Wow. What a whirlwind. I will never forget sitting in 2200 Sennott on March 3rd when the email went out announcing that all spring break travel was canceled. I was completely devastated for a plethora of reasons which I will dive into throughout this blog post. My global service-learning student team is amazing; we have been hard at work for the past three months now and I could not be more grateful to have such a fantastic team. But a lot of my devastation came from the loss of such a unique and immersive cultural experience. Reflecting on the past couple of weeks, losing the Trinidad trip was just the tip of the iceberg for me. Every single University of Pittsburgh student, staff member, and faculty have had their lives flipped upside down over the past three weeks. For me, COVID-19 took away my spring break trip, my guaranteed summer internship/study abroad experience, classroom learning, my remaining fraternity events for the semester, and has spread my loved ones back to their homes around the world. Now, being back at my house with my parents, life this week is the complete opposite of what I thought it would be three weeks ago. Due to the practice of social distancing, I have had a plethora of, maybe even too much, time to grieve my losses and allow myself to be frustrated. But one important thing I have realized is that nobody on the entire planet will come out of this pandemic unaffected. People are losing their jobs, their houses, and devastatingly, their loved ones. Coronavirus has forced me to look at my life and be grateful for things that I have taken for granted such as internet access for online learning, two supportive parents that allow me to focus on school with minimal distraction, and a living space where I feel comfortable finishing my sophomore year. I am lucky that the only aspect of my life affected so far is the loss of plans and events. That can not be said for thousands of people around the globe.
According to google, reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another. I will start with our main client, Nature Seekers. Nature Seekers is a small, nonprofit organization, fighting a pretty large fight. Their commitment to leatherback sea turtles and their beaches and natural environment, in general, is outstanding. More and more each day, we hear about climate change and how animals and environments are being impacted. It is an astronomical issue, one that millions if not billions of people must work to fix. So, every organization dedicating its resources to protecting the organisms that do not have a say is extremely important. Nature Seekers specifically asked us for help designing a marketing strategy for their new brand Turtle Warriors along with general best practices for the business part of their organization. Although they will still receive our two deliverables for those requests, those documents will not be at the same caliber as they would be with the international trip. Having in-country conversations would allow our consulting team to envision the best picture of what exactly Nature Seekers wanted and produce new ideas based on our observations. Seeing the physical environment of their store, guesthouse, and interacting with the Matura community all would have contributed to the content of our deliverables through the ability to tailor them more to Nature Seekers. Shifting to the Matelot community and DORCAS Women’s Group, from our scope of work, they will no longer be getting a partnership analysis. Through strategic, in-country conversations, our team was going to identify the plausibility of connecting the Matelot community, through DORCAS to Nature Seekers. Without this primary research of conversations, this deliverable is not long plausible. And that, I believe, is the largest ramification of not traveling for both us, and our clients. Not being able to communicate face to face greatly diminishes the cross-cultural communication skills we all would have developed otherwise. In my second blog, I wrote a lot about cross-cultural communication and how that was a skill I was deeply interested in growing. If we had gone to Trinidad on the international portion of this class, we would have become part of the country, not just tourists. I was looking forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories, eating their delicious home-made meals, and working together to enrich their organizations during our short stay there. Although our clients probably would not have gone into our conversations with a clear-cut goal of “enhancing their cross-cultural communication skills”, it would have happened naturally, nonetheless. It is disappointing that our remaining two deliverables will not be as solid as our team hoped but that ramification mainly falls on our clients. All of us students are still getting the credits and resume building information that we intended from this class, but we lost the experiential learning part that is huge to service-learning. We are still actively reflecting through blogs, but we are no longer participating in in-person experiences with our clients and other Trinis and reflecting as a group at the end of the day.
As previously mentioned, I was devastated upon receiving the initial email announcing the cancellation of spring break trips. My number one trait from the strength finder’s examination was adaptability so I consider myself a very adaptable person. But due to the magnitude of this project and class, pivoting was not the first thing on my mind. What made this situation so difficult for me was that I knew the international portion was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. The way the trip was structured was in a way that could not be replicated for regular tourists, it was made just for us. I am planning on only spending four years on my undergraduate education and I want to pack as many memorable experiences in those years as I possibly can. Additionally, I recognized at that moment that I would no longer be going to Dublin for the international internship program as well. It was not announced or officially decided at the time, but I knew that it was only a matter of time. Having two international experiences taken away because of a situation nobody has control over was difficult to process in one day. The rest of that Tuesday I allowed myself to be upset and was anxious about how our class together on Wednesday would go. I knew there were many high levels of emotions but ultimately, no absolute solutions. Despite the solemn energy in the room, I was satisfied with the class discussions that Wednesday and was thankful that all of the staff and faculty members took time to hear everyone out. By the end of that class, I felt ready to move forward with evolving our scope and expectations as I had already digested the information the night before. As of today, Tuesday, March 24th, the week we would have flown to Trinidad has come and gone and I have moved back to an academic focus. I am moving forward, working diligently with my team to finish up our project before the end of the semester.
From an article published on March 22nd, Trinidad has 50 confirmed cases and Tobago just got their first confirmed case as well. Both Trinidad and Tobago are much smaller geographically than the United States with proportionally smaller populations so there will not be as many cases in the country. When I think about the city of Port of Spain, I see it being impacted similarly to how a city like Pittsburgh would be affected. There will likely reach a couple of thousand cases. However, much of our time was going to be spent on the eastern, more rural part of the island where people do not move around as much. Although it is possible, I do not see the virus impacting a community like Matelot significantly as its patrons do not seem to travel often. Trinidad and Tobago are also less economically developed than the United States so there will likely be inconsistencies in a medical capacity, support for unemployment and other crisis aid between the two countries. Our project was based around ecotourism, a form of tourism utilized for supporting weak, endangered natural environments. The tourism industry throughout the globe is collapsing due to this pandemic and will take a long time to rebound. So many objectives Nature Seekers had such as establishing consignment stores, promoting Turtle Warriors, and coming out with Men’s products may not be plausible with the resources the organization has at the moment. As discussed above, my team’s direct contribution to the 10-year plan will not be greatly affected when it comes to our deliverables. However, the economic impact of this pandemic will still be relevant for the group next year and possibly beyond.
When all is said and done, I am happy that I am safe and healthy. Seeing travel warnings and bans emerging rapidly every day around the world, it makes complete sense why our trip was canceled. This is a scary and ambiguous time and I am sure everyone can relate when I say I can not wait for the day this is over and I am only reflecting on the impacts of COVID-19. I miss my school, Hail to Pitt, and I hope to make it to Trinidad one day.