone else on the team) speak about 5 words in Spanish. This will cause us to interact with the individuals around us either through interpreters or with body language and cues. I am interested to see how effectively we are able to communicate and in particular how we are able to evolve our communication over the course of the week.
Leadership is another transferable skill that is highly impactful in the business environment. Similar to communication, without the ability to lead others it is difficult to accomplish any task. Leadership will be important in Bolivia as we are breaking our team up into smaller functional groups. These groups will each have a specific focus and then must aggregate the information that they receive and relay it back to the whole group. It will be vital that we keep track of how each functional group is doing and at the end of the trip, bring everything together so that everyone on the team knows about the important information that each group was able to find. This may be difficult and will require strong coordination, however, I believe that our team is up to the task. I think that everyone will be forced to develop the ability to lead in some way as it will be imperative to do so for the success of this project.
The opportunity to go abroad, specifically with a service learning focus, opens to door to many challenges and opportunities for growth. The ones I have highlighted above are some of the ones that are currently coming to mind, but I am sure there will be any others that I will experience that I could never even think of at this point. This trip is unique in the fact that we have the ability to bring some business knowledge to CEOLI and hopefully help them further their amazing mission, but also we will be greatly impacted ourselves. I can barely express in words how excited I am to embark on this adventure and believe that this experience will be extremely impactful!