The City of Eternal Spring (Break)

While abroad, the team encountered problems in many regards. However, none were major, and we were able to work through them all. There were the expected, with long travel days and a language barrier. We also had moments where we were forced to make quick decisions or change paths from the original plan. In all circumstances, there are instances of this, and this trip was no different. At the end of the trip, I thought back to the first time I had read our Bolivia Culture Smart book, when I imagined what our experience would be like. No matter the preparation to be in-country, there is nothing better than being at the school, speaking with the people involved. As the trip progressed, we became more and more comfortable with the environment and were able to foster relationships with those we met. 

We have confronted many ethical and cultural norms since our arrival. When meeting different people at the school, introductions have a deeper meaning. As we are strangers to the environment, our body language and emotions convey our enthusiasm more than our words can. Everyone was excited to see us, and the cultural norm of the kisses on the cheek was a gesture not commonly seen in the United States. We have managed to be prepared for the different styles of communication shown in Bolivia. When we were in the classroom with the children, there were ethical norms that were challenging for the Social Media team especially. We were tasked with taking as many photos as possible that would properly capture CEOLI’s story for customers in the United States. Our marketing materials would need to be effective in how the organization was seen from a social media standpoint. However, there are ethical difficulties with taking photographs of young children. We worked through this difference by shooting our photos from behind the children, as to not capture their faces in the images. We could capture the lessons the children were focused on, and their activities. It is difficult to describe the impact of CEOLI to someone who has never stepped foot in Cochabamba. It is important for us to appropriately display those involved while maintaining ethical standards. The city as a whole is unlike any I have ever seen. I enjoyed the culture of Bolivia along with the beautiful weather and landscape. When we visited “La Cancha”, one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, it was an array of stores that stretched as far as the eye could see. The shopping experience was also a chance to view the different types of goods on displayed, from American brands to handmade items. The methods of purchase were difficult to master, with shopkeepers holding firm when negotiating prices. The women of Cochabamba are known to have particularly strong personalities, and I did cave almost immediately at the first “no”. The language barrier was an obstacle that was helped through the use of a calculator to show the prices. I am grateful that I studied Spanish through high school, but I was very rusty in the beginning of the trip. 

Global business is a subject that is difficult to comprehend in the classroom, and I benefited greatly from the experience of conversing with employees of CEOLI. By experiencing the business first-hand, we were able to gain a better perspective of what life is like in Cochabamba and with the school specifically. Ain theory, our deliverables could have been completed during the semester in Pittsburgh. By traveling in-country, the team as a whole better understood the impact of our work. We received feedback that benefited us greatly, along with interviewing multiple employees to listen to their stories. By conversing with the teachers, it was clear that CEOLI is much more than a business. Everyone there feels part of something greater than themselves. They truly are a family. I really appreciated the trust given to the team from the first day we arrived. We all felt accepted and were given honest answers to all of our questions. This was different than my previous experiences with businesses, where individuals have not always been so inclined to open up to a group of people they have never met before.  My perspective of global business before the trip was one that assumed the problems faced in America were similar to those experienced across the globe. However, I could not have been more wrong. Through our meetings with the executives at CEOLI and our lectures on Bolivian Current events, the struggles are better understood. The government of Bolivia chokes nonprofits, choosing to spend its budget elsewhere. There are high taxes for the business, raising costs. CEOLI was forced to downsize the size of the school, along with closing earlier in the day. For those on the executive board, the prospects could seem bleak. But the resilience and positivity shown in the organization was unfounded. The energy shown was really great to see. I feel as though Americans choose to look at struggles in solely a negative light. Instead of talking about the concessions they had to make, we were told about the number of children that were currently at the school. It was about the impact they were currently making, not dwelling on the difficulties faced in the past. That mindset is one that motivates everyone involved. It allowed us to focus on our goals, and our overall commitment to CEOLI. We have ten years together, and hopefully longer. Each year is another cog in the machine to grow and develop the organization. We cannot spend our time discussing the past, as our experience in-country was limited to one week. It was also interesting to learn that global business is heavily influenced on relationship building. Our speaker one night was Sergio Mendez, who shared his strategies for social media while working in the United States and Bolivia. He was able to give helpful insights on understanding a business’ follower base, and how to interact with customers through social media. We can use the attitude of CEOLI and the insights of Mendez to better properly communicate to an American audience. 

Before we left for the week, I thought about the impact I believed the trip would have on me as a person. As we were only there for only a few hours a day, it seemed we would not have the appropriate time to build bonds with everyone we met in Bolivia. It was clear to see that I was wrong in my assumption after just the first day. No matter the experience level of each team member, we all found our own niche to communicate and develop a relationship with the children. Those who spoke Spanish were able to speak with the older children, while others had an easier time working with the younger group of kids. We were all pushed out of our comfort zone, and everyone rose to the occasion. As a whole, the time we spent at CEOLI ended up being my favorite part of the trip. It was clear to see how things that may seem simple, can go a long way. Painting alongside the artists who create the stunning greeting cards we sell in Pittsburgh was an unforgettable experience. I was able to learn about how I best communicate when language is not an option. When emotions and body language tell a more detailed story than words, the way one acts matters much more. I became more aware of my actions and how they are viewed by others. I was able to experience personal growth while finding common ground with people from another culture. In addition, I learned about how international service puts everyone involved on the same platform. We were all equal and were able to develop trust over the course of just one week. It was not as though one group was working for the other, but rather alongside each other in a partnership. This was different to experience as a college student and showed the trust CEOLI had in each of us to achieve the best possible work. This week was especially helpful in developing the skill of self-efficacy as a servant leader. Throughout this semester we have emphasized how self-efficacy is the result of both knowledge and experience. It is not enough to sit in the classroom and read the material. When paired with the time spent in Bolivia, there was an added layer to the knowledge. Instead of relying on abstract concepts, we can now draw on our experiences and decision-making in order to better understand these topics. 

Overall, the time spent in Bolivia was better than I could have ever expected. I was able to experience both learning and personal growth. This was an opportunity I am so grateful to have the chance to go to Cochabamba. Since joining Phi Beta Lambda in the Spring of 2018, I have wanted to be a part of the CEOLI family. Although there were many instances of challenges faced by the entire team, we were able to overcome and work our way through each situation. I am looking forward to seeing what the next team will be able to accomplish, and the growth seen at CEOLI in the coming future.