An End is Only the Beginning

            An unfathomable reality is approaching its bittersweet end in the next few weeks. Six months ago, after being introduced to the service learning concept and course, I was vastly intrigued by this tremendous opportunity. Studying abroad and a meaningful project all together? That vision I had in high school to begin my world travels came to fruition into one outstanding adventure. Yet, my mindset, and even more so appreciation for the journey life presents are minute into what I learned from my Puerto Rico experience as a whole.

            The best starting point in terms of understanding my appreciation for this trip goes back to December. I was denied from the Trinidad and Tobago trip. Due to a conduct mishap from freshman Jack, it deterred me from that experience. Initially, feelings of defeat and embarrassment for what my younger self prevented left me in a tough spot: What do I do next? Waiting to see the confirmation of my peers attending the trip, I sat anxiously wondering if my opportunity to study abroad was gone. However, after being approached to embark on the Puerto Rico experience, my perspective changed. I was, in a sense, given a second chance. Another opportunity to meet new people. To try new things. To partake in real, meaningful work. Excitement and anticipation upon my acceptance to service learning Puerto Rico came in two forms. The first came at the physical trip itself: the client, the purpose, the real impact of our work. Being able to work with Caras con Causa and understand the true meaning of  “social justice through education” is powerful in itself. Not to mention, the beautiful weather and cultural differences garnered plenty of pictures and many new memories. The second is more pertinent to life itself.  In short, I could have let my freshman year mistake affect me greatly in all things I do. Being completely honest, it did. However, it was not permanent. Do the best you can to isolate mistakes and misfortunes. Repeating these behaviors inhibit your growth not only as an individual, but to those loved ones we all admire. In reality, learn from your mistakes and continue to take chances, because you never know when unforgettable opportunities may fall into your lap.

            Transitioning back to these last four months, there are countless lessons that can be concluded from this experience. San Juan taught me several, but it is important to remember that many of them are traceable to good ole Pittsburgh. Our course is designed unlike any other: it is impossible without flying to meet your client. That, in itself, is incredible. Separately, you are not tested, rather asked to reflect on what you learn. This unique, applicable learning style to the real world of business provides for a class that is not as cutthroat as others. However, the biggest takeaway I learned is the value diversity and inclusion. A new lesson, at that, but one necessary to understand moving forward in my career. In business today, it is evolving to adapt new standards of inclusivity and diversity.Primarily, the diversity exists amongst our group. Working with my team, all of us were of different grades, and better yet majors. The combination of a group with such outstanding experiences and knowledge, may at times, discredit the work we produce.  As we discussed, groups that have that divide may cause a lack of accountability, and validity to our work. Rather, being able to work with such a great array of people showed the real value of trusting those with different skillsets. As a group, we were able to succeed and prosper because we leveraged our different strengths and ensured quality work because of trust. Our group’s diversity made us succeed, and this realization is valuable for the career path I will begin in two years-time.

            In terms of inclusivity, the Cataño community exhibited what this really concept truly means. As a non-profit, Caras works diligently WITH the community, and not as much FOR them. Evident in our final presentation, leaders of the community were present and attentive. They were as included on the biggest decisions affecting the everyday of their lifestyles, which was heart-warming to see. Every day I walk to class passing hundreds of strangers who share the same passion of going to Pitt, where at Caras everyone seemingly knows and include each other, which incites valuable relationships and experiences. Developing this newfound appreciation to diversity and inclusion motivates me to expose myself to careers and experiences where I can meet and work with passionate coworkers, yet are not completely like myself.

            The lessons I learned in this experience have come in a variety of forms. Whether in Pittsburgh or 1700 miles away in Puerto Rico, to before this experience began or afterwards, I have learned a lot about myself. Even more so, I have gained a greater appreciation for the people that made this experience plausible. Yet, besides learning about never letting set-backs restrict great opportunities to the heightened value of diversity and inclusion in my future, the greatest takeaway came from the most incredible people of Caras. Their passion and drive to give back to their community, and their fellow Puerto Ricans is second-to-none. Seeing their active engagement to what they do motivates me to be as passionate and persistent to seek good in my life. They dedicate their livelihood to making others better; that, in itself, gives me goosebumps. My eagerness to partake in a future in which I can aspire to be dedicated and genuinely content with what I do can be traced back to this one incredible experience: with Caras con Causa showing what a selfless, passionate organization truly looks like.

            Seemingly enough, this service learning endeavor has provided me with some further clarity in what path I aspire to pursue in my career. Service learning, as I have reiterated before, is the concept in which students engage in global trips to     aid a partner organization in which both can see reciprocal benefits. This sentence, four months ago, was simply an estranged concept. Today, it represents much more. It represents, in short, my future. The tangible skills of communication across language barriers, global engagement, client-interaction and most importantly the style of the project encapsulates what I look for in a career.

