Forever Thankful to Cochabamba (…and Gustavo for returning my suitcase)

The Global Service Learning: Bolivia Program was an absolutely amazing experience and I can’t believe this is the final blog and that next week we will be turning in our final report and presenting our final presentation. There are still so many memories from our week abroad that we all recount randomly whether its in class or in our casual conversations with each other. This was truly a life changing experience and I will remember it forever. The combined aspects of the class and the week in Bolivia helped me developed myself and key skills like I never thought I would before.

Key Lessons

Throughout this semester long class and the week we had in Bolivia I learned many life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. While its importance was stressed to us before we left, I didn’t realize how much I would develop adaptability and flexibility until I was placed in a situation where it was necessary. In general, going to a different country and interacting with various cultures requires a level of adaptability, however, actually engaging in this and where the language is completely different develops this skill even further. While at CEOLI too, we all had to further enhance our flexibility. Nothing was ever set in stone for the schedule. We had to learn that things are going that may not be anticipated and we have to be flexible when this occurs, especially when we were coming in ‘disrupting’ the routine.

An additional aspect to adaptability that I touched on in my last blog was me losing my suitcase when we first arrived in Bolivia. While in some ways it was funny, especially as it became the joke of the week and of all people for it to happen to, it would be me, it was also something I didn’t expect, and I had to act in that moment. Not having any of my clothes that I originally packed for the entire week was hard, but after handling the situation, I can see that I was able to further develop this transferable skill through that experience along with the exposure to a differing culture throughout the week.

Another key lesson I learned through this experience is that communication is key. This is also not necessarily through direct communication. The importance of relationship building in Bolivian culture, showed us how far communication can take the level of the relationship. This includes direct communication through speaking with other parties, but also forms of communication like non-verbal cues, body language and other gestures. Being able to effectively understand and reciprocate clear communication is something most people do not understand the importance of. In every scenario, professional or casual, we are all communicating with each other. In this situation, where there is a project at stake it is essential that all parties are aware of what’s happening and have a clear understanding of the goals of the project. This lesson is something I will be able to look back on for all my future projects, whether its still at Pitt or after graduation in a professional setting. Realizing the true importance of communication in all forms was definitely something I gained from this experience.

A third key lesson I learned from my experiences over the course of this semester is to embrace differences with an open mind. Having studied abroad twice now, I’ve heard the phrase “get comfortable being uncomfortable” a lot and become a big supporter of the phrase myself now too. Going abroad comes with a whirlwind of expectations and anticipations. Something I think is super important to keep in mind when going abroad is to embrace the culture. Most times when we go abroad its somewhere we likely won’t get the chance to go again so taking advantage of this opportunity helps you build lifelong memories and develop the transferable skills we discussed in class. Another aspect to this lesson is that specifically for this trip, it was only a week. If throughout this time I didn’t embrace the various differences and engage with Bolivian culture, I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of my time or enjoyed the experience to the level I did. I wouldn’t have gained these life-long lessons if I didn’t embrace differences with an open mind even for just a week. This lesson is something that I am excited to apply to my time in London this summer and also to new and different experiences I am exposed to in the future.

Skills Moving Forward

Everything we did between the semester long course and the week in-country allowed us all to build and develop important skills that will be useful to us as we move forward along our career paths. As highlighted in “Comparing the Effects of Community Service and Service-Learning” by Lori J. Vogelgesang and Alexander W. Astin, and as we discussed in class, participating in service-learning programs leads to the development of critical thinking skills, growth in writing skills, development of transferable skills and so much more. Having the opportunity to develop these skills is truly amazing and has been a privilege. I know that I will be able to use these through the rest of my life, especially when I begin working in internships and in general advance further in my career.

