As the semester is coming to an end I am still in disbelief at how fast everything went by. I am so grateful for the opportunity PittBusiness has given me. Over the semester and during my time in Bolivia there have been several key lessons that I have experienced.
For starters, I have learned the importance of being socially aware. Growing up in the United States, sometimes it is easy to forget how privileged we are being able to grow up with the resources we have. When we went to Bolivia and saw the social stigma that people with disabilities have was truly heartbreaking. Hearing the stories about how some of the children were neglected and abandoned was something that made us all want to work harder. I think this social awareness also ties into global competence. It is definitely important to learn about the country you are visiting beforehand but even with preparation there are still situations that you are not prepared for. I know the culturesmart book had a lot of information about Bolivia however when we got there we learned that not everything we learned was true. We had a very interested conversation with one of our Bolivian friends Ariel who told us the truth about the zombie myth. Even though this was a fun and interested conversation, I think the lesson it taught me is something that can be carried over to more serious situations. I think that is showed me that even though there are many resources that one can have to prepare it will never be as good as learning from the actual person who lives in that country. I remember in lecture the Dean talked to us about how one can never be 100% globally competent. I did not understand this idea at first however I realized how true it is. No matter how many travel shows you watch or books you read, it will never compare to having a first hand experience to learn the true culture.
Another key lesson I learned was the importance of discomfort. I learned that discomfort helps an individual grow and break out of their comfort zones. Without discomfort, we are constantly enclosed in our own bubble of safety. We get too accustomed with what we are doing so we never expand nor push ourselves. I think that going to a country that I barely knew of before the program was definitely a way to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I do not know any Spanish except for a few words when I was forced to take it in school for two years. However when we got to Bolivia I found myself recognizing a lot of words and recalling certain phrases. It was interesting to me because I had completely forgot about these things while in the United States because I never had to use them. If I had never gone to Bolivia I would not have known that I was capable of recalling long lost information like that. With discomfort was the communication barriers that we faced. Of course we had Nati and Adri to help us along the way but it was difficult with the hotel staff and taxi drivers to communicate. It is frustrating because you want to be able to speak to them but it is also awkward when you repeat yourself and they do not know what you are saying. However, even with this experience it helped me to understand that using body language and facial expressions is a good way to communicate and that it goes a long way. With discomfort comes growth in many levels so it is a very beneficial lesson that I have learned.
These skills that I have gained will translate to my future career in many ways. Regardless if it is an internship, full time job after I graduate, or just a summer job, all these skills are necessary for my success. For example, I learned how to work effectively in teams. In the beginning, half us did not know each other since there were two different fraternities in our team and also a member of SIB. The initial phase in Pittsburgh was interesting because we had to work together as a team but there was not a feeling as if we were a team. However, after Bolivia we all bonded and became much closer friends. I feel as though after we bonded we were able to work better together. In almost any career, you are forced to work with others for projects and also communicate with one another for any individual task that you need to do. In the beginning when you first enter a job, you do not know anyone and it will be uncomfortable because you are unsure of how to communicate. You will also have to communicate with clients and other people in different departments for your job so knowing how to communicate with strangers and build rapport is something that will always help you in life.
The discomfort aspect also resonates with any future career. In the beginning it is intimidating to throw yourself in there when you feel as though you do not have enough experience. Since we were working with a real client it was important for us to take our work very seriously as we knew that we had a large impact. It was intimidating at first because we did not know exactly what was going on in CEOLI in Bolivia so it was difficult because we were unsure of what we were going to do in country. Since this was a real life project and we are still students it seemed like we had limitations on how we could actually help. However, it was important to learn that it did not matter and we had all the guidance we needed. So even though there was a lot of uncertainty and doubt in the beginning, it was not something that hindered our work or our capabilities. It also shed light onto what we were capable of. It is vital that even when you are young or just entering the workforce it does not mean that your ideas are not important or that you cannot have an impact. In fact, the people of CEOLI were very interested in what we had to offer and were very open to our ideas. No matter where your career lies having good communication and being open to discomfort is key to success.
Before actually going to Bolivia I had certain expectations for what type of work we would be doing and our overall experience. With our scope solidified, I thought that we were only going to be doing research and analysis for the pool with Ronald, the director of CEOLI. However, when we got there it was to our surprise that the pool was being expanded and that it was the only sustainable revenue stream in the school. This really threw us off guard and we ended up having two meetings just to make sure we had all the information we needed. Another big component was how much time we spent in the classrooms playing with the kids. Even though I loved meeting the children and seeing how kind everyone was, I did not expect a large amount of time being dedicated to playing. Before going to Cochabamba I did not know how modern people were over there. I truly did not know what to expect. The first time meeting Nati and Adri was kind of awkward because we did not know what exactly to talk about. However I quickly realized that they are exactly like us. We developed a strong friendship with them and had a ton of fun. Everyone in Bolivia was very kind and friendly from the moment we landed at the airport. I also did not know what to expect in terms of food, however every meal we ate was delicious and I loved trying all the different juices. Before we left for Bolivia we were told that we would hit the ground running and it seemed pretty daunting. After a day of traveling and being tired we went site seeing at the Christo Statue immediately. I knew that our schedule would be packed however I was not prepared for how much running around we did. I also did not expect that I could handle it but it is interesting to see how you can keep going if you push yourself. Looking back, I am glad we maximized our time there doing activities because one week is very short and it really flew by however I think we got the most of our experience because of everything we were doing. I also expected more people to not be able to speak English, however anywhere we went there was always someone who spoke English to help us. Even when we went out at night many people approached us and were intrigued about where we were from.
Since this is my last blog post, I wanted to end saying that I am very grateful for these experiences and lessons and they will surely stick with me for life.