I learned a lot throughout my semester in this Global Service Learning class. First and foremost, I have gained an understanding about expectations versus reality. As March began, I was frantically preparing my supplies for my trip to Trinidad and buying sunscreen and bug wipes on Amazon. Just a couple days later, I was lying in bed, just told of the cancellation of our trip, finding solace in the fact that I would at least get to spend the rest of the semester working interactively with my peers at Pitt. A week after that I was told the rest of Pitt’s Spring semester was moving online, and I had to come move out of my dorm the following day. Everything was a whirlwind. I feel like I lost a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore a new country, gain valuable consulting experience, increase my business competency, and learn more about myself. Whereas my expectations for the power of this trip went unfulfilled, I took a lot of lessons from our dramatic and unexpected adaptation to ever-changing global challenges. And, honestly, I think I still learned a great deal about myself.
I am fortunate enough to not have had any earth-shattering negative surprises in my life. I have been disappointed by many uncontrollable things and frustrated about the outcome of different events, but this news was certainly some of the toughest I have ever received – in part due to its sudden, last minute nature. That said, I am proud of my response. I think, after the initial shock wore off and I could process the news, I was very level-headed and I worked to place myself in the shoes of those making the decisions. I understood that nobody was happy about how the events had shaken out. Being willing to step outside of your cloud of self-sympathy and analyze the situation from multiple viewpoints is beneficial in any situation professional or otherwise, and I will always remember this now. I think, if I had worked to be even more globally in tune, I would have realized the potential for this in advance and been less surprised, so I am taking that need for awareness away as another key lesson of this semester. Lastly, as I am sure everyone will concur, this semester gave me an abundance of practice in adaptability. When you can control something and it does not go how you planned, it is important to accept the error and move on or work to fix it. When something out of your hands is completely altered, you must find a way to adjust your attitude and your plan and figure out how to work around it. This semester, with online classes and digital client communication, we have done our best to adapt, and I feel like I will be much more comfortable with flexibility in the future.
Moving into my career, I expect my new lessons to play a role in my success. In the workplace, I think I will frequently attempt to decipher how others view situations and view me. Rather than focusing primarily on my own needs or wants, I want to step into others’ shoes and analyze different situations. Retrospectively, when thinking about my internship from last Summer, I realize that I could have catered my actions to promote more group productivity. For example, I feel like I could have better prioritized certain tasks, and I did not realize in the moment how crucial each of these tasks were to the different people in the office I was assisting. While I still accomplished all my work, I may have left some co-workers feeling like their work was less important which I could have avoided had I viewed the situation from their perspective.
Similarly, I fully expect adaptability to play a vital role in my immediate professional future. I am supposed to work as a Corporate Merchandising Intern for Dick’s Sporting Goods this summer; a role that I have eagerly prepped for since I arrived at Pitt. After receiving an internship offer, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders as I felt like my summer plans were set in stone. Now, thanks to the unpredictability and constantly changing nature of the coronavirus, I am unsure of my next steps. If the best-case scenario plays out, I will travel back to Pittsburgh in the middle of May and begin working in my role where I hope to have a real, long-term impact on the organization. If the Dick’s campus is not re-opened by that time, I am unsure whether they might try to initiate interns digitally, or if they may cancel the program altogether. To prep for a worst-case scenario, I have constantly thought about contingency plans for all different outcomes, but I am still fairly lost as to my next steps. Regardless of the circumstances, this Summer seems likely to give me a very real chance to test my growing ability to adapt to unexpected changes.
Additionally, all these new lessons are going to become perfect stories to use in future job interviews. Many future job candidates will likely have quarantine stories about how they found self-motivation while finishing a semester of school at home. This class provided a more significant experience for me. Detailing how I navigated an international consulting project while coordinating multiple group project meetings with seven of my peers will certainly stand out. In an interview, I can explain touch on all the lessons I detailed above, and specifically, I can touch on flexibility by demonstrating how we worked on developing lasting international relationships for Pitt Business by restructuring our project deliverables.
In figuring out how to complete our deliverables for our clients this semester, we certainly encountered a few challenges. Typically, thanks to the nature of a ten-year partnership like Pitt Business currently has with our clients in Trinidad, existing relationships would make overcoming communication challenges easier. However this year, as the primary client of focus for the project has shifted from the DORCAS Women’s Group in Matelot to Nature Seekers in Matura, there is less of an existing relationship to count on. Ironically, this lack of an in-depth business partnership makes the importance of this partnership even higher.
