Just over three weeks ago, I thought I was going to spend my spring break in Bolivia. Today, I write to you from my house. No, not my place in Oakland; my childhood house. As I wrote to you in my previous blog, we were days away from departing for Bolivia. Actually, it was 4 days, to be exact, and after months of uncertainty surrounding the political climate in Bolivia, we thought we were finally to the point that we could say, with confidence, we are going to Bolivia.
The Coronavirus thought differently.
The afternoon after I finished writing my most recent blog, the University of Pittsburgh cancelled all spring break study abroad and study away programs. At the time, it seemed absurd, as there were very few cases of the Coronavirus in any of the Americas. Yet, a week later, the university announced that we would not be returning to campus after spring break concluded as the spread of the virus continued to spread and wreak havoc across the world. People began to lose their jobs. Spring sports were cancelled at all levels. The Olympics are postponed. Everyone has been affected by this pandemic in some way. Not to mention that, wow, I did not expect to finish the semester quarantined in my childhood house via a platform called Zoom. Time to pivot.
Not traveling to Bolivia led to a slew of ramifications for both us as a group as well as our client, CEOLI. Why? The Global Service Learning program is largely developed with reciprocity in mind; we talk about it starting day 1 of the course. We provide the client with knowledge, potential sales channels, and a plan. The client provides us, as students, the opportunity to learn about consulting and doing business in a new culture. This reciprocity is structured largely on traveling to the host country in order to gather primary research, learn the culture, and meet the client. By doing this, we can serve the needs of the client more effectively, and this experiential learning is also a much more complete experience for us as students. These are key reasons why the impact of not traveling has wide impacts on both CEOLI and the GSL group. Further, Bolivia is currently under a nationwide lockdown, so it is increasingly difficult to get any primary research – even remotely.
For us, as students, the impacts are both professional and personal. Professionally, the impact is clear. We are unable to gather a lot of the primary research that we need in order to deliver our project effectively, and we are also unable to forge the personal relationship that is extremely important when doing business in a culture that is very collectivist. These two challenges, presented by being unable to travel to the host country, are very real. We will have to largely rely on secondary research as well as information given to us by prior groups. Personally, the impact is also very important. We will not be experiencing the culture of a new place, and we have missed out on a trip that promised to provide us with the opportunity to learn in many aspects of our lives. Further, on a more domestic level, it will also impact our experiences as we look for new opportunities in the future. These impacts are directly associated with the cancellation of the travel component, for CEOLI will be unable to guide us through this part of the program.
As disappointing as it is not to travel to Bolivia, there are even larger ramifications for CEOLI. The sales channels in the USA for CEOLI cards provide an important piece of revenue for the organization. By not being able to travel, we are unable to bring back cards to sell for the organization, we are unable to gather some of the research needed to sell the cards effectively, and with the stay at home orders across the country, we are unable to gain access to local retailers to be able to sell the cards. Further, by not traveling, we are unable to provide the support for CEOLI that we originally planned, and it will make our final recommendations less complete. This will have an impact on the client as our work is important for the organization to remain viable.
At this point, we have had to pivot to adapt to what we have been given; we’ve talked about adaptability a lot throughout the course, and this is definitely a point in time that the concept is extremely relevant with the current world affairs. At the time that I got the news about our trip being canceled, several emotions swept through me. I was sad, upset, and even a little angry. At that moment, I did not understand the logic at the University level, for there had been no confirmed cases in Bolivia at the time of the decision by the University to cancel the program. There actually were only a few cases in all of South America, and the outbreak in the US was largely limited to Seattle at the time. Within a day, though, I came to terms with the new reality. I still didn’t agree (even now, I think the decision to cancel the program was premature), but I understood the impact this would have on our deliverables and began to adapt.
This adaptation was not easy, however, and it has come with a great deal of challenges. When we left for break, we had planned to schedule calls with our in-country partners so that we would still be able to gather the research that we needed to complete our deliverables. However, we did not return to campus after break, and Bolivia recently entered a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the virus. This created new challenges, and we are continuing to adapt on the fly. Instead of video calls, we are now planning to have written communications with our in-country partners to hopefully still obtain the information that we need, and we will be in communication with Amizade as well. As much of the world continues to shutter, the logistical challenges have continued to grow, but I am confident that our group is flexible enough to be able to handle these additional challenges.
Personally, these adaptations have become easier to deal with through each passing day. The initial reaction to the trip being cancelled has subsided, and we have had the time to work through how exactly our project will be changed as a result of the pandemic. While still disappointing, the time that we have had since learning about the cancellation has allowed me to fully process the hand we have been dealt, and I am ready to work as hard as we can to deliver the best project possible to our client in the face of these challenges.
Outside of the academic world and my own personal frustrations, this COVID-19 pandemic will and is having a huge impact on economies and nations. In the United States, we are seeing many small businesses shutter as many states, including Pennsylvania, have issued stay at home orders. While these closures are temporary, it is possible that businesses may not reopen once this pandemic is over. In fact, it isn’t just small businesses. Large companies – some of the world’s biggest – are struggling. Boeing, the USA’s largest exporter, is facing huge losses as the company shut down production, and the aviation industry is on the brink of bankruptcy if the US government does not step in.
These are the issues that some of the USA’s biggest companies are facing; we can only expect that these issues will be magnified in a smaller country like Bolivia. Many of the communities are not as fortunate as we are, and demand shocks like the one we are currently experiencing could have sweeping impacts. CEOLI as an organization has had financial struggles for many years, and the coronavirus will only further accelerate these issues. It is now even more important to focus on our project so that we are able to deliver to our client. With that being said, this has and will continue to have a significant impact on our project. As I stated previously, we were unable to collect much of our primary research from in-country, and we are largely unable to access CEOLI at this point. Further, while it may be too late in the program for the focus of our project to dramatically change, future groups and the entire 10-year plan may have to be reworked as we enter an entirely new world after this pandemic.
The wide trip cancellations by the University is unprecedented. The closure of the University to in-person classes in unprecedented. This pandemic is unprecedented. It will have sweeping ramifications for both myself, CEOLI, the University, and the world as a whole. While the challenges that we face are undesirable, it is time to work together and forge ahead with our project to honor the commitment that we made to the client. Additionally, the transferable skills and the struggles that we are experiencing will serve me far into the future as I look for new opportunities. While we didn’t get to travel to Bolivia, we are still making a global impact From the Classroom, To the World.
I’ll be writing again soon, and I’ll have more to share about how we are finishing are project. Until then, stay healthy, and Hail to Pitt!