I remember sitting in my CPLE class last semester, hearing about the Trinidad trip. The main thing that was going through my head at the time was that travelling abroad for only $1,000 would be a steal. Why would I not take the opportunity to go somewhere warm over spring break and forget about all of my responsibilities for a week? Little did I know in the next four months, I would dedicate a significant amount of time and energy in to one of the biggest group projects of my academic career. And I do not regret taking up the chance at all.
Since attending this class, I have learned so much personally, academically, and professionally.
One of the main concepts that I learned immensely about is the difference between service learning and community service. Community service involves little knowledge and application of complex theories. It does not take a lot of engagement and active learning to volunteer to pick up trash or collecting canned goods. Not that community service is not valuable, but it definitely is not service learning. Service learning focuses on the application of “classroom theories” and transferring skills from one environment to another. It is about turning theory into real-life. Because service learning emphasizes transferrable skills and theories, participants gain so many benefits. Students especially do because they have the opportunity to see what they have learned interact with the real world and fully understand the concepts.
Successful service learning also involves active reflection. This experience has allowed me to learn and understand the significance of processing what I have done and what I have learned from the day, and using those evaluations to understand what I can do better for another situation. Before, I believed reflection was a waste of time that I could use to advance progress in a project. Especially after travelling to Trinidad, I realize that active reflection is very necessary in becoming aware of your role, progress, strengths, and weaknesses in a project or environment. As it turns out, reflection does not have to be forced and it actually usually comes naturally. I was concerned that I would struggle with providing input during our daily reflections in Trinidad. I used to journal every so often before coming to college and I remember some days when I would be too tired to write or I would not have much to say. I learned that reflecting with others is a big help because I get to hear more than my own perspective and it stimulates interesting discussion with other biases. This experience has inspired me to incorporate active reflection in other parts of my life, such as my other classes, my personal life, and my professional life.
A topic is discussion in and out of country was team work. It is easy to identify the ups and downs of working in a team, but it is another thing to actually successfully manage it. The Trinidad group has grown a lot since the beginning of the semester. One of our major challenges was scheduling conflicts. We originally agreed as a group to meet every Tuesday night to work on this project, but that idea is, of course, easier said than done. We are each heavily involved with other organizations and commitments, so it is understandable why there were many times when not everyone could meet up at the same time. Part of working as a team is conflict management, communication, and accountability. We trusted each other to adequately complete our parts in a timely manner and to update each other when something new comes along that we must deal with. If a setback occurred, we worked as a group to catch up back to the pace we were on. As we discussed throughout this experience, there are many benefits to working as a group. Everyone brought in their diverse set of skills, experiences, and perspectives. We motivated each other to keep up with what we needed to do for the project. Most importantly, we have demonstrated that we were committed to planning and executing this project. But I can not say we did not have our challenges. We are not perfect people and we are not the perfect group. Because of this experience, we have bonded and grown as a group, and I learned the value of working as a team. I recognize that other groups that I will with will probably be better or worse depending on the people or the project, but I will use the project management skills that I developed during this experience to adapt to the new teams I will be a part of.
Transferable Skills and Knowledge
This experience was one of the first huge opportunities I had in consulting. It definitely solidified my career interest in working directly with clients and it helped me prepare for that future by teaching me fundamental skills and knowledge I must have as a consultant.
One concept I learned that I can use in my future career is creating a scope of work. Part of working with others and having good communication skills, especially with a client, is to explicitly identify and agree what the project’s purpose, objectives, and deliverables will be. This includes being mindful of linguistics and having all parties completely understand what the ideal outcomes of the project will be. Some of the project management challenges we discussed in class were undefined goals and scope changes. If goals are not clearly identified, no one will be on the same page and miscommunication will most likely occur throughout the process. Miscommunication can lead to scope changes and distract parties from the original project purpose. Successful project managers and consultants must analyze and evaluate every request to change the scope if they are necessary or feasible to implement.
Another transferable skill that I can use in my career is preparing as much as I can when I must interact with international clients. What can I learn about a client’s culture in order to effectively and respectfully communicate with the client? Of course, there is no way for me to know everything about a specific culture. I will never fully understand the perspective of another person. Doing as much research as I can before my travels and learning how to adapt in the moment by pivoting when facing new changes or challenges during my travels demonstrate my respect for the people I am serving and professionalism. As I have mentioned many times before, I aim to travel as I work. I recognize that this goal also comes along with a commitment to understanding my clients’ works and backgrounds.
As I move forward towards my career and going through life in general, I would like to continue to remind myself to be curious. I do not consider myself an expert in anything and I honestly can not imagine myself ever identifying as an expert because I feel like there is always a million more things I can learn more about. I visited a country that none of my friends and family knew anything about, so of course I learned constantly while I was in Trinidad. One of my concerns about choosing a career path is feeling stuck and bored in the long run. From my experience in the last four months, I realize that if I continue to be curious and ask questions and put in the effort to find more things out, there is an endless amount of opportunity to learn.
The International Component
Before travelling abroad, I had the idea in my head that the week we would spend in Trinidad would be extremely intensive. We would always be focusing on the project because we had many deliverables for before and during the trip. I thought, “What if we do not deliver all of them in time? We only have one chance to be in Trinidad. We only have a few days with the DORCAS Women’s Group, so we must constantly be talking about the project with them.” Honestly when we were given the disclaimer that we would be spending a lot of time “doing nothing”, I did not believe it.
In reality, we did not do nothing. We always did something, such as it was delivering our commitments, building relationships with the DORCAS Women’s Group, or exploring Matelot. But we did not always push that we had a project to do every second of the day like I thought we would.
This experience demonstrated to me what my ideal is when I always say I want to travel as I work. I want to become immersed with the culture that I am in. I want to build relationships with the people I meet. I want to be surrounded by different people. I also want to successfully complete the work that I promised I would do. The trip to Trinidad was definitely a great balance between work and relaxation. I must credit that a huge part of our work was building relationships and the DORCAS Women’s Group definitely made that aspect feasible.
I must recognize, however, that travelling to different places comes with challenges. I must step out of my bubble and learn that my way of living is not the only way or the best way of living. Trinidad’s slow and relaxed culture taught me that it is okay to take a step back to look at the nature around you. Another country’s fast and work-driven culture may teach me about the value of a constant work ethic. Either way, I must be prepared to be flexible and to accept that my way is not always the right way. While that is easier said than done, I believe with practice, I will become better at it.
The last four months have created the longest semester I have ever experienced so far, but they definitely have been the busiest for me as well. This whole experience has contributed to that feeling and I do not regret giving it a chance. In my first blog post, I believed I would develop my transferable skills that relate to team building, I would apply those skills in achieving my professional goals, and I would test myself in stepping out my structured comfort zone. If current me could travel back in time and talk to me four months ago, I would tell her to take on this opportunity completely as she would meet those expectations and this would be one of the most valuable semesters she would ever experience.