Reflections that Last a Lifetime

It is hard to believe this class is coming to a close! When reflecting on this past semester, one lesson that sticks out to me is that you can never be done learning, especially in the sense of cultural competence and leadership. Cultural competence is having effective and appropriate behavior and communication in intercultural situations. When improving your cultural competence, it is not something you can check off as a skill achieved. It requires awareness, knowledge, and skills. It is important that I continue to improve my cultural competence past this course, and continue to improve it even when I am home. One way I intend to improve my cultural competency is this summer, as I will be interning in Dublin. This will serve as a way for me to improve this in a new environment for a longer duration of time. Additionally, I learned that being a leader isn’t something that can ever stop being improved upon. Despite a person having good leadership skills, there are always ways to improve being a leader and how you communicate with people.

Throughout this experience, I also learned the value of service learning and its contribution to my education. There is a positive correlation between degree completion and service learning. As my course is coming to a close, I understand why. I feel more motivated than ever in my professional and academic abilities because of what I gained from this class. I learned the endless importance of being engaged in class and professional settings, as it allows both me and who I’m working with to gain more benefits than if I was a passive participant. Engagement fosters growth both personally and professionally. Developing habits of engagement also leads to awareness, another important topic I’ve learned about in this class. Awareness, like engagement, can be applied to most things. Culturally, I learned that I need to be very aware as a traveler to gain cultural competence while showing respect to those in the country I’m visiting. In a group context, awareness and engagement shows respect to your teammates, as it shows investment and dedication to the task you’re completing. Overall, this helps boost the morale of your team, improving your deliverables.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned throughout my experience is the need for reflection. Reflection on an experience as dense and rich as global service learning serves as a way for us to get as much out of this class as possible. With all the content covered and time experienced in country, this helps us remember the lessons we’ve learned and solidified them in our memory and skills. Personally, I enjoy reflection through writing, just like this blog here. When in country, I took notes every single day of what we did, where we went, who we met, even what we ate. We also had debriefing meetings as a group every single evening. Having our teacher serve as a facilitator during these meetings was very helpful, as she pushed our discussions towards the direction of our client and project. It was easy to get caught up in the fun activities that weren’t considered work, but she stressed to us the importance of connecting the cultural aspect we’d experienced with the client. Overall, reflection on everything I have learned has been the biggest lesson I have taken away from my global service learning experience.

During this course, I gained skills and knowledge that will help me in the future with my career. A large portion of the skills I gained was in marketing. I was able to explore aspects of digital marketing and sales skills. I intend to use both of these skills in my future career, as I now have a better understanding of what I am interested in pursuing and where I need to learn more.

The biggest skill I will be using as I move forward is how I act in teams. When joining this class, I knew that it would essentially function as a large team project. I was anxious and excited about this, as I knew there was great potential for both success and failure. I thought my time with this group has served as an extremely positive learning experience. My friends and I worked and learned together, and solved the same issues. Personally, I learned I need to be a better team member by being motivational, engaged, easy to communicate with, and prioritizing the project at hand. As a whole, a team should be fostering an environment that encourages accountability, respect, integrity, and collaboration. Accountability, in particular, has been important for this project, as each student had a vital role in finishing our deliverables. We all learned that if a student was not accountable for their efforts and their treatment of the group, it could cause detrimental effects.

On the other hand, our group reaped the benefits of everyone being accountable. With six eager teammates giving equal effort, it kept up the morale of the group in addition to helping us with our deliverables. If our team ever ran into an issue, we would focus on how we were communicating with each other, in addition to checking our scope of work again to refocus our efforts. The scope of work proved to be the perfect way to keep our work in check and ensure our deliverables were being accomplished properly to the previous expectations set. While there is no perfect team, I learned how to deal with problems in a productive way, and how to be a valuable member of a group. I anticipate using the lessons I learned from working in my team as I move forward in my career.

