The Challenges and Teachings of Global Service Learning


Expected challenges

The United States is very low context culture. In fact, the United States is one of the lowest context cultures in the world. This means that the majority of our communication is very direct, informal, and explicit. When trying to think of an example of where this low context has played a role on in life I immediately thought of networking. Think of a career/job fair from a student’s perspective. The typical procedure is that we, as students, show up with resumes and any knowledge from prior research then we immediately start talking to recruiters about our majors, experiences, coursework, and any opportunities that the company may provide. When you look at that procedure from a wider lens, it truly shows the low context characteristic of our culture. Students are asking professionals that they most likely have never even seen in their life about opportunities that they would like to take advantage of. Any high-context culture would find this procedure not only inappropriate and unprofessional, but also disrespectful. So how does this compare the culture of Bolivia? The complete opposite in fact. In class, we discussed how important relationship building is in high context culture such as Bolivia. In Bolivia, it is pivotal that we as a team establish a relationship early on in the week in order to have a stable enough relationship later in the week that the professionals that we are working with in country. We plan on asking questions and gathering information about CEOLI that they would only share with people they feel very comfortable enough in doing so. Therefore, one of the biggest challenges I see our team facing in Bolivia is the ability to adopt from our typical low context communication styles to the expected high context styles of Bolivia.

Another challenge that may be present is managing the expectations of CEOLI compared to the expectations of the our team. Our team has spent weeks developing an appropriate scope of work in order to combat this potential problem. However, we talked about how the scope is only a basis of expectations and there are still be problems regarding expectations even with a very developed scope of work. According the “Top Project Team Challenges” article that we read for class, unreasonable deadlines, resource deprivation, and lack of stakeholder engagement are all possibilities that may arise past the scope. However, in our specific project, I doubt that we will have any issues with resource deprivation or lack of stakeholder engagement because of the long-term plan that has been established between CEOLI and Pitt Business. However, unreasonable deadlines could be a potential issue, as one of our main deliverables involves using a marketing calendar to increase sales. For instance, we need to establish a reasonable timeline with CEOLI regarding sales specifically, in order to minimize any frustration or disappointment from either side of the project.  Overall, the scope of work is a very effective tool of establishing expectations, however it sometimes is not enough once a team gets into the thick of the project and the details start to muddy the expectations set by both sides.

The last issue that our team has already discussed is balancing our personal relationships and professional relationships. Our team is composed of six members all of who are pretty familiar with each other through student organizations that this program facilitates through. Therefore, we have already had issues of staying on topic during our group meetings, as we sometimes start talking about only topics not relating to our project. However, we have recognized that we need to be as efficient as possible with our limited time in Bolivia, therefore we need to focus on the main reason we are there and that is to have a personal, yet professional interaction with CEOLI’s staff and students. Of course, we will still maintain that personal relationships with each other, however we need to balance it out and acknowledge when it is appropriate to be friends and when it is appropriate to be professional.

With all of that being said, I am a firm believer in the theory that conflict is necessary in order to achieve success later on. Very rarely do I ever achieve a goal of mine without a challenge of some sort along the way. I feel that the challenges that we will be dealt with will only lead to a better payoff for everyone involved. In conclusion, I look forward to dealing with these challenges as a team in order to make us better and produce better results for CEOLI and future groups involved with this project.

Learning Experiences

In my opinion, this class so far has taught me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. By that I mean, the ability to think outside the box and adopt to the complexities of working with a international client can cause some confusion and frustration, however success is defined by how well our team are able to overcome that.

“If our young people do not learn about other societies, they may well be unable to cope with the complexities of their own” (Tonkin, 2004, p.19). This quote comes from the article that we discussed about in class regarding intercultural competence. I think this quote sums up the purpose of global service learning pretty well. Therefore, I believe that my time in Bolivia will be important for not only understanding their culture but also my own. By experiencing a different culture for a week I will be able to compare it to my own and understand it better. I look to going to Bolivia with an open mind and ready to learn. I expect to not only learn how to respect a different culture on a personal level, but also on a professional level as well. As I mentioned earlier in the post, this trip will have both personal and professional aspects to it. Learning about Bolivia’s culture is not limited to just their food, government, religion, art, and economic situation, but also how to conduct business in a high context culture. I look forward to learning how to do business where personal relationships are needed in order to successfully conduct business. It will be first hand experience to prove that there are other ways to conduct business. Again, it goes back to idea of being comfortable with discomfort. I’m not use to a high context culture, therefore I hope this experience weakens my mypotic opinion on how to conduct business.

Cultural intelligence is made up of four distinct aspects: drive (motivation), knowledge (cognition), strategy (meta-cognition), and action (behavior). In class, we talked about how we are achieving each one of these aspects. First, the motivation is the purpose of the client and real life expectations, so working with CEOLI and conducting work within their purpose is where our motivation comes from. Second, the strategy or meta-cognition aspect revolves around me and my own understand of the project, therefore these blogs are a way of communicating my thoughts and ideas to show why this class and project matters to me. Next, the knowledge aspect comes from our class discussions, the readings, and the cultural smart book. However, the knowledge is all theoretical work, and as we discussed in class, there is only so much theoretical work that we can do for service learning. That is where the fourth aspect comes into play and that is the behavior or action component. This involves us actually traveling to Bolivia and having that in country experience. This aspect goes hand and hand with self-efficacy, which is when a student uses prior knowledge and applies it directly to their experience. So, I hope to learn how to improve cultural intelligence and intercultural sensitivity through self-efficacy while in country.

According to the intercultural competence article, numerous studies have shown that service learning has a demonstrated ability to reduce stereotypes and facilitate cultural understanding. On the other hand, numerous studies have also shown that service-learning may strengthen rather than diminish students’ stereotypes. I look forward to learning which side I fall towards during my in country experience. Given that I am going into it with an open mind, I think that the experience will weaken any stereotypes that I may have, however again it is hard to make predictions on a theoretical basis. Again this idea goes back to my idea of being comfortable with discomfort, as their may be some awkward situations while in country. This argument of service learning weakening or strengthening stereotypes is very intriguing to me, as I look forward to learning more about not only my own attitudes, but also how the rest of our team reacts with these possible stereotypes before and after the in country experience.

In conclusion, I look forward to going to Bolivia in order to learn more about myself in terms of cultural sensitivity and forcing myself to maintain an open mind the whole time while also learning how to conduct business in a high-context culture. There has been so much build up and hard work leading up to this trip that our group has put in, so I hope that it all pays off and we are able to successfully implement our ideas with CEOLI and their staff.