Trading in Palm Trees for My Parents’ House

Well, A LOT has changed since my last blog post! For starters, our trip to Puerto Rico never came to fruition. Unfortunately, Pitt decided to cancel all spring break study abroad programs due to the Coronavirus. We found out about this less than five days before we left and we were all devastated, to say the least. So, instead of spring break in Puerto Rico, I chose the next best thing: spring break in my parents’ house on the other side of PA! I did not expect to be staying here for the rest of the semester though.  However, due to the virus’s spread, Pitt has moved all classes online, so here I am! Needless to say, this has added to the difficulty of our project. We now have missed out on the in-country experience and have to work remotely with each other members from Caras con Causa. We are now less than a week in to this new normal, but our team and Caras have made successful progress in adapting to the unprecedented situation.

Since this course and project is hands-on, traveling to Puerto Rico was an important aspect. While there, we were going to see the environmental field lab, experience the community of Catano, meet with members of Caras con Causa, and contextualize our project to a great degree. However, not traveling is not only detrimental to our group, but also Caras con Causa. Since we were not able to achieve said things in country, we now have to decrease our promises to Caras con Causa. The major ramification that we and Caras con Causa both face is not being able to meet each other in-person. It is extremely difficult to consult without having a good relationship between the consultant and client. Thankfully, we can rely on the relationship that the University of Pittsburgh has developed with Caras con Causa to fill this void. A ramification for our group is that we have not experienced the product we are marketing. This is an issue because we cannot do firsthand research on the environmental field lab. We will have to rely on Caras con Causa to provide pictures, key features, and testimonials for the marketing piece. This leads to a ramification for Caras con Causa because they are now receiving less in-depth deliverables. The planned deliverables were all things that Caras con Causa needed, but did not have time to do themselves. Therefore, our client will have to perform extra work after we deliver the deliverables, or will have to wait a year until the next group advances the project.

The major loss for us students is the in-country experience. The study abroad aspect of this course is the main feature and provides a unique structure unlike most classes at Pitt. Traveling to these countries (Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Trinidad) and interacting with the community is a once in a lifetime opportunity. While I can travel to Puerto Rico and stay at a resort, I will not experience its’ culture like I would have on this trip. To me, that is the biggest disappointment and one I will look back on and think of what could have been. However, it is out of everyone’s control now, so the best we can do is to stay committed to the project.

The sudden changes that occurred in a week has put my flexibility and ability to adapt to the test. While the shock and disappointment of having the trip canceled clouded my emotions, the cancelation of all in-person classes put things in perspective. When I saw the email about spring break study abroad cancelations, I was nothing short of mad.

How could they cancel it less than five days before we leave? Coronavirus is not even in Puerto Rico right now, so what does it matter?

All these questions and thoughts rushed through my mind and I felt deflated. We had been putting tons of time into this project, but going to Puerto Rico was going to make it well worth it. So the sudden change of plans seemed unfathomable. However, a week later the decision made much more sense. Canceling spring break no longer felt like a decision that Pitt chose to make, but one they were forced to make.

After taking a week off from the project and clearing my mind during spring break, I was ready to get back to work. Reflecting on that chaotic week, I would say I was neither flexible nor adaptable. However, I think that would be an unreasonable request after the events that unfolded. What is more important is how flexible and adaptable I am able to be moving forward with the project. In this aspect, I believe that I have been both. In fact, everyone in the group has done a great job at this. We have adjusted our deliverables and expectations for Caras con Causa and have met with key members of the organization. Our major deliverable was a strategic marketing initiative for the environmental field lab; we had planned to create and price a study abroad/research package, identify customers, and market it. However, we had to pull back on this promise. Our pricing report and the creation of a package is going to be less accurate than we originally hoped. This is because we cannot administer a survey that would identify key aspects of the package. However, we utilized our meeting with Caras con Causa to understand where past groups stayed, what activities they did, and received some costs for the environmental field lab. This information will help fill in the gaps that we were unable to attain. Within a week of resuming work on the project, we have established our new path forward and feel confident that we can deliver on the adjusted deliverables. It was important we adjusted quickly because we have lost two weeks, so our time is constrained.

As the Coronavirus continues to spread, hospitals will be overwhelmed and public health will be put in jeopardy. The scary part is that this is a reality that we will soon face on the mainland United States. This is a place with cutting edge technology and medicine, top hospitals, and world-renowned doctors.

But what about Puerto Rico?

Puerto Rico is not as prepared. A place that is still riddled with hurricane and earthquake damage causing infrastructure to fail is not ready for a pandemic. Puerto Rico does not have a reliable energy grid. Puerto Rico does not have a government that can provide aid; based on history, I do not believe the US government will be of much assistance. Puerto Rico does not have a state-of-the-art health care system. Thankfully, they are taking the same precautions as much of the United States: school canceled, working from home, social distancing. While this helps curb the spread of the virus, it has serious implications for the island’s economy. Much of Puerto Rico is working class, so a reduction in hours and store traffic could lead to families losing essential income. Since the government has billions of dollars in debt, there will be no relief for Puerto Ricans. Also, if Puerto Ricans acted anything like people in the states, then most supplies are probably sold out on the island. This is even more of a problem for Puerto Rico because it is an island. The supplies will take longer to get there and be more expensive when they arrive. The ramifications of this virus are far reaching and could prove to be another disaster for Puerto Rico.

Like I have touched on previously, the spread of the Coronavirus throughout the United States and Puerto Rico has impacted our project. We are unable to administer our survey because professors and study abroad directors have more pressing issues right now. We also may have difficulty contacting competitor field labs to establish price points. In addition, Caras con Causa has more pressing needs than marketing their environmental field lab. They have a charter school they still have to run. Their teachers need to create coursework that is doable at home. They have to postpone research projects in the lab. We need to be cognizant of this as we may have limited access to them as we continue to project. We used our time with Caras con Causa in a Zoom meeting today wisely, and got many of our questions answered.

I am excited to continue this project with Caras con Causa. I keep reminding myself that Caras con Causa is positively impacting countless students in Puerto Rico, so, at the very least, we can see this project through and deliver a quality product to them. This is a scenario straight from a thriller movie. Every aspect of life has been upended. We are all facing new challenges from not being able to buy toilet paper to having our dogs bark uncontrollably in the background of our Zoom meetings. It has been great that everyone in the group has been communicating and showing a great deal of teamwork. We will have to find new solutions to these new problems!