Over the course of the past three weeks, life as we all know it has dramatically changed. Back on March 3rd, I was preparing to pack for my trip to Trinidad and my biggest worry was if I would forget to pack my toothpaste. Then March 4th came. Three days before our intended departure. My whole world was seemingly turned upside down as I found out that our trip was suddenly canceled with no forewarning due to the coronavirus pandemic. I was immediately overcome with a plethora of emotions, most of them being negative. Fast forward to today, all of my classes have been converted to an online format, my state is on lockdown, and I don’t even know when the next time I will be able to leave my house to go anywhere will be. I’m quickly realizing how fast life can change and the importance of adaptability and flexibility.
As we have discussed many times in our global service-learning class and read about in various articles such as “Developing Intercultural Competence by Participating In Intensive Intercultural Service-Learning” by Nadia De Leon, service learning is largely reciprocity-based. This means that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between both parties involved. In our case, the 2 main stakeholders were our group and the organizations we were working with in Trinidad, Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group.
With the travel aspect of our project being removed, we, as Pitt Business student consultants, are left with many consequences to face. The first of these, and arguably the greatest, is that it will be significantly more difficult to complete our deliverables without the primary research we were planning to gather while in country. Our main deliverable is a customized marketing plan for Nature Seekers’ Turtle Warriors brand. While they can still give us information that we request virtually, it will be difficult to get a feel for ourselves about the workings of their organization, their products, and Trini culture as a whole. Because of this, we are going to have to be much more reliant than anticipated upon information sent virtually by the organization, secondhand research, and the cultural analysis completed by last year’s group. This, in turn, may lead to a less detailed report than we had initially hoped for. However, we are still going to put in as much effort as possible to make it as detailed as possible so that it is still applicable and helpful for Nature Seekers’ efforts. Prior to our intended to departure, we had already completed a best practices report detailing takeaways from similar organizations that can be applied to Nature Seekers’ marketing strategy. Because this was all secondhand research that was already complete, I don’t anticipate needing to change it. In contrast, we have had to completely remove our third deliverable which was intended to detail an analysis for a partnership between Nature Seekers and DORCAS. Most of our communication with DORCAS was going to be in country so this aspect of our project is no longer feasible. The alterations of our deliverables will be difficult but definitely doable. My team and I are so invested in this project that we are constantly analyzing how we can put our best effort forward in order to do everything we can to help Nature Seekers.
Aside from how our deliverables will be affected, we will also be affected on an individual level. Personally, this trip was a chance for me to increase my intercultural competency through interactions with locals. I was eager to see what Trini time is really like, to experience such unique cuisine, and to see such a beautiful destination. It was supposed to be my first time out of the country so I was really looking forward to seeing how it would change my view on the world. I was also excited to work with my group every day and improve more of my transferrable skills, such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. Obviously, I’ve been consistently working on these in class and when we meet together, but spending a week straight communicating with and challenging each other was going to add a whole new dimension to this.
The Trini organizations we were supposed to work with will also suffer a great loss from this. As I previously discussed, we have had to eliminate the deliverable pertaining to the DORCAS Women’s Group, so this takes away any possible benefit to them. We have decided to move this aspect to a recommendation for next year’s group though, so hopefully they will be able to provide insight to the Women’s group as to how they could work with Nature Seekers in the future. As for Nature Seekers’ organization, they are going to miss out on some of the great detail and depth we were planning to add to our marketing plan. However, they will still receive the best practices report which we had coordinated predeparture, as well as the slightly less detailed marketing plan, so there is definitely still a great benefit for them. I know both groups love when Pitt Business students come to visit them each year, so I am sure they are truly disappointed that the trip was cancelled too.
While the cancellation of travel did pose great challenges for our group, it showed us the
importance of adaptability and flexibility in not only business situations, but also general life situations. Prior to this change, I had already considered these transferrable skills to be strengths of mine as I discussed in a previous blog post. Because of this, when we received the news, after my initial sadness and anguish faded, I quickly pivoted to thinking about how we would be able to alter our project to something that we would be able to complete remotely. Whereas other team members of mine were struggling to understand how we would be able to accomplish the goals we had previously set, I feel as though I adapted quite well to creating an alternative plan. The most difficult part for me was just being upset personally that I would not get to have the once in a lifetime experience that I had planned. I was also just extremely upset that we had found out a mere three days before we were supposed to leave, and that we had not received any indication prior to this that cancellation was even a possibility. Looking back though, I now see that the university made the right choice and I am thankful that they did so because had there been complications during travel either to or from Trinidad due to the pandemic, the consequences would have been even more severe than they currently are.
On a larger scale, the coronavirus has been and continues to be largely detrimental to lives globally. Pennsylvania, as I previously noted, is currently on a mandated lockdown with all nonessential business closed and stay-at-home orders from the governor. This has had a huge effect on small businesses and low-income families especially, so it has been devastating to see the effects especially here in my hometown, as I live rurally where this describes much of our population. On a national level, the virus is spreading rapidly and much of the country is quickly transitioning to the lockdown scenario that Pennsylvania already has. This is leading the stock market to quickly fall and hospitals to be overwhelmed with a lack of necessary property, plant, and equipment to keep up with the influx of patients.
COVID-19 is essentially the virus felt around the world, so I do not think I would be wrong to assume there will be great consequences to Trinidad and even some that are similar to those I just described here in America. According to an article written by nationnews.com, as of Sunday March 22nd, Trinidad had reported fifty positive cases of coronavirus with forty of them coming from people who were on a Caribbean cruise. While fifty seems like a relatively low number in comparison to the tens of thousands of cases in the United States, it is actually a very large number relative to their population of only a million. For reference, the U. S. has a population of over three hundred million people. Given that the country is so small, I do predict that there may be an incredibly rapid spread of the virus if proper precautions are not taken, which could really hurt their medical system and such. I am not currently sure of the state of Matura and Matelot, the sites of Nature Seekers and DORCAS Women’s Group. If they go on a lockdown similar to those in the United States, it could wreak havoc on our projects as many Trinis do not have Wi-Fi in their homes so it would be difficult for them to maintain contact with us. We are completely understanding though that their personal lives always take precedence over their professional duties.
These unpredictable circumstances have taken quite the toll on everyone and honestly, like everyone else, I can’t wait for this pandemic to end. With no end in sight though, it is important that we all stay safe and appreciate what we do have. Personally, I’ve been enjoying using this time in quarantine to reflect on the past few weeks, to improve upon my running, and to spend quality time with my immediate family (from a distance, of course). Even in times of uncertainty, there is always something good to be found.