Prior to the international experience, I heard of the amazing experiences students had involving Bolivia and CEOLI, our client. Both of my high personal expectations surrounding CEOLI and Bolivia were met even more than I could have hoped for. The students, faculty, and staff at CEOLI were incredibly kind and welcoming to us. Not only were they willing to incorporate us into their schedule, but they did so in such an inclusive way that we were able to interact with the students rather than just having business meetings. I had also heard of how dedicated and hardworking those at CEOLI were. This expectation was met, as I learned all the entrepreneurial steps they take in order to provide the best possible service for their students. Their pool serves as a way for them to provide therapy to their students, but also to increase revenue by renting the facility out and giving swimming lessons. When hearing of the efforts they’ve taken, we realized the magnitude of this project. CEOLI is a group of individuals who are constantly innovating new ways to progress and improve their situation, motivating us further to work with them.

Culturally, I had the expectation that those in Bolivia were kind, friendly, and welcoming of those who want to know more of their culture. One example is when a woman approached us speaking in Spanish, so our group primarily ignored her, assuming she was trying to sell us something. One of our guides stopped us, telling us the woman was trying to greet us and say welcome to Bolivia! Despite not knowing us at all, the woman went out of her way to follow us and let us know we were welcome where she lived.

One thing I didn’t expect surrounds similar topics as included from an article in the class titled ‘Points of Discomfort: Reflection on Power and Partnerships in International Service-Learning’. As service learners, we were striving to make this an educational trip that didn’t disturb those we learned from. We hoped both parties would benefit, and we could thank them for helping us. I had an expectation that we would not be treated any differently than those native to Bolivia, which was a bit naive. Despite good intentions, it did feel like we were imposing at times. We tried our best to be service learners rather than tourists. In class, we learned about the important distinction between community service and service learning. Service learning implies both parties are benefitting, where community service is more one sided towards the volunteer. Those at CEOLI were incredibly kind to us, and the last thing we wanted was to be a burden or disruption. Perhaps due to the idea of reciprocity, both parties wanted to be accomodating, but this caused an odd dynamic.  

One challenge that arose during my in country experience was my initiative to be engaged. Engagement is a large lesson taught in this class, and being engaged in country is one of the most important aspects of this course. I found myself struggling to be fully engaged with the language barrier and my physical adjustment to Bolivia. Our days were full of activities and our mornings were filled with business meetings and interacting with students. Being cognizant of what needed to be accomplished in the short time I was there in addition to the personal growth I hoped to achieve was difficult, but I found ways to overcome these challenges. As far as fatigue and physical issues, I primarily overcame them by following the advice of my guides and putting it out of my mind. Allowing something as small as that to hinder my experience was not something I was going to allow to happen.

For my struggle with the language barrier, it really rooted back to lack of confidence. As I was there, I realized the magnitude of CEOLI’s projects and my part in it. I wanted to choose my words carefully and be sure to not make any mistakes for fear of disappointment. To overcome this challenge, I focused on the efforts and demeanor of CEOLI as a form of motivation. Seeing the efforts CEOLI makes every day pushed me passed my personal problems and motivated me to accomplish what I needed to be fully aware and engaged. This meant information collecting, but also interacting with the students and building a relationship with CEOLI. I always made sure to keep in mind my role in this ten-year commitment, and how important it was for me to be a good representative of Pitt Business. Overall, to overcome any challenge incurred on this trip, I kept in mind the privilege being presented through this once in a lifetime opportunity. Many students do not get the chance to have a professional and personal experience such as this, so I knew anytime spent sulking in doubt was time wasted from a remarkable opportunity.

As our project comes to a close, I am still reflecting on what I have learned this past semester. I reflected by rereading my previous blogs. In my first blog, I anticipated many challenges, but moreso, exciting developments that I hoped to experience both professionally and personally. Personally, I hoped to gain knowledge and experience towards improving my cultural awareness and engagement abroad through reflection. Culturally, I expected to be challenged and exposed to a very new place. Professionally, I had anticipation for challenges arising from my first consulting project. These include factors such as cultural barriers, communication, leadership, and teamwork.

Overall, I would say that my expectations for this class were that it was going to be a positive and challenging experience. I inferred this based on class time, as well as the stories from previous students who participated in this class. And thankfully, I can say with confidence these expectations were met. This experience was challenging and positive to my personal growth, academic experience, and cultural education. The impressions previous students all gave me were true, as well as the things I anticipated on my own. The challenges I faced were diverse, but gave me transferable skills like improved communication, leadership, cultural competence, and various marketing skills.