This past week was one of the busiest, craziest, and most amazing weeks I have ever experienced. Having the opportunity to travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia was a trip I will never forget. This was my first experience outside of the country and it surpassed all my expectations. I was amazed by the beauty of the country and even though I was super nervous to travel that far away from home I felt super comfortable and happy being in Cochabamba. It also gave me the chance to become closer to my brothers in Delta Sigma Pi as well as become better friends with those in Phi Beta Lambda and Society of International Business. Bolivia was so different compared to back home in Pittsburgh, but I loved every second.
There were many differences that came into sight when we were there. One main difference was how the meals were divided up and what types of food we were eating. In Bolivia, breakfast is not a very important meal. We started every morning with two pieces of toast with butter or jam along with coffee, tea, or juice. Breakfast has always been one of my favorite meals, so having it be small everyday was a big change. Luckily, I was never hungry for long. Lunch in Bolivia is the biggest meal of the day. We went to many buffet style restaurants for lunch. There was always a selection of “salads” – which were mainly just different vegetables together-, a lot of potatoes, plantains, rice, and a wide range of meats from chicken to fish to beef to pork and more. This was very different from my normal daily lunches in the States. Dinner in Bolivia is slightly smaller than lunch, but not by much. Dinner was like lunch in the way that there was a strong presence of meat, potatoes, and rice. We also ate a lot of empanadas. This was a crazy diet change for those of us on the trip, resulting in many upset stomachs. We tried to combat the diet change with a lot of water and Gatorade and Powerade always on hand. Between the food and elevation, we were all not feeling ourselves. Food also takes a little longer to come to the table at restaurants in Bolivia, when you order. They say it is because everything is fresh and made well – which it absolutely was – but, I could tell there were members of our group so hungry they did not care how fresh and great it was they just wanted to eat. We live a faster paced life in the States; we’re used to ordering, eating, and getting out. Bolivia was calmer and meals became a great time for all of us to bond as a team from students to translators to supervisors. Overall, the meals are big highlight of the trip. I was always excited to try something new, especially all the juices!
Bolivians also are a very friendly group of people. They tend to greet people with at least a handshake, but quite often with a hug and kiss on the cheek. When we would visit CEOLI many of the kids were learning these greetings. They would always say “Buenos Dias” and give us hugs and kisses when we arrived. This took some getting used to for some of the group. Obviously, our group enjoys a good handshake, but for those of us who value personal space, we had to adjust for the week. The kids we were working with were super affectionate. They loved hugs and being picked up and played with. Honestly, already missing those kids so much. The culture differences were all present, but at the same time very easy to work around and fun to experience.
When it comes to business globally, our group learned so much. Just having meetings at CEOLI sparked the understand of how business was done differently. We would sit in a circle in chairs and casually discuss our recommendations as a conversation, not a professional business meeting. Things are much more personal, they appreciate when you create a relationship and allow them to get to know you before diving straight into business. I also noticed this casual business approach on our sight visit to Carla Quiroga Designs. Carla was very personable and told us her whole story of how she got to be where she is. At one point, she was sitting on the floor with us in her store, answering our questions. She was extremely honest about the struggles she faces on a day to day basis and her issue trying to sell in the States because there is not a direct way to get money to Bolivia. I was prepared for business to be more casual, but it really surprised me how open and honest everyone was when it comes to their business’s and how willing they were when sharing information with us. I look at global business differently because before coming to Bolivia, I did not know how difficult it was for Bolivia to receive money internationally. It was also interesting to hear from Viviane Schwartz on how different each country is regarding the social standing and the economy. That lecture definitely will benefit our group as we finish developing our recommendations for Amizade.
Something that stood out very quickly how hard communication is between countries. We have been working on our plans for Bolivia for months. We had decently solid roles and jobs to do in Bolivia, but when we arrived at CEOLI the first day we learned some very important things. We originally had students focused on the water purification process only to learn that they were selling all the equipment to put towards remodeling the swimming. We knew the pool was going to be remodeled, but what we did not know was that the renovations would start the same day we first visited! So, throughout the week we could hear the destruction of the existing pool. These were very important things we should have been aware of before traveling down to Bolivia. It really made it clear how difficult it was going to be to communicate with the people of CEOLI after we came back to the States. They also mentioned at CEOLI they never received the previous groups final report. It is extremely important to me that all our recommendations for CEOLI get to them as soon as we finish them so they are able to implement any changes we male before the group next year heads down.
I have also learned a lot about myself throughout this experience. I have always been scared to travel. I am the only one in my family with a passport. This being my first international experience showed me how amazing the world really is and made it very clear I want to be able to travel more in my future. This was also a great taste of what the real world is going to be like. We got to work with a real client and think of recommendations to make the lives of the children and teachers I met this week better. It is incredible to me to see exactly who I am trying to benefit. I have never been overly motivated towards regular classes. I understand that I am learning valuable information to help me in my future, but it is hard for me to get passionate about a class that all I have to do is take a midterm and a final and get a grade. This class is different because it is real. I got to make connections with people and develop my consulting skills in a real-world environment. This experience has really made me confident in my decision to graduate a semester early. I want to get out of school and start a job where I can build connections and do something of value to help others. I also learned I want to travel in my career. This summer, I will be working for a company in Pittsburgh but based in Germany. My new wish is to stay with this company long enough to get the opportunity to work in Germany, or find a different company that will allow me to travel the world.
Overall, I have never been happier in one of my decisions. I think back to the day Christy came into a CPLE class to tell us about the Trinidad trip. That was when this adventure started. I got my fraternity on the Bolivia trip and could not have asked for a more amazing experience. I grew friendships, made new friends, developed real transferable skills, and finally made it outside the States. This experience was worth the long plane rides in the middle seats, the 7 hour layovers, not being able to breathe in La Paz, the stomachaches, the bug bites, hitting my head in the van even though Naty warned me, and the sketchy taxi drivers that would not tell you if they spoke English. I plan on going back because this experience was so life changing. I want to go back to see Jean Carla, Rolando, Naty, and Adri as well as the amazing kids I met at CEOLI and see the Incan Ruins and Lake Titicaca. Reunion trip 2021? #muchosiiiiii #buenochau