Half of my Heart is in Bolivia

Wow, I cannot believe this entire journey is coming to a close. This experience has been in the making since October of last year, and soon it will become a memory of the past. It is already hard to believe I’m half way through college, and I never imagined being able to go on such a life changing journey that will help me grow personally and professionally, while giving me memories that will last a lifetime. Cochabamba will always hold a piece of my heart, and the things I learned through this process will continue to help me through school and later in my professional career.

Everything about this process was a learning experience; from the moment I submitted my application until my group and I present our final report next week. I have learned something new, every step of the way. Most importantly, I learned how to pivot. This word seems like an inside joke because I use it and hear it constantly, but it is nonetheless true. There were so many situations, in class and in country, that my group and I needed to change our previous thoughts because of new information, or new ideas. We thought we knew everything, especially after reading the report from last year and talking to last year’s group, but in actuality, we had only scratched the surface of a very large and in-depth project. This project – and this discovery took us a long time to figure out – is still in the foundational phases. We wanted to do everything we can for CEOLI and Amizade, but we just can’t, and we misinterpreted how much preliminary work was required to get our 10 year commitment started. We had to adjust our expectations of what we were and were not able to do to get to a point where we had feasible ideas and suggestions. The group has so many great ideas, but we cannot get the full benefit of these ideas until we fix the current problem at hand – the back stock of the cards at the Amizade headquarters. We needed to be flexible with all that we did; everything needed wiggle room because there would always be a curveball thrown our way.

I also feel this experience taught me things about service learning that only an international experience can give you. Dean Murrell did an amazing job with our lectures, and tried to prepare us the best she could for our journey, but as everyone told us there are some things only going somewhere can teach you. It is even more difficult putting what you learned into words. To start, everyone works in a global world; it is unavoidable. This experience showed me how to go about working with international companies, and/or also working with small companies from a different country. Amizade showed me how a single organization can successfully work in multiple countries that are all different in every aspect of life. CEOLI taught me how to work with an organization with little to no experience outside their country. They have different government problems, different ways of going about their finances, and different ways of treating their employees and students. Amizade told me how to be open to a new way of conducting business, CEOLI taught me how to conduct business differently. The lectures in class taught me to be open to a new experience and that my way is not the right way. The culture I encountered in Cochabamba was like no other, and had little influence on the USA. We can never be fully globally competent, but being aware of this lack of competence creates a more open mindset when learning about new cultures and ways of doing things.

One day, I hope to go into hospitality and the world of resorts. Every day is a new adventure with people you have never met, visiting from around the world with many different ideals and cultural norms than you. Typically, from a hotel’s point of view, the guest is the alien, the visitor, the outsider. In Cochabamba, I was the alien, the visitor, the outsider. I was on the other side of the situation, and it help put in perspective what it is like traveling internationally to places that are completely different than your home. Traveling within the United States can be shocking (especially with all our different sections of the States like the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast). I notice a difference between Pittsburgh, PA and my home on the east coast of the state Allentown, PA. I’ve been to Italy and Greece, and I like to think the USA is heavily influenced by those countries, so I knew more of what it was going to be like. Cochabamba was all new in every sense of the word. Culture shock had never been so real. Because of this, I now have a better idea what my guests feel as they walk into a hotel they’ve never been to, in a place they have never known, in a country that is not home. Also, many of the larger hotel chains (like Marriott and Hilton) have locations all over the world. My experience in Cochabamba has shown me how to properly go about learning about a different culture and their expectations, and how to fit those expectations in with your expectations. When you start the international connection, you are the one trying to fit in with their culture, not the other way around. You cannot push your culture and beliefs on them, or else they will not want to do business with you.

The teamwork I learned while going through this class has given me an idea of how to work with different people you have never met who all have the same goal in mind. The one thing that brought us together was the want to help CEOLI and Amizade prosper and get out of the financial state CEOLI is in. Every process within a hotel is completed by a team of people all working together towards the same goal; to provide the best experience a guest can receive. It is not so much a team that all sits in a room and works on a project, but it definitely takes a lot of coordination and working together to get everything done that is needed. The final report requires a lot of coordination so that everyone gets all the important points where they should go, while also not overlapping with another’s points.

The expectations I had for the class were all academic related. I don’t know if my past self realized the greater impact this trip would have on my heart. I wanted to get better at getting my thoughts from my head to paper. I think I partially improved on this. I had to communicate my ideas with the group if I wanted my ideas to be included (there are a lot of strong leaders in the group that can take charge). I found my voice, even as a team member and not always a leader. This also helped me learn how to find my place in a large group of people that all want to do the same thing. We can have conflicting ideas, and sometimes mine isn’t the popular opinion, but that is okay and the group continues to move forward. I most certainly learned how to trust these people, after having only known the majority of them for a month or two before we embarked on our journey. The international experience bonded us, and made the teamwork much stronger than it was before. The group definitely works better after spring break compared to before our trip. Making things clear for others to understand was not just a struggle in Bolivia; I believe I learned more about communication while working with my group in class than I learned while in Bolivia. I learned how to communicate with people who do not speak your language, and who understand things differently than I do, which of course is important. But I truly believe the class portion of this journey has taught me more about communication than the in country experience. In my first blog, I talk about how this experience will make my resume sparkle a little more compared to other candidates when applying for jobs, but I did not think about that once while in country. At first I may have thought about my resume a little more than I should have, but after going to CEOLI and being with the children at the school, I didn’t know what a resume was. This experience has changed me to my core, and I would not have wanted it any other way.

We had some challenges, as expected when going somewhere you have never been. I try and not have expectations when experiencing things for the first time so that I get a better idea of the trip as a whole and not what I wanted it to be. I know others had expectations that were altered while there, but as I mentioned before, we learned where to pivot and adjust to what CEOLI wanted. After going on the trip and debriefing what actually happened, I now realize I would not have wanted it to go any other way. This experience was life changing, and every part of me thanks all those involved with getting me to this point.