Participating in the Service Learning Bolivia program during my spring semester this year has been one of the richest and most fulfilling experiences I have had the pleasure of participating in during my collegiate experience thus far. The in-class discussions have been engaging and informative and nothing can compare to the life changing experience my classmates and I shared while in Bolivia.
Personal Goals for My Service-Learning Experience
Upon enrolling in this program there were many things I predicted I would get out of the experience. My ultimate goal before even stepping foot into the classroom was to further develop my knowledge of foreign cultures and to become more welcoming and encouraging of new and unfamiliar places. As the class progressed we engaged in discussions about the benefits of service learning and what skills and abilities students refine and develop throughout their programs.
As the semester progressed I started to develop clearer goals and expectations for my time abroad and what I hoped to receive from my overall experience, because of what I was learning during in-class discussions. During many discussions we emphasized the effect of global service learning on students’ transferable skills such as leadership, open-mindedness and improving ones overall global competence. I further set forth goals of improving my open-mindedness and leadership abilities while participating in this program by attempting to listen more than I spoke and to be as observant as possible while abroad. I also made it a goal to ask all relevant questions that came to mind while abroad and to reflect upon my experiences each day by keeping a journal.
Reflecting Upon My Personal Growth
Since returning from Bolivia I’ve had a large amount of time to read over my journals and to reflect upon my experiences. Among a plethora of changes, I noticed in myself, I specifically identified an increase in my writing abilities. I also noticed changes in myself taking place over the course of the week while I was in Bolivia. If faced with a communication barrier in the beginning of the week I almost always panicked and asked for help. However, as the week progressed I began to become more confident and in some cases was successfully able to communicate over a language barrier on my own. I also saw my confidence to try new things or ask more interesting questions increase as the week continued. As I saw my confidence in these unfamiliar situations increase my leadership ability among our team seemed to increase along with it. Other students seemingly looked toward me for assistance in some situations if we were having trouble communicating or deciding upon our course of action as a team.
As I further developed many of the transferable skills that I anticipated, I also learned much more from this program that I likewise didn’t predict. One of the more prominent things that I learned in-class is the importance of communication and having a clear scope of work. In order to make sure all parties involved with the project are informed of what the project consists of, the scope of work must be clear, concise and complete. This helps to prevent scope creep – the action of taking on more responsibility than agreed upon in the scope of work. A clear scope also benefits the team working on the project, by allowing them to refer to back to it whenever they have lost a clear sense of direction or need guidance on what should or shouldn’t be completed for the overall project.
Expectations of Bolivia
During our time in-class prior to our departure for Bolivia my team engaged in discussions about the culture of Bolivia and what to expect while we were in country. We covered a large range of topics consisting of business traditions, relationship building, the state of their economy and political environment. One of the things my team discussed in depth was the difference between Bolivian culture and the culture of the United States when it comes to building relationships prior to conducting business. We learned that it is customary to exchange pleasantries and to get to know an individual before conducting any business with them and skipping this and rushing into a conversation about business may offend some.
Another large topic of discussion was the political atmosphere of Bolivia, and the struggles they are currently dealing with derived from their president Evo Morales. Morales is currently serving his third consecutive term which violates Bolivia’s constitution stating that he can only serve two consecutive terms. Morales is also in the process of attempting to remove the term restriction from their constitution allowing him to run indefinitely. Although he has yet to remove this restriction, it was recently ruled by a supreme court that preventing him from running for a fourth term violates his basic human rights essentially granting him permission to violate the constitution a second time. Consequently, many classmates including myself boarded our plane to Bolivia expecting many of the citizens possess strong feelings against Evo Morales and his campaign.
It came with great surprise for many of us to learn while we were in country that some individuals felt Evo Morales was a good leader deserving of the role of president. However, this strong feeling was paired with a stronger belief that he must not be elected for a fourth term, due to the violation of the constitution. The citizens with whom we spoke felt that if Morales would comply with the laws instated by the constitution by removing himself from the presidential race for a term, he would surely win the election the following term. Citizens of Bolivia didn’t want an individual to feel as if he was above the laws of their constitution however they did feel that Evo Morales was a good fit for their president as they had very few other competent leaders to elect.
Although Evo Morales was among the better choices of potential presidents to lead Bolivia, we further learned he came with more drawbacks than violating the term limit. Morales is part of the MAS party, Movement for Socialism, and he wants to increase the quality of life for all Bolivians starting with those who live in more rural areas of the country. By deregulating lots of the laws on exports of agriculture and allowing these rural areas more freedom it has increased the production and export of cocaine, which has not been met with efforts of prevention from Morales. Morales has also pushed to build a new highway through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park, which some believe is intended to benefit the exporting business of coca and cocaine producers. This highway not only lends support towards an illegal business, but it simultaneously destroys a major national park effectively harming the environment.
During our experience in Bolivia our team experienced the importance of relationship building that we discussed in class prior to our departure. As it didn’t come as a surprise Bolivians did place an emphasis on getting to know new individuals before conducting business or engaging in serious conversation. What surprised me was that this trademark of their culture came to me much more naturally than I had anticipated and at times I almost didn’t realize that we were engaging in such conversation. However, I did notice when topics such as family and relationships arose during conversation Bolivians tended to be more lively and excited throughout.
Now Let’s Transfer These Skills
Many of the skills that I developed and refined over the course of this program as well as during my time in Bolivia have the ability to transcend in many other facets of my life. These skills, more formally known as transferable skills, were heavily discussed throughout our in-class time this semester. We discussed how to utilize these skills and to leverage them in many aspects of our lives ranging from interacting with friends, to interviewing and working in a new internship. Upon reflection I noticed an increase in my writing abilities, leadership, communication, open-mindedness and overall global competence.
Many companies train their new employees to conduct business according to their standards so in the case of hiring they aren’t as concerned with hard skills as they are with the candidate’s soft skills. Therefore, I will be able to leverage the transferable skills I have developed and refined over the course of this program in future interviews. Business is constantly becoming more global due to technology’s ability to connect us with those around the globe, essentially making international communication skills and global competence ever so important. Additionally, my increased writing abilities will prove to be useful in crafting more powerful written forms of communication.
Narrowing the focus to my intended career path in the music industry these skills become a necessity to being successful within certain facets of the industry. Music is one of few things that is shared by almost all cultures, races, genders, and ages, essentially making a high global competence imperative for success. This experience will help me personally stand out among my peers interviewing for positions within music business because I have already had the opportunity to embark on a very diverse and educational trip to Bolivia.
The Final Takeaway
While I was departing from Bolivia after a well enjoyed week in Cochabamba, I remember thinking only one thing “I have to come back.” After reflecting upon all that I experienced and learned about Bolivia and about myself while abroad I realized that it culminated with one thing; that I wanted to continue to explore the world and learn as much about new and unfamiliar places as I possibly can. Before embarking on the trip, I was slightly nervous that I wasn’t going to like this new place and that I would have a very difficult time fitting in, however this expectation couldn’t have been more far off. I absolutely enjoyed every moment I spent abroad and I can confidently say that I much more willing to try new things and venture to new unfamiliar places.