            As a finance major, on the surface, is money and numbers. The major, more or less, caters to my vast interest in financial management and working with numbers. However, my passion, which service learning exploited, is that of serving others. In my career, I aspire to find jobs that enable me to interact with clients throughout the world. This experience has opened the door to this career path. In one respect, consulting as a career can offer me these opportunities. Like our project with Caras, we were able to work directly with a client outside of the continental United States. This type of work engages me greatly with meeting people and learning and understanding new cultures. This simple exposure, which we discussed in class, it what intrigues me to pursue comparable projects in my future. I love meeting people, and more importantly, seeing how they live their lives. New Jersey is different than Pittsburgh, as Pittsburgh is Puerto Rico, as they all are to the rest of the world. The world is beautiful and full of opportunities and pursing these types of experiences in the future appeals to me greatly.

            Realistically, being a full-time consultant initially may be tough. As a veteran consultant once told me “it is a demanding job that operates around the clock” … the time demands alone may be difficult initially. However, if opportunities like my Puerto Rico adventure arise outside of a 9-5, it will not be a matter of how I can do it?  Rather, it will consist of how I can make it happen. I aspire to see the world in a different light: not for necessity to be change, but be apart of change. Caras is actively engaged in their communities to bring change in Puerto Rico. In the end, it will come down to the desire to be apart of something bigger than myself. I want to express my newfound admiration for global business, communicate with locals, and most importantly maintain the active reflection in my everyday life. Reflecting on my days and weeks will make small moments a little bigger and memories active experiences in my brain.

            As I near the end of this semester, it is essential to understand how Puerto Rico is a territory that is far underappreciated for being a part of the United States. Initially, I viewed it similar to the states, with similar customs and operations. Besides using US dollars, Puerto Rico’s uniqueness surpassed my expectations. As I knew going in, their heightened value on community was at times remarkable. Whether it was having lunch prepared by a neighbor or leaders attending our presentation, everyone was invested in each other to prosper together. That by far, was the most influential part of the trip.  Separately, the language barrier was a challenge at times. Some of the elders spoke solely Spanish, and even that at karaoke night when our group was unable to sing the song was not in our native English (This is a story for another day). As our week persisted, I was able to adapt and test my 11 years’ worth of knowledge. Although I was not fluent, the locals appreciated my attempt to assimilate into their culture. Not to mention, the wide array of food was delicious, but needless to say I did not eat rice for three weeks after returning, for it is a mainstay in Puerto Rico’s cuisine.

            Our real purpose for flying to Puerto Rico was and still is for business.  One aspect that stood out as a distinct difference in business that was uncommon in the United States is how flexible our group had to be.  Whether it was timing or presenting to new people, we always had to be ready to go. Separately, the employees of Caras developed trust with my group very quickly. At any moment, we had to be ready to shake a hand or give a hug, and be ready to share our purpose. As much as I could have prepared for the high context society, it was an adjustment I had to make. I was unaccustomed to the friendly, outgoing culture that was their normal for business. Initially, it was not my most comfortable experience. Yet, as I developed those relationships with Caras, it became prevalent that this this is not strange in many cultures. In fact, it is more normal across the globe. High context societies are more common, especially outside of the United States. In one special week, I not only felt comfortable in this style of learning where I am excited to be in their culture, but they allow me to join in their homes!

            All in all, Puerto Rico, and this course, exceeded every single aspect study abroad that I could have ever foreseen. In Puerto Rico, they have it all. From their rich history and culture in Old San Juan to the wetlands, coasts, and mountain ranges, everything is picturesque. Their food is delicious and innovative, especially their delicacies. Finally, their people are not only welcoming, but proud of who they are. This course, rather, opened my eyes to the great world and opportunities that exist. You can do anything, but nothing is important unless there is mutual benefits from all involved. My personal gain is of no more importance than my peer or client and doing everything together as one is more valuable than any action or result themselves.

            Thank you again everyone for reading my blogs. This is my final one, for this adventure has reached its completion. I reflect a well-diversified and globally appreciative student. For my team, I admire all of your passions and your pursuit to achieve your goals. Thank you to all who offered guidance and specifically those fortunate enough to have shared this experience with me. Amizade, our middle man so to speak, thank you for introducing our team to such an amazing client and facilitating this opportunity. Finally, Caras con Causa, I cannot express accurately how incredible your organization and community are. I anticipate hearing great things in your bright future.

Sé el cambio que deseas ver en el mundo!

(Be the change you wish to see in the world!)