This semester, we discussed how to build ethical business relationships, and one of the key steps in this is to demonstrate care for the well-being of all. In working with Nature Seekers, since we could not actively demonstrate our attentiveness and eagerness to assist in person, we have focused on putting as much time as possible into our deliverables. We initially intended to create a marketing plan for Nature Seekers based on data we gathered in country. Once that became impossible, we decided to incorporate a large marketing audit into our report as well. This audit demonstrates our care for the organization as we took an in-depth look at every facet of their marketing in an attempt to mimic the knowledge we would have gained in country. So, although our deliverables changed due to the global issues, we actually utilized our resources to ensure that we still showed our care for the client. I am optimistic that this approach actually resulted in a better demonstration of our support for Nature Seekers, and productively working through this year will hopefully provide a successful, personal foundation for future Global Service Learning groups.
Although the international component of this program was a disappointing no-go, there were some parts of my pre-trip expectations that were still satisfied while others were not. In my first blog post of the semester, one of my largest goals was to push myself out of my comfort zone like I had on my previous study abroad trip. This did not happen in the manner I expected, but the last few weeks of this semester have been anything but comfortable. With huge life changes, quick, impactful decisions, and complex client communication channels, I have been forced to get comfortable with a new form of school life very quickly. Luckily for me, unlike many of my peers, my nine years of experience as a homeschooler allowed to me develop an independent-learning mindset that I am channeling daily.
Another goal I have achieved unexpectedly is realizing how lucky and privileged I am. I initially thought I would gain more of an appreciation for this by living in rural communities with minimal technology and resources, but it happened in the U.S. instead. Being torn away from school very quickly has given me a new appreciation for living on campus, interacting with friends every day, and making the most of the opportunities around me. Even now, as I live at home, I realize how lucky I am to be in the situation I am in. I live in a suburban area with plenty of space for social distancing and both of my parents are able to work from home and continue getting paid which is a luxury that fewer and fewer people have as businesses shut down. I recognize what a fortunate position I am in and having this trip canceled certainly helped open my eyes to this.
One dimension where this program fell short of my expectations was my lack of ability to gain international communication experience. While we did meet with our clients digitally before departing, we did not have many opportunities to do this. Even after the trip was canceled, we anticipated numerous video chats with our clients which would allow us to gather the information we needed to provide them with the best possible deliverables. Since we are quarantined at our homes and Trinidad’s government has instituted the same policy, this virtual face-to-face contact became impossible. We still have done a great deal of secondary research as a group, and we are providing Nature Seekers with the best possible marketing report that we can. Despite our work to overcome this challenge, I feel like a high level of intercultural communication practice fell short. This was nobody’s fault. But, it is a place where my pre-trip expectations were not met.
Additionally, on a less serious note, I spent the whole semester hearing about how wonderful the food in Trinidad was going to be. Everyone I talked to who had previously been to Trinidad raved about the freshly baked bread, the amazing fruits, and the incredible hot pepper sauce. I was looking forward to getting exposed to a wide new array of flavors and cuisines, and I guess this is something I’ll have to find a way to do later in life.
Although this program did not work out as anticipated, I still feel like I gained a lot of great experience from it, and I feel like I can still leave helpful suggestions for future Pitt students. As I have already mentioned multiple times, I think one of the biggest things to realize as early as possible in this program is the importance of using perspective in planning actions. I also think that it is essential to commit to this program 100%. Not only is there a financial burden attached to this study abroad experience, but the workload exceeds nearly all other Pitt Business classes. I have never had as many group meetings for a class as I did for this one, and every meeting was necessary. To effectively learn about multiple organizations, plan to meet them, design deliverables to benefit them, and spend your one off-week of the semester visiting them in just three-and-a-half months is a tall task. Working diligently from the very first week of classes is so important. Lastly, to any future Trinidad students, I would say don’t take this program for granted. Attending Pitt provides tons of one-of-a-kind opportunities, and programs like this one are at the top of the list. Barring another global crisis, I would hope next year’s program goes smoothly and students are able to travel. If this happens, just take it all in. As I learned the hard way, acceptance to the program does not guarantee you will be able to meet tons of intelligent, entertaining, diverse individuals from another country. Just appreciate what you have.
As I look back on this program, the memories will still be positive. I met a bunch of other, like-minded students who had a passion for this project, and we will certainly maintain friendships after this semester. I also got to work with faculty advisors in Bryan and Hillary who I have known since my trip to Vietnam freshman year. Their guidance has allowed me to gain a greater appreciation for completing international work, and I know I will stay in touch with them both moving forward. I am sad about the result of the semester, but I am embracing all the positive elements that I can. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to participate in this Service Learning project, and one thing I know for sure is that I will certainly do everything I can to make a trip to Trinidad in the future.
If this is my last blog post on the Pitt Business to the World page, it has been a great couple of years. Signing off! – Campbell