A Truly Unforgettable Experience

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The staff at Caras left such an impact on me in Puerto Rico, I will never forget them!

It is so hard for me to believe that another semester at Pitt for me has come and gone.  It’s even harder for me to believe that I only have one more semester left here until I graduate.  As the end rapidly approaches, I can’t help but reflect on my time here at the university. What were some of my favorite classes? Who left the greatest impression on me? What are the memories I’ve made here that will undeniably last a life time?

As I answer these questions to myself, they all lead me back to my experience with the Global Service Learning class.  Freshman year Francheska would’ve never thought she’d be given such an amazing opportunity as this one.  At first, this class was appealing to me because I had such a desire to travel.  Very soon did I realize it was much, much more than just that.  The people I have met through this experience and the impact that I feel I have personally made on others involved is a feeling that will go unmatched.  My trip to Puerto Rico is something that I look forward to sharing with others each and every day.

What exactly did I “learn”?

When reflecting upon what I’ve learned throughout this whole experience, I have a hard time finding the right words.  In class on discussion days, I got the opportunity to truly learn about service learning as a whole.  This was a concept I really knew very little about before taking this class. Distinguishing the vast difference between service learning and community service was a concept we touched on early in the semester but was one of my favorite topics by far.  It really is remarkable how little most people know about service learning.  It is so much more than painting a house or picking up trash on the highway.  It is building relationships, expanding your cultural knowledge, being truly engaged in the service you are performing in order to benefit as many people as possible.  Because of this opportunity, I cannot wait to seek out other service learning opportunities that may arise in my future professional life.

On another note, I feel as though I have learned a lot about international business through this journey. This, again, was another area I knew very little about for taking this class.  I also never in a million years would’ve thought that I would even be the slightest bit interested in doing business internationally.  Well, I thought wrong.  This experience has opened so many doors for me regarding global business. The in-country portion of this class really allowed me to see and experience a hands-on aspect of conducting business internationally.  (Yes, I know Puerto Rico is technically the U.S., but for my sake, I do still consider this international.)  In order to be successful in this, it is important to familiarize yourself with the local culture and customs of the area you will be working with.  We stressed this immensely throughout the course before traveling to Puerto Rico and it was definitely worth it.  Upon arriving in-country, I felt that I was well-prepared to adapt to their culture.

Lastly, this class taught me some very valuable aspects of teamwork that I know I will use in my future career.  Not knowing a single member of my group before this semester started had me a little worried at the beginning.  Looking back on that now, I feel so incredibly silly that I was ever nervous! My group was composed of some of the smartest and caring students I have met at Pitt, and I am so lucky to call them each my friends now.  We learned many time management tactics to get our work done both effectively and efficiently while all on very different and busy schedules.  I also learned the importance of collaboration and playing to each group members strengths in order to produce the highest quality work. While conflict was not typical in our group, it was also helpful to learning about conflict resolution remedies and what exactly makes for a great group dynamic.  

Transferrable skills?!

These skills are all things that I will definitely use in the future as I begin my career in the Human Resources field. These skills are all things that I will definitely use in the future as I begin my career in the Human Resources field.  As I mentioned briefly before, I never would have thought I would ever be interested in having a career where I would conduct business internationally.  After seeing how many people in Puerto Rico I was positively impacting, that all changed.  I chose the Human Resources major because while I was very interested in studying business, I felt that it would not give me the opportunity to help enough people… comparing it to professions like doctors, police officer, etc. Therefore, I believed Human Resources was the field within business that could provide me with the most ways to directly help others.  A year after declaring my major, I have no regrets.  One quote from my time in Puerto Rico that I will never forget was from Laura of the Big Ideas Competition.  After I expressed how great it felt to help the children at the tutoring center, she said to me “I hope you have realized now that you can have a career in business and still help people like them every day.”  That quote will forever stick with me.  She is completely right, and I lot of people don’t realize this. People in Puerto Rico as well as other under developed areas need help from people like us.  Therefore, I will take the knowledge I have gained about conducting business globally and use that to help shape my future career.  Global business is definitely no longer off the table!

A career in Human Resources also means a career with lots of teamwork and collaboration.  This class has greatly prepared me for that aspect of my future.  Like I stated above, the teamwork piece of this class taught me several positives that I will take with me in the future.  This summer, I will be interning with PNC in their Human Resources department with five other interns I will be working closely with.  I feel very confident now that I have the necessary skills to maintain an effective and open group dynamic with them.  I know the most common team challenges and how to combat them as well as tips for handling conflict inside the group.  I will reflect on our class discussions throughout the summer to aid me in being the best team member I can be during this internship. I will then carry on that experience in my future roles as well.

Exceeding Expectations

Before arriving in-country, we all pondered certain cultural expectations to prepare us for our time abroad. Overall, I would say that our class well-prepared us for what to expect during our trip, and most of my expectations were in fact met.  The biggest cultural difference we would face in Puerto Rico would probably be the difference in context.  In the U.S., we have become so used to this low context culture, that it was a little difficult at first to adapt to the much higher context of Puerto Rico. Their communication was much more implicit as opposed to our conversation where everything is very clearly spelled out.  The people at Caras were the perfect demonstration of a high context culture. They were very expressive and loud, used a lot of hand gestures and body language, and would even touch you when conversating to further prove their point.  In the United States, most of that doesn’t really “fly”.  The people in Puerto Rico also really took the time to create a positive relationship with everyone they spoke to.  This was different for me because in the U.S., it is not really necessary to develop a relationship with someone if you think it will be short-lived.  In Puerto Rico, that is definitely not the case.  They take pride in being extremely open and friendly, building relationships with each person they meet.  Lastly, it was very apparent that technology was not the preferred way of communication in Puerto Rico.  Some places even didn’t have Internet connection!! Crazy!  As an American, I will literally text my roommate something while she is sitting in the room right next to me just to avoid face to face communication.  In Puerto Rico, pretty much all communication happens in person which is a huge difference compared to our technologically-savvy country.  Definitely something to get used to!

The language barrier and business etiquette in Puerto Rico were two smaller areas, I feared I would have trouble with.  While there was a language barrier, it was really helpful that almost the whole Caras staff also spoke English.  The neatest experience for me was while we were giving our final presentation to the community, we actually had to be translated!  This was such a cool opportunity, and it made our group feel so good that the community wanted to hear from us so badly, that they would sit through the translation instead of just having Michael tell them what we’ve been working on.  As far as business etiquette goes, there aren’t too many differences between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.  The biggest difference is that in Puerto Rico, business seems to be generally a bit more relaxed than what we’re used to here.  Often times while abroad, the scheduled itinerary would change last minute or our driver for the day would be late.  These things didn’t seem like a very big deal for the team at Caras but could be considered very impolite and unprofessional for people doing business in the mainland.  These two aspects posed slight challenges during our time in-country but nothing we weren’t already prepared to adapt to.  One thing I didn’t really understand before embarking on my trip was how independent Puerto Rico’s cultural identity was.  Even though they ae technically a territory of the U.S., they clearly wish to be treated like individuals of their own country.  Seeing their pride for their land and their true cultural identity was an amazing experience.

As another semester comes to an end, these memories I have made in Puerto Rico will stay with me forever. I already look forward to telling more and more people about my experience and using what I have learned from this opportunity in other future travel opportunities as well.

Thank you to everyone who made this trip so wonderful!