It is hard to believe that spring break is already almost here! In less than a week I will be able to put what I’ve learned in my global service class into an entirely new perspective. Our time we will be spending in country is incredibly important to this class, and I am excited to take this next step. Today I will be elaborating on what cultural norm I expect to be a challenge in conducting business while in country, as well as the personal learning I expect to obtain from this international experience. I will also be talking about the three primary lessons I have learned so far in this class throughout this blog, including the importance of a proper scope of work, developing and progressing as a team, and constantly reflecting on experiences and lessons.
First, I will elaborate more on our Scope of Work. Rightfully so, the creation and drafting of our scope of work has been one of the most time-consuming parts of this class. It serves as the basis for our grading and a list of expectations for our client, and we realized its importance the more time we spent on it. Our scope of work details our purpose in this project, as well as deliverables, outcomes, resources, and a timeline. As we worked, I realized just how important and complex this four-page document was. Having never written a scope of work before, I thought it was merely a way for you to tell a client what they will be given. However, the drafting process behind this paper proved to be a journey. Creating a scope of work serves as a learning experience for all team members, as well as clarification on what is expected of us. The day we submitted it, I felt a new degree of confidence in our project. I realized exactly what we needed to accomplish, when it would be done, and how it would get done.
Writing a scope of work helped me to have realistic expectations about what could and should be accomplished in our semester-long time frame, so we can avoid ‘scope creep’. As our passion has grown for the project, so have our hopes and expectations. After some discussion in class and advice from our instructors, we learned that creating a scope with reasonable and feasible goals is much better than a scope that over promises and it not possible. When in a ten-year commitment as Pitt Business is, it is important that we foster a productive and friendly relationship with CEOLI.
The cultural norm that I expect to be a challenge in conducting business abroad is how highly they value personal relationships and family in their high context society. The United States is notoriously a low context culture when it comes to business. When presenting information, we tend to give an agenda, give information quickly and efficiently, then immediately make decisions and move on. In Bolivia, building relationships and taking business at a slower pace is very important. Being adaptable and coachable, two skills I began improving on through the scope process, will help me adjust to this cultural norm. I anticipate this norm to be a challenge because of how different it is from the United States’, as well as how drastically different my setting will be when trying to adjust to this norm. In class, we have been told about culture shock, and how it can affect a student both emotionally and even physically. It can be draining, but it is more important to take the advice and coaching from your peers and other business people in order to conduct proper business and soak in the culture around us.
Through these challenges, I find comfort knowing I will have my team by my side. This has been a rewarding and challenging experience so far, but I also know that having my team will make this experience more enriching and amazing. Initially, working in a group on a project of such high involvement was a difficult process. We all knew each other previously and had to make the transition from close friends (even roommates!) to teammates. We received several articles in class that helped us discuss and work out tiny quirks among us, two of them being Ethics in Project Management (by Craig Brown) and Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team by Tricia Goss. Through further class discussion, I gained some important takeaways on how group work should be. I’ve learned that as a team member I need to be dependable, easy to communicate with, committed, and motivational. Once one team member isn’t striving towards achieving one of these objectives, the group as a whole suffers. It is important that everyone takes a step back to evaluate their own efforts to ensure good communication and a healthy team. When dealing with issues, certain ethical principles can help guide the way to a solution. Being honest with your members and not going around them to any ‘higher-ups’ is a good way to facilitate trust among all stakeholders. Helping your teammates and asking for help is another way to avoid and fix conflict. Not only should you be helping your teammates to avoid conflict, treating others in a kind, responsive way is a good habit in a team. It is important that through all teammates, there is a consistent flow of honest communication, fostering friendship and productivity.
Through reflection, I hope to personally learn as much as I can from this international service learning experience in country. The first thing I hope to learn is more information on the culture and life in Bolivia. As I’ve researched further and learned more, it leads me to more questions. I know I won’t get an answer to all my questions, I but I hope to get a better sense of what life is like there, and how the people live. In particular, the norm I mentioned previously is something I would truly love to see and learn about. In the United States, many of us struggle to take time for family, friends, and anything other than work. I hope that I can form a bigger appreciation for the family-centered culture and take part of that home with me to my own family. In addition to learning about their culture, I hope to learn more about business as well. Despite working on this class for over two months now, this will be one of the first times where I am somewhere other than my university to conduct business. I hope to learn where my strengths lie in important business endeavors, as well as where I can improve. I expect to face many challenges upon being in country, but I look forward to using it as a learning experience. I also intend to take the team building skills I’ve learned here and continue applying them to other group projects I’m in.
As a marketing major interested in sales, I am also eager to continue learning through this process. One of our major objectives is to increase card sale channels for the hand painted cards made by the children at CEOLI in Bolivia. Our team will be doing selling of all forms, in addition to increasing CEOLI’s presence in the United States through social media. Not only will this experience help me learn and grow more comfortable with the concept of selling, but I will also be able to develop many transferable skills while abroad relating to business. Conducting business in Bolivia will serve as a way for me to improve my communication skills, coachability, adaptability, and awareness. Communication will be difficult because of the language barrier, but with preparation and effort, it will be a learning experience for me on how to change my normal way of communicating. Coachability and adaptability go hand in hand, showing the importance of taking criticism and changing your actions depending on the situation necessary. Awareness is the transferable skill I feel I have improved upon the most during my time taking this global service learning course, and I know I will continue to gain awareness as time progresses and while in country. I will need to be aware of the new culture around me so I can be respectful and engaged. I also need to be aware of my efforts in country, as this is a global service-learning experience. Global service learning differs greatly from volunteer work and community service. It is my goal to be both aware of the knowledge I can gain and aware of my efforts with working with CEOLI. The international aspect of global service learning also serves as a factor to further challenge and educate me throughout this experience. When doing international work such as this, it is important that transferable skills like adaptability and communication are utilized in developing intercultural competence. In Leon’s article, Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning, this is defined as “effective and appropriate behavior and communication in intercultural situations”. I aim to combine the transferable skills I’ve been developing in class so can make the most of my global service learning experience through intercultural competence.
All these lessons are connected. You cannot create and follow a good scope of work without first establishing and constantly improving upon your team. You also cannot be a good team member if you are not actively reflecting on what has been learned and what changes have occurred. With all this knowledge, I will be more aware of the different cultural norms around me, and all the lessons I still must learn ahead of me. I am excited for my group and I to travel to Bolivia, so we can continue learning these lessons and more, while making an impact on our relationship with CEOLI.
Cochabamba, here we come!