A Semester at Pitt, A Lifetime of Lessons

Participating in the Global Service Learning Bolivia project this semester was certainly one of the best decisions I have made thus far at Pitt. For me to say the experience affected my life would be an understatement. The entire experience changed the way I think about my every day and the way I look at the world. I know that sounds pretty hard to understand but this was such a new experience, and it is one that came at a crucial point in my academic and professional career. I have developed and refined transferrable skills and gained a lot of confidence in myself moving forward.

Lessons Learned

I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the semester, but I think the most important ones have revolved around adaptability, teamwork, and work ethic.

  1. Adaptability

Since day one of our global service learning class, the importance of adaptability and the ability to pivot has been stressed. It is one thing to talk about adaptability, but you will never learn how to adapt until you are put in situations where you have to. It isn’t something you can really prepare for, so it was so important for us to be willing to dive into new experiences with the project and in Bolivia.

In regards to our project, being able to pivot was crucial. For every step of the way we had plans around how and what we wanted to get accomplished, but almost nothing goes exactly to plan. We hit a lot of roadblocks, whether it was not having access to certain accounts or getting feedback that we didn’t expect from a client. It was so important that we were able to rework our approach in the moment and reconfigure our plan. Not only did we make it work in the moment, but we were also able to look at our plans for the rest of the semester and think about similar problems that could affect those. That allowed us to think of backup plans to be as best prepared as possible.

In regards to adapting in Bolivia, this was something that was important for our project, but also for the international experience we gained. In Cochabamba, we always had plans for the day and our sales channel team had our individual goals on what we wanted to accomplish in certain meetings, but sometimes the agenda would change or our meetings would go in different directions. Between the team, we were always able to turn it around and still be satisfied with the work we did during the day. I think learning to adapt in Cochabamba also helped us have a more immersive cultural experience. We adapted to the people around us and tried to live as genuinely as possible in another culture. In the article titled “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating in Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning”, the author talked about just this. Leon said, “Although awareness of one’s own ‘culture baggage’ and knowledge about other cultures can be gained through intercultural training, the latter cannot develop intercultural skills – these can be acquired only on the spot.” She is saying that in order to fully understand the culture, you have to experience and open yourself up to the opportunity, and I think I did just that.

2. Teamwork

I think the most important lesson I learned was the importance of teamwork, and our team of six over the semester really worked to foster an effective working team. On day one of the semester, we had to figure out how to start working together when we started our Scope of Work. Many iterations later, we produced a quality scope that encompassed everything we wanted to do over the semester and that was feasible. After that, we broke up into even smaller teams — a sales channels team and a social media team. Within my sales channels team, we’ve worked very well together. We communicate well and get our work done on schedule. Maybe some of the best communication our group of six has done, though, has been between the two smaller teams. Each group has made sure the other team understands what they’ve been doing and what has been accomplished so far. Sometimes when working in teams, it is hard to stay up to date on what another group is doing, but we’ve made sure to keep open communication and have many debriefs to make sure everyone is in the loop.

Something that I often looked towards to foster my teamwork skills and will continue to use after this class is the article “Top Ten Characteristics of an Effective Project Team”. The author lays out what she thinks are the most important qualities to have for a good team, and I think we have been fostering all ten over the semester. I think a characteristic that is often overlooked in project teams but shouldn’t be is “Supportive”. When team members stand behind the project and each other, it is much more likely that it will get done in time and in great quality. I think that has been key for our team this semester. As students, we all get stressed and worry about getting things done for our different class. We did a great job building each other up in these times and helping one another whenever possible. For example, I know there was one week for me that was very busy and I was overly stressed. Not only did my team members emotionally support me and encourage me, but they helped with some of my tasks for the week to put my mind at ease. When teams are supportive, they perform a lot better, and we definitely saw that in our CEOLI project.

