Gracias, Bolivia

The spring semester is coming to an end and I can hardly believe that this experience is actually almost over. It really wasn’t very long ago that we were meeting as the “Pitt Business Student Consultants” for the first time; we have accomplished so much and learned so much since then that it feels like it’s been more than just one semester. 

As I’ve said in my previous blog post, this experience was one that I will never forget. With any unforgettable experience comes some unforgettable lessons. It’s hard to put into words – especially under 2000 words – how much I learned through this semester-long experience. After thinking about it for a while, I decided to focus on four key lessons that I learned in Bolivia and through the experience as a whole:

1. The scope is a lot more important/helpful than you might initially think.

One of the lessons that I learned through this experience (more towards the end) is that the Scope of Work is a lot more important and helpful than you originally think. When we were creating the scope I think that, for me at least, it was hard to see what the point of it was. I attribute this to my detail-oriented personality – it can sometimes be hard for me to see the bigger picture or the big idea. I was also eager, and I will admit that when we were first making the scope I was bit frustrated because I felt like we should just be getting to work right away on what we thought we should be doing for the semester. Looking back on that, I cannot imagine how disorganized and unaligned the team’s goals would be if we had just jumped right in.

Once we really started working on the deliverables, having the scope there made it so much easier to make decisions about the project. I can’t think of how many times I have said, “let’s look at the scope first.” 

I decided to take a look back to the document “Writing a Scope of Work Statement” that we read at the beginning of the term before we even started ‘Draft A’ of the scope. If I’m being completely honest I did doubt that the scope would be “critical to the success” of this project. I believe that the most significant part of this document is when it says that the scope is “validating a common understanding of project outcomes.” I definitely overlooked this in the beginning, but now I have learned that having a common understanding and having that understanding on paper really is crucial for a successful project. 

2. Attitude makes a difference.

In addition, through visiting CEOLI and speaking to the staff it became clear to me that attitude makes a difference. The people at CEOLI, staff and students alike, maintain a positive attitude and outlook. This positivity radiates into their operations, and this was very apparent when we were in-country.

I have always believed in the power of positive thinking, especially since my number one strength on StrengthsFinder is positivity, but seeing it applied at CEOLI was really incredible. There was not one person from the staff at CEOLI who was negative about the current situation there, and that attitude rubs off onto the students. The staff and students are so inspiring because of this; I have never been in an organization that felt as happy and positive as this one. That positivity and dedication makes a huge difference in the atmosphere that inspires CEOLI staff, CEOLI students, and visitors from Pittsburgh like us. 

3. You will never stop learning and growing.

Technically, after college, I will have a Certificate in Leadership and Ethics. While being a part of this certificate program is one of the best decisions I have made in college and I love all that I’m learning through it, I think that it’s important to recognize and admit that this certificate doesn’t automatically make me a leader.

As we discussed in class, you are always working on becoming a leader. I used to say that I am a leader, but this experience has taught me that I still have so much to learn; everyone still has so much to learn no matter what stage of life you are in. I can always be improving myself and working to develop my leadership skills, and even in the future when I’m deep into my career I will still be working to develop my leadership skills. 

4. Reflecting is so important.

This fourth key lesson is one of the most important lessons. Through this experience I learned how to properly reflect, and I learned the importance of it. I learned to take a step back and actually think about what just happened – not even just “what” happened, but why it happened and what kind of implications exist because of what happened.

Reflecting is something that I thought I knew how to do, but I think that I was really just reflecting at a surface level. When we sat down as a group in Cochabamba at the end of each day, talking together and connecting all of our thoughts really added value to what I had experienced during that day. This was especially beneficial because the days seemed so long since we were doing so much!

In addition to the key lessons that I learned, I also gained transferable skills from this experience. We talk about transferable skills a lot in the business school, and I can definitely see myself using the skills that I gained through this experience as I move towards a career.

One of the transferable skills that I really worked on this semester is delegating tasks when working on a team. I’ve never been good at assigning tasks in group projects because I tend to just take on more work rather than trusting that other people in my group can do the work. Because we split into a social media team and a sales channel team, I was forced to give up control over the social media aspect of our project, which was honestly a good thing for me. In this group project, I learned to trust my group members. I learned how to be accountable for what I say I’m going to do, and I learned how to hold my other teammates accountable for their pieces of the project too. In the real world I know I’ll be working in teams a lot, and I know that I have to work on letting others have control rather than me taking on too much. This experience helped me develop that delegation skill which will be really helpful for the future  

I found the articles, “Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team,” “Top 10 Project Team Challenges,” as well as the in-class discussion that followed the articles to be some of the most interesting articles and conversations we had this semester. The communication and accountability pieces of those articles really resonated with me because since we were divided into two teams, communication and accountability were especially important. Without either of those, the team would not be successful so it’s important that we discussed those topics and talked about how non-successful teams lack these qualities.

In addition, I think that creating a Scope of Work is a skill that I will definitely use as I move towards a career. In my CPLE class this semester, I knew exactly how to format it and I had a much better understanding of how to put realistic goals and deliverables on the scope. This was helpful for my CPLE group, and I know that in the future I will continue to create Scope of Work documents so it’s an important skill to practice early on.

One of my expectations that was met involves the idea of a high context vs. a low context society. Because of the research that we completed beforehand, I was expecting Bolivia to be aligned with the characteristics of a high context culture. This was apparent in our meetings at CEOLI because the staff really emphasized how much they value the relationship that they have been building with Pitt students.

An expectation that was not met was that I expected the language barrier to be a much bigger challenge than it ended up being. Since my only other truly abroad (aka going somewhere other than Canada) experience was in China, I was expecting this to be a little more like that where communication is difficult both ways. However, I was lucky that the years of Spanish classes started coming back to me and I was able to successfully communicate for a majority of the time.

The only in-country challenges that I faced were 1)getting sick and 2)feeling sad leaving the organization and the kids, knowing that we’re doing all that we can right now but there’s still so much more to be done to help them. I think that the second challenge became a slightly different challenge once we were back in Pittsburgh because you want to do more for CEOLI, but you also have to understand the time constraint and respect what is in the scope.

I can’t wait to see the work that the students do with CEOLI and Amizade next year.