Overall, I was able to enhance my engagement efforts more than I ever thought and this was done so through the application of the knowledge we gained both in the classroom and abroad. While I could see the additional application of these skills in any career path I choose, I expect to use them even more in my potential future career. The fact that I am currently hoping to work in the Advisory services of an accounting firm, this consists of a lot of consulting work with clients. I pursued this particular service because of how much I enjoyed this type of work with this semester long consulting project, along with the projects I’ve done with the Certificate Program in Leadership and Ethics. Originally when I had decided to major in accounting it didn’t excite me as much as I thought it would but when I began looking into advisory more and its relation to consulting, I finally felt better about my decision. I know that I will be able to apply these skills in future work with clients. This could be through drafting several scopes of work, presenting the project and receiving feedback. Additionally, the document “Building An Ethical Partnership” highlights key core values that are necessary when working on a team, which will be essential as I move toward pursuing a career, either working with clients or continuing to work on teams with other students and then potential colleagues. In all of these aspects, I know I can apply and even continue to further develop my critical thinking skills, writing skills, and of course, transferable skills.

Surpassing Expectations and Overcoming Challenges

Prior to going to Bolivia, from our in-class discussions and through the Culture Smart book, I had a decent amount of expectations for our time in country. I knew I’d encounter a lot more ‘closeness’ in Bolivia than in a business setting in the US and this definitely happened. We were often greeted with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and while I was expecting this, it was slightly different actually experiencing it. It took a couple encounters like this to get used to it, but on day two at CEOLI, I was more comfortable with this, I just needed to get into this routine. Additionally, something I expected to be more challenging was the translation aspect. I thought that we would have more difficulty in our conversations going back and forth but Ariel and Adri were beyond amazing and truly helped us out more than we could’ve have imagined.

As for personal expectations, I knew I would grow to some degree through this program, I just didn’t realize how much. I was able to develop transferable skills, gain lifelong experiences and build such a strong sense of awareness for a different cultural but also the people. Everyone we met and interacted with through CEOLI and Amizade made the trip more than I ever thought it would be. The kids really made more of an impact on me than I thought would have as well. I have never had a strong sense of connections to kids and the last couple of days I felt like I did connect with them and it had such a personal impact on myself that is hard to express.

Part of this connection with the kids was a challenge that arose for me, however. Not how you may think but it was the fact that I didn’t really make these connections and bonds with them until the end of the second to last day at CEOLI, into the last day we were there. Since it wasn’t until the end of our time at CEOLI, having to leave so soon after I had just developed a relationship with some of the kids made it that much harder to leave since myself, and all the rest of us wanted to have more time with them. Another challenge that arose, which I have already mentioned was the suitcase situation. I didn’t think I would encounter anything as drastic as losing my suitcase on day one and having to completely pivot in that moment. Like I’ve said, it was hard at first to realize what had happened and come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t have any of my clothes that I originally packed for the entire week. My favorite thing after coming back was everyone asking what I did and simply responding with “I bought six guys t-shirts, a pair of athletic shorts and rotated through that.” I did have to buy other things like shampoo and stuff but that was basically the gist of what I had to do. While there were challenges like these and on the last day in Cochabamba, I really didn’t feel good along with other members of the group but had to power through anyway, we were lucky in that there were no major challenges we faced while in country pertaining to the work. One of the only things may have been that I was slightly hesitant when I took pictures at CEOLI, making sure I was following the guidelines we had that I was worried there were potential missed photo opportunities. I realized after the first day or so that I could always go and delete these pictures, but once we were at Pitt again, I couldn’t just go back and take more.

 

I never would have thought my life would be impacted so much in just a week, but this program proved me wrong. I’m forever grateful for this opportunity and for all the experiences that came with it. To have a semester long class with a week abroad impact so many of us in the ways it does is inspiring. The fact that I went from not fully being sure about my major to realizing it excited me that I could pursue a consulting outlook through areas of advisory in an accounting firm is incredible and I am thankful to the experience and the faculty involved that allowed me to see this opportunity. I’m looking forward to be able to continue to share what I’ve gained with others and encourage other students to participate on this program as well. After two study abroad programs and moving on to my third this summer, I will continue to confidently say that going abroad gives us as students an amazing outside of the classroom experience that could not be replicated at Pitt and I would encourage everyone to go study abroad, whether its a one week program or for a whole semester…the memories, experiences, and life-lessons are all worth it!