3. Work Ethic

I have always thought I had a pretty good work ethic, but through the project this semester, it got even better! Since I have never done a consulting project of any kind before, I had to work harder than I realized to get the hang of it and fully understand everything the team was doing. I had a lot of late nights with my team working on different projects and documents, and the semester still isn’t over! My team and I have worked really hard towards achieving our deliverables for our client, and I know this work ethic will carry on with me as I continue to foster it.

I think that working with a team means you need an even better work ethic. You are no longer just working for yourself, but other people are holding you accountable and are counting on you to contribute. For me, this helped me and made me want to work even more. It is empowering to think that other people trust you to do work that they’ll put their names on too. That always makes me want to work harder and produce better work for my teammates. Again, I have always been a hard worker, but every new experience helps me foster my work ethic that I will use for every project and task moving forward.

Moving Forward

The skills and knowledge that I’ve gained are going to stick with me and will help me succeed in my career. I plan on entering a career in public accounting, for which I will certainly need adaptability, teamwork, and a strong work ethic. Adaptability is necessary for any job, especially one that you are working with other people and clients. People are unpredictable, so you need to be able to adapt to what they want and to their expectations. It seems that all work in the business world today revolves around teams, so it is so important that I foster these teamworking skills as early as possible. I know that in public accounting, I will be on multiple project teams and on multiple different clients. Because there will be so much going on in an advanced business world, I really need to be able to communicate well and be a team player to have a successful career. Finally, in any career, a strong work ethic is absolutely essential, especially for advancing. Wherever my career takes me, I hope I am advancing and gaining more responsibility. If I don’t have a strong work ethic to show I am deserving and capable of moving up in the ranks, I can expect to just stay in an entry-level position for life, which is not what I want.

Surpassing Expectations

As I look back at my first blog, the things I expected to gain from my semester working with CEOLI were gaining independence and self assurance traveling, skills working with clients, skills working as a consultant, and professional writing skills. I knew at the time that there was no way to predict everything that I could expect, but my expectations were met with flying colors and I learned so much more!

Regarding gaining independence and self-assurance while traveling, before going to Bolivia I had never left the country before. I was nervous how the whole process would go, the travel itself and the immersion in a new culture. After the fact now, I can wholeheartedly say I will be confident traveling in the future. While airports can be a drag, making it to a whole new country (and one where they spoke a different language) was so exciting. As long as I was always aware of my surroundings, I felt safe and really enjoyed the change. Regarding gaining skills working with clients and as a consultant, this semester was the first time I was ever in a consultant-client relationship. It was a lot of fun and very interesting navigating the relationship. I think something that helped and was essential for a successful partnership was that both sides saw value in the other. Our team knew CEOLI and Amizade would be very helpful, and we looked to them for ideas and input. CEOLI and Amizade also viewed us favorably and thought we brought value to their organizations. It was this mutual respect and appreciation that allowed us to work well together. This is an idea I can also take forward, not only in client relationships but in any relationships. Regarding my professional writing skills, those have improved so much. I didn’t realize how much writing I would be doing, but being on the sales channels team brought a lot of writing, and we aren’t done! Having our work looked at by some of the Pitt Business faculty and receiving feedback has been so helpful to see how they think.

On top of those, I expected to gain confidence and self-efficacy while working on this project. The confidence and self-efficacy I gained is what surpassed my expectations the most. I was thrown into an entirely new experience with friends to help me figure it out, and now I feel like I could handle any project thrown my way. Even when I wouldn’t know how to do something, I was always able to learn whatever I needed to get things done. I leave this semester so much more confident in myself and my abilities, and I think that is the most important thing I have learned.

Overall, this semester, although not over yet, has taught me so much about myself and has taught me a lot of skills to take with me in my academic and professional career. I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in the Global Service Learning Bolivia 2019 project, and in turn I am thankful for Pitt Delta Sigma Pi, Pitt Business, and most importantly, my team. I could not have done anything without them and their support. I will never forget my experiences and I’m looking forward to taking my new skills from the classroom to the city to the world.