Five. It is hard to believe that in only five more days it will be spring break and I will be getting on a plane to go to Bolivia. The past two months have gone by so quick but gave us a better understanding and preparation for some of the things that we will experience in Bolivia. We have spent a lot of time getting a better understanding of some of the cultural norms within Bolivia, which includes things like communication, relationships, time, and how certain aspects of business are conducted. This is all very important because when we arrive in Bolivia we will experience all of these and will not have much time to adjust since we will only be there for one week. While some of these may be a challenge to our group, it is also an opportunity for us to grow and get better through experience. The past few weeks we have gotten the opportunity to learn more about the trip and meet some of the people from CEOLI and Amizade that we will be working with in Bolivia. I am extremely excited to have this experience that will help me grow in so many ways both professionally and personally. This program gives me the opportunity to get more professional experience with consulting for a client, in addition to building my cultural awareness while meeting and interacting with a new people in Bolivia.
The first cultural norm that may be a challenge to us while in Bolivia is building personal relationships and how this is important in every part of the culture including while conducting business. In the United States, a lot of people are more logical and task-oriented, where they focus on the work and task at hand rather than spending the time to build a relationship and connection before conducting work and business. In Bolivia it is very different as it is a much more situational and relationship-based culture which includes spending the time to build a relationship with someone before you jump into the work or anything else that you are doing. This is an adjustment that we will have to make in Bolivia throughout the first few days by spending more time on the relationship rather than constantly focusing on the questions and the work we are doing. The challenging part with this is the time constraint that we have of only being there for less than a week and not knowing when it is appropriate to focus on the task and work rather than the relationship. We must be careful when forming the relationship and spending that time as it is an important part of the work and we do not want to be disrespectful and hurt the current relationship with CEOLI.
Another one of the cultural aspects that may pose a problem for the group the communication barrier. This communication barrier is made up of several parts including the language difference between English and Spanish and the context of communication in Bolivian society versus the United States. The United States is a low-context society where we are used to using language that is much simpler and precise so that the message is very direct and understood easily. However, Bolivia is more of a high-context society which means that the message may be harder to interpret and understand. With this in mind, we will need to listen carefully and prepare to ask questions for clarification while also trying to avoid being disrespectful. Having this awareness and knowledge of the communication differences should help us while in Bolivia. Additionally, Bolivia is a primarily Spanish speaking country which may pose a difficulty since our group has minimal Spanish speaking experience. Even with the use of translators it may still be difficult because we will need to make sure the translator clearly understands what we are trying to ask or communicate with them. This could be frustrating at times when trying to communicate and build relationships, but with patience and this understanding we can still be successful while in Bolivia.
One of the other cultural norms that we need to be aware of that may be a challenge for the group is the scheduling and idea of managing time within their culture and business. In the United States, especially for business meetings or other important meetings and events, it is important to be on time or even early whereas in Bolivia they are much more flexible with time and meetings. This can be difficult for us as we are not used to this idea and expectation for time, so we will need to be flexible and willing to adapt to their environment and expectations. Going in with this awareness should help our team as a whole and understand that it is completely normal for things to change with time and to need to be flexible if there are changes to our itinerary and plans for the trip and each day.
Another thing that may be challenging for our group specifically is the political landscape within Bolivia and the current events that have an impact on the citizens and businesses. Throughout the class and our culture smart presentation, we have discussed the influence of politics and current events a lot as we must have situational awareness and understand how this can be very controversial and have major impacts on CEOLI. We must be considerate and thoughtful when asking questions about the impact and current political situation as it is very important to our project and the future of CEOLI. One of our deliverables and major parts of the project is a juice stand; however, with current construction and projects that are going on outside of CEOLI are currently delayed and the progression of those projects and the political situation will continue to impact the business and new ideas for the future.
Although we may face some challenges throughout the trip, I also anticipate obtaining a lot of personal growth and learning from our experiences in Bolivia. One of the greatest aspects of growth I hope to achieve and anticipate coming from this program is a greater intercultural competence. The idea of intercultural competence includes effective and appropriate behavior and communication in intercultural situations. We will get the opportunity to build our intercultural competence while in country in Bolivia through our behavior and communication with everyone at CEOLI and that we meet with throughout the week. Being able to create a better understanding and appreciation for cultural differences is an amazing opportunity that many students and people don’t get normally. I got the opportunity last year during my two-week trip to South Korea as part of the Plus 3 program to improve my intercultural competence, but this experience is a whole new level as we will have constant communication and interactive work with CEOLI, the students, and other Bolivian citizens.
Another takeaway that I hope to get from this experience deals with improving my communications and relationships with clients and people overall. As I hope to work with clients in my future career, either as a consultant or otherwise, this is an amazing opportunity to grow and develop more experiences with client relationships. The relationship and communication with a client is a very important aspect of being a successful consultant and being able to get this experience at such an early point in my education and career is amazing. Our collaborative relationship with CEOLI and Amizade will help our team as we get to Bolivia, but together we will have to work and continuous build our own relationships and connections with CEOLI and everyone involved. Outside of the business aspect, I believe this experience will also help me with my communication and relationships in my daily life as I may realize how sometimes it is more important to work on your relationship than focusing and only looking at the work and task at hand. We are always told how important it is to build our network and having this experience with building relationships can allow me to build a stronger and more meaningful network.
One of the other things that I hope to gain and improve upon from this experience in Bolivia is my flexibility and adaptability. This comes from numerous things throughout the trip including some of the challenges that I previously mentioned such as the communication in a high-context society and time management and schedules. Throughout the trip I will most likely need to adapt due to unexpected changes and challenges that may deal with communication or expectations, and how I deal with this will help me a lot throughout the trip and in future experiences when I will need to adapt or be flexible with either a group or client. When you are working with a client or group, it is nearly inevitable that you will need to adapt or make changes and overcoming this can be the most influential thing for a successful or unsuccessful group or team. The more experience that I get from this trip will help me understand how I can be more flexible as a team member, a leader, or any other aspect of life when things may change and become challenging. Similarly, this semester and trip has provided me the opportunity to learn about project management and team challenges. In class we discussed the top 10 project team challenges that deal with project management, working with a diverse team, dealing with risk, and communication and this program will help me understand how we can manage these challenges.
I am excited about this opportunity as we are finally getting to meet everyone at CEOLI and explore Cochabamba. This experience provides me an amazing opportunity to grow personally and as a professional through the work and relationships that I build. Even though we will face many challenges throughout the trip, I think that everything I have learned throughout the class so far and in my education here at Pitt that we will be able to overcome and grow from these experiences.