Bolivia: One Week Away


As our Service-Learning excursion to Bolivia quickly approaches, we have begun preparing ourselves to be in-country and finally interacting with the wonderful people involved with the CEOLI organization. Seeing the school in person, we can appreciate what all the work has gone towards. This is an experience I have been looking forward since last year, and it is hard to believe it is just around the corner. We have learned various tools needed to be successful in Bolivia from a service-learning perspective. This will be a unique experience, one that will provide both opportunities and challenges. Business culture varies around the world, with Bolivia no different. As we only have a limited stretch of time, it is important that we pay attention to the way we conduct ourselves with our clients. Although the team cannot wait to get started as soon as we touch down, there are many cultural factors to keep in mind while in Cochabamba. 

There are many different cultural norms that separate the United States and other nations. We live in a low context environment within the United States, meaning that our communication is explicit, and language is the primary source of information. However, in a high context environment such as Bolivia, statements may have an underlying meaning for the recipient. Verbal cues may come across as vague, and hard to understand. This, along with the language barrier will be a challenge for the team to overcome. We will have to communicate through a translator when discussing business matters. This will add an additional layer of uncertainty in our meetings. It is important to prepare multiple versions of the questions we have for the CEOLI board for uninterrupted conversation. In these situations, it will be important to track the subtleties shown by our Bolivian counterparts. By communicating our meanings through body language and tone we can better express our thoughts and ideas with the people we meet. By understanding the cues given, there will be less information lost in translation. An important skill to overcome this challenge is active listening. In the classroom or even talking with friends, I often times find myself not remembering the last thing said. When in Bolivia, it will be important to stay attentive and engaged when communicating. Active listening can help catch the nuances of conversation that would have been lost otherwise. Although it sounds an easy task, this is a difficult skill to master. By remaining aware of conversation, it will be easier to both ask questions and understand the true meaning of what is being said. It would be difficult to communicate without using active listening in Bolivia. 

Another business norm in Bolivia is the importance of relationship-building. Each member of the team is looking forward to making an impact with the organization and those involved. But before any business can be conducted, it is important that we know those involved on a personal level. This will help build trust between the two groups when we meet about business matters. We can better communicate ideas and create a mutual understanding with one another. By creating personal bonds with those at CEOLI, we can show our engagement with their cause. The service-learning course as a whole is designed for students to gain real-world experience through repeated growth and reflection. If the students from the CPLE were to only conduct business with our clients from the classroom, there would be nothing to gain. By traveling to Bolivia, meeting those involved in the business, and spending time with everyone; we add a layer to our experience. We can build a relationship that runs deeper than business. The relationship-building with the people of Bolivia is both a business norm and a chance to understand the scope of our project. We must remain wary of both aspects of the relationship with the client. There are different skills necessary to build personal and business-oriented relationships.  As foreigners to Bolivia, we must use the new relationships as a foundation. If each Service-Learning team can build upon the last, then both groups will prosper. We can show our dedication to the cause of CEOLI through relationship-building, which will help stop the other cultural barriers from getting in the way. 

We anticipate that the trip to Bolivia will involve many different challenges for the team. From these experiences we each can develop personal learning skills. As well as our growth with the CEOLI organization, we will have the opportunity to attain personal growth in many areas. For me, an important servant-learning skill for this journey is foresight. As we have already discovered in the early stages of this project, many things can go wrong each day. By preparing for these missteps and anticipating challenges, we can remain a step ahead of possible conflicts. Every decision made has its own set of consequences. Our preparation can help us remain efficient while in country and contribute to our success in country. In addition, this international service-learning experience will contribute to our skills of self-efficacy. As we have learned, self-efficacy is the product of knowledge and experience. Self-efficacy cannot be improved through only one or the other. We have built a basic knowledge of the different service-learning skills throughout the semester. By immersing ourselves in Cochabamba and CEOLI, we will gain valuable, real-world experience that we can take throughout our professional careers. By having the in-country experience, we can tie in the foundation of the class in order to have the most successful experience possible. The week in Bolivia will help tie together our knowledge in class to the business opportunity of working with an international client such as CEOLI. 

Two skills that I often struggle to incorporate into various projects and endeavors is flexibility and adaptability. I have been slow to changes in classes and stumbled along the way to the final goal. However, it has been made clear by both past Pitt Business Consultant Teams and instructors that our week in Bolivia will require lots of flexibility. I will need to remain attentive at all times in order to remain wary of possible changes. With only a week on the ground in Bolivia, there is not time to play catch-up to the rest of the group. There will always be instances where the plan cannot be followed as originally thought, so I must move away from the rigidity of schedules that I am accustomed to while at school. Even something as mundane as changes in the weather forecast can throw a wrench into travel plans. Unforeseen circumstances such as these cannot be avoided, leading to the need to “pivot”. To pivot is to move in a different direction, adapting and making decisions in order to adjust to these new circumstances. In the business world, many decisions are made quickly, and plans are constantly changing. The CPLE as a whole requires students to adapt to various complex problems and situations that may arise. But I am sure the Global Service-Learning experience in Cochabamba will test my abilities more than I appreciate at the moment. There are challenges anytime one heads abroad, and our Spring Break will be no different. The skill set necessary in order to be successful in the classroom and the real world are different, so there will be situations we may not be prepared for. The week in Bolivia will test the entire team’s capabilities in both of these important fields for servant leaders. Global business as a whole requires flexible individuals who can adapt to changing circumstances. Through this experience I will be able to build upon these skills to achieve our desired results, both as students and business leaders. 

We have spent class time preparing for the in-country experience. I am looking forward to meeting the children at CEOLI and the wonderful people who make it all possible. I am also excited to experience the Bolivian culture. There has been a lot to learn throughout the entire process, and there is plenty more to come. There will definitely be challenges in Cochabamba that none of us will see coming. But we have used the class time this semester to build off of the strengths of one another, and I am confident in our ability to handle anything that comes our way. We understand that our study abroad experience is not limited to the one week in Bolivia. There are many more years left of our partnership with the client, and we cannot afford to let down future teams. We have to put our best foot forward, representing Pitt Business on the international stage. We have the opportunity to communicate with our international client face-to-face, explain our deliverables and the progress we have made. We can ask questions about the nonprofit and build on our research. When we return, we will continue work on the final reports. Knowing that there is still much to be done, we can continue to focus our efforts while abroad. By the end of this academic year, we hope to have made progress with CEOLI that can be replicate by future Pitt Business students.