To believe I am no longer in Bolivia is something I cannot fathom. This long anticipated past week has been the experience of a lifetime that I know I will never forget. I have formed new friendships and bonds with my amigos in Cochabamba and Pittsburgh, including our guides Adri and Naty, and my fellow classmates. I will forever be bonded with these people, and am sad to not be spending every day with them. Bolivia changed my life. It was not my first time out of the country, but it was my first time experiencing a completely different culture I typically do not come into contact with. When visiting Italy, I felt like I was visiting the land of my people. When visiting Bolivia, I felt like I was being invited into a completely new culture with traditions I have never seen before. The Bolivians we met introduced me to a new way of living, and my life has shifted because of it. Being exposed to such a family oriented culture makes you value all that you have so much more.
There were a few noticeable cultural differences between Bolivia and the USA that are worth mentioning. Hillary told us before the trip that Bolivians are much more touchy than people from the USA. On arrival at CEOLI, all the children proved their love of shaking hands, giving hugs, giving kisses, or holding hands. They enjoy close contact. This isn’t just with the children. With one of the Bolivians that was showing us around, Ariel, he naturally stood closer to me when talking then I am typically used too. He also hugged us and gave us a kiss on the cheek when saying goodbye, which I typically only do with family and close friends.
Also, everyone enjoys talking to you and finding out new things about you. Our first day at CEOLI, my small group and I went around and asked questions to the staff and interns in all the different school rooms. A few days later, an intern started asking me questions (surprisingly in English) about why we were here, my major, where I was from; trying to get to know me in general. The interns from surrounding colleges wear scrubs, making them look very official and not necessarily someone you go to have a casual conversation with. It was a very shocking experience. Also, while talking to the intern, she handed me a baby and asked me to feed the baby. I know we are here to help in any way CEOLI needs it, and I love children, but it was very unexpected. People from the US are very protective over there children, and even at daycares you cannot touch, let alone hold, other children. If you offer help to a Bolivian, they will take you up on it. Even if you don’t offer, they will ask you to help if the need it, which is VERY different from the US. People typically do not ask for help unless they know you very well, and they really need the help. Here at CEOLI they will take any help you are willing to provide. I assume this is more because of the situation CEOLI is in, and less of a cultural difference.
It is very interesting to be in Bolivia while it is going through so much governmental distress. A lot of the graffiti is about the president, and the affects on the people and CEOLI. In most conversations with the workers at CEOLI, they mention the government and how the president affects their organization. It is a very important part to figuring out how CEOLI is to function as a organization, and what they now need in relation to what they needed before the change in government. This is an obstacle you typically do not find in domestic service learning. With domestic service learning, you know about the current state of your nation because you live in it. With international service learning, you can only read so many articles that may give you an idea, but you will never truly know until you are in country and experiencing everything first hand.
I don’t think I encountered anything different than what I expected while being in Bolivia. I feel like I was well prepared for what the culture was like and what differences there are. Some things, like the government situation, is hard to predict. But most things dealing with business and interactions I feel I was well prepared for.
I feel global business is not something you can fully understand until you deal with it on a first-hand basis. I have read multiple articles and researches on global business, but I did not fully understand what I would be dealing with until I was in country. Being in Cochabamba has truly shaped my understanding of global business. Everyone has different opinions on how things should be done, and what actions we should take to carry out our deliverables. I think everyone was getting a little frustrated with the way our work was going while visiting CEOLI. Meetings weren’t happening, were not on time, or not all the information was gathered that was needed. The heads of CEOLI saw it was important to talk to us, but they also wanted us doing other work around the building while we were there. The school only functions from 9 to 12, and I can easily say that the time flies while there. They wanted us to build relationships with the kids and other employees, while we wanted information. As people from the United States, we want to come in and do our job as fast as we can (we enjoy deadlines and itineraries) whereas the people at CEOLI worked as the day went on, and did things as they needed to be done. The itinerary was very simple, and we tried to go with the flow of CEOLI. It was difficult and frustrating, but I think we got very valuable information that will help us continue our project while also helping future groups understand the project.
These experiences will help me understand what future global business I may carry out. I now feel I know how to better approach these types of situations and challenges (other than language barriers). People from other countries carry out work differently than us from the USA, and we have to take things at their pace. To get the best results out of a project, you must comply with the others in your group, and this trip most definitely taught me that. It is hard to work with my fellow teammates (because of conflicting ideas on what is most important) let alone the Bolivians we need the information from. With patience and determination, you can always get the work done. You just need to be open to learning new ways of do the same things. Gathering information will be different, conducting meetings will be different, but these things should not stop you from the same goals you always have.
I feel the most important part of this trip is learning that I am not alone in the world. It is very easy to forget that your culture and your beliefs are not the only ones in the world. Also, it is very easy to forget that the USA is one of the youngest nations culturally. We, as a nation, are a melting pot. A lot of my traditions come from other countries, particularly western countries like Poland, Italy, England, and Germany. Also, a lot of qualities that other nations identify with – like food and music – the USA does not have all to its own. Most of our food is from other places like Thailand, China, Italy, Greece, Germany, etc. Bolivia prides itself in its cultural food and music/traditional dancing. One of the days my group and I had the privilege of learning some traditional Bolivian dances. It opened my eyes to the pride one has in his/her country’s culture. As I mentioned before, it is easy to forget about the countries that have less of an influence on the USA. Italy and France have large influences on the US, but Brazil or Bolivia do not have large influences. There are so many different traditions in the world other than the few I know from my family and friends. My culture and beliefs are not necessarily the “right” way to live or the only way people live.
I also learned about the importance of helping other people around you. There is so much turmoil in the world, and others need our help. Just because we do not hear about it in the news does not mean it is not happening. We must find it in our hearts to help others all around the world. We are all human, and we all need the same basic needs. Cultures and distance should not separate us as much as it does. Our world is more globally aware than ever before. Titles and names should not stop us from helping each other. Domestic service is important and is always needed, but international service opened my eyes to what is going on in the world that no one talks about.
Also, I am not very good at learning languages, but this trip makes me want to learn Spanish. I plan on traveling a lot as I get older, and to do that I will need to learn a little more of languages than I thought. It is arrogant to assume that most people speak English, and I personally see it as slightly insulting to the natives of lands I visit. I am determined to learn more Spanish, especially since the USA has a lot of Spanish speaking people living within its borders. A language helps define a culture. Bolivia has multiple indigenous languages that many Bolivians speak more than Spanish. A language helps you identify with your people, and knowing others when you go to other countries shows your respect for the culture and the people.
This trip has showed me so many things about myself and the world I live in. It has also giving me experience with international business. I will never forget this trip, and Bolivia (and the kids at CEOLI) will always hold a piece of my heart. This trip has made me more globally competent and gave me some experience for my inevitable future in the global industry.