Bolivia: it’s only a month away!

Hello! My name is Haley McArthur, and I am extremely grateful and excited to have this opportunity to study abroad in Bolivia! I’m a current sophomore in the College of Business Administration, majoring in Accounting and Business Information Systems. I’m also minoring in economics and I am a part of the Certificate Program for Leadership and Ethics. This summer, I’m excited to be an intern at Verizon in their Finance Leadership Development Program! I’m looking forward to the hands-on business experience I will get through this internship, and I know that Pitt Business has been preparing me well for it. I’m originally from Canada, but I was raised in northern New Jersey. Until this past summer, traveling to Canada to visit family was really the only international experience that I had. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the Plus3: China study abroad program in May of 2018, where I traveled to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai. After that incredible experience I joined the Society for International Business here at Pitt, and I knew that I wanted to study abroad again!

The first semester of my freshman year I joined the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi (DSP). I’m really grateful for all of the people that I have met through DSP (partly because they are the ones who introduced the Global Service Learning class to me!) and I have learned so many valuable things about the business world from my brothers. I enjoy taking on leadership roles in the organizations I’m a part of, so this semester I am the Vice President of Fundraising for DSP. In addition to DSP, I am also involved in the Society for International Business as their Vice President of Administration.

The Service Learning project that I’m working on with five other sophomores in the business school is in collaboration with the non-profit organization CEOLI in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Amizade here in Pittsburgh. CEOLI’s main mission is to provide comprehensive rehabilitation for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. When you look at CEOLI in the context of Bolivia, a challenge is apparent. Although many countries around the world have started creating laws to protect people with disabilities, in Bolivia people with disabilities are the target of a lot of discrimination. There have been protests for disability rights in recent years, but there is still a long way to go. This environment in Bolivia facilitates the lack of government funding for non-profits like CEOLI that aim to help people with disabilities. With limitations in their funding, CEOLI has taken an entrepreneurial and innovative approach to generating revenue. The children and young adults at CEOLI paint cards, and these handmade cards double as a source of revenue for the organization as well as art therapy for the students creating them. Our overall goal as Pitt Business students is to collaborate with CEOLI and Amizade to help create financial stability through the card sales.

Last year, some of my brothers in Delta Sigma Pi gave a presentation to the fraternity at Chapter on what they did in the Global Service Learning class and in Bolivia. The video that they put together of their in-country experience in combination with the overwhelming about of positive stories and experiences that they had really inspired me to look into the opportunity for myself. I spoke to a few of them personally about what they did in the class; they all gained so much valuable, real-world business experience through this class, and they each grew as a student and as a person from it. I knew that taking this class would be a challenge and a lot of work, but the growth and development that I saw in the students from the previous year proved that the outcomes of taking a service learning class are worth the effort that you put into it.

From what I saw in previous GSL students and from what I have read in the articles from class so far, I know that I will get a lot out of this course and grow in three areas: personally, academically, and professionally. The articles from class provide a lot of statistical evidence to indicate that service learning courses significantly benefit students in all three of those areas.

On the personal side of things, I think that this course and experience in Bolivia will help with my internal motivation and confidence. One of the topics that we frequently discuss in class and read about in the articles about service learning is self-efficacy. The service learning project that we are working on is tough; there isn’t really a “right” answer to anything. As a student who enjoys quantitative topics like math where there is always a right answer and a clear way to get there, this service learning project is a challenge unlike anything I’ve worked on before. If you are truly engaged in the project, service learning projects will strengthen a student’s sense of self-efficacy. I know that if we succeed in our part of this ten-year-long project, I will be able to approach future challenges with more confidence knowing that I can solve problems without a clear path to a solution.

As far as academics go, I can already see that my critical thinking skills are improving even though its only been a few weeks. After reading about how important awareness and context is for service learning projects, I’m trying not to think at just the surface level. I’m working on doing more research and learning about the client’s environment, and I’m beginning to envision as best as I can how their point of view might look. I think that the further we get into the project and this class, the better I will become at problem-solving and critical thinking, including thinking from multiple different perspectives. This is definitely an invaluable transferrable skill that I will be able to apply to other projects in future classes and internships.

This project will also help me grow in a professional sense. Throughout most of my academic career, “clients” haven’t really been a thing. I go to class, do homework, and take exams. Now, I feel as if I’m transitioning into the “real” business world. I have a lot more presentations rather than written exams and I’m not only accountable for myself, but for a client as well. I was exposed to this idea of accountability in my CPLE classes last semester, and I gained a lot of professional experience from those projects. This semester in the Global Service Learning class it will be quite different from the other client-based assignments I had in the CPLE because the client is not based in the United States. Globalization is so significant in today’s business world, and I know that with what I want to do in the future I will definitely be working with people from all over the world. Learning about and directly experiencing international business practices as a sophomore in college is something that I am so grateful to have the opportunity to do, because I know that I will be doing it in whatever career I have in the future. This relates back to the sense of self-efficacy that I mentioned before; working with a non-US based client now will help build my confidence for working abroad in the future.

I’m so appreciative of this truly hands-on opportunity. Service learning is so much more than simple community service, and just a few weeks in I am already starting to see the proof of that through growth in myself as well as in my classmates. I can’t wait to see where this project takes us throughout the semester, and I can’t wait to see Bolivia in person!