After the rollercoaster ride that was the Spring 2020 semester at Pitt, it is finally coming to an end. While a lot of changes occurred mentally, physically, socially, and academically, I learned a lot about life that I will hold close to me as I move forward into my junior year at Pitt Business. With the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been changed forever. For starters, the switch to online classes was a major adjustment for us all to take in and learn how to use Zoom in the moment. Regardless, the three client projects we had started at the beginning of the semester were still completed to the best of our ability. The most challenging to complete of those three was the Global Service-Learning Program class “Service-Learning Organizations” based on client work with Nature Seekers in Trinidad and Tobago. It was extremely difficult to deal with clients remotely from home, but especially in an entirely different country than the United States. After our trip was cancelled in early March, we did not have contact with our clients again. My group and I basically had to adjust our deliverables and continue with the execution of them without going in-country and without communicating further with our clients. The majority of the project completion was based on personal research we conducted in class in Pittsburgh. However, although it was a trying time and we were struggling with the desire to complete our project while adapting to abrupt changes, I learned a lot from this experience.
Like I just mentioned, although it was a trying time, I learned a lot from this experience that will allow me to be a better leader, student, and person in the future. There were a few key lessons that stood out to me during my reflection of this past semester. To start off, a lesson I learned is that nothing is certain. Anything can change in an instant regarding school, work, friends, and family so it is important to appreciate everything one has in the moment because one never knows when it will get taken away. I relate to the phrase “You never know what you have until it’s gone” every day because I never knew how much I would miss the littlest things like walking to class or grabbing lunch with my friends. On a similar note, adaptability and flexibility is key in any project or situation one is put in. With the outbreak of the Coronavirus, we were all forced to adapt at a very quick pace, but it is important to keep moving forward no matter what life throws at you. On a more specific note in regards to the culture portion of this experience, even with my previous study abroad experience in Italy for the Plus 3 Program, a lesson I learned is that one will always be surprised by the culture change in business operations when studying a new country or environment. It is necessary for one to come into a situation like this with an open mind and with no preformed judgements to truly expose oneself to a new culture. Regarding the project team, strong team communication and a mutual understanding of goals is necessary to complete a project efficiently and effectively. Additionally, I had to learn to consider how everyone was influenced by this sudden change in lifestyle, not only how it affected me. I used to struggle with putting myself in other people’s shoes but with this class that is something I have naturally started to do. Not only in the project team is this important but looking at it from our client’s perspective. Sure, we can no longer see our friends and are dealt with the inconvenience of adjusting to online classes, but before getting upset it is important to think about how a situation affects the other side. In Trinidad and Tobago, and across the world, economies have been shutting down leading to problems with running a business. For Nature Seekers, being a nonprofit, it is especially difficult currently to acquire the proper funding to stay in operation. Many individuals have been laid off from their positions and in a small country like Trinidad, this economic impact has had a greater effect on our client’s everyday lives compared to our situation.
A transferrable skill developed during this course despite, and especially from, not being able to travel is personal motivation. After everything exploding with the virus and not being able to travel, we all lost hope momentarily in what the point of the project even was if we could not visit our clients in person. Furthermore, after being sent home to continue the semester without friends or direct communication with professors and group members, it became difficult for many of us to find the motivation inside of us to carry out our assignments and projects to the full potential we have. However, after thinking about the prior relationship with our client, reminding ourselves that we are just one stage of the 10 year plan (and we cannot mess up previous work/effort or offset future groups), and remembering the promise we made with Pitt and with our clients in Trinidad, we were reminded of why we wanted to do this project in the first place. I personally found the motivation to execute what we had started to the best of my ability. This skill is extremely important in my future professional life as we will always be faced with challenges, and my mom has always told me that life is all about how you handle Plan B. The hurdles and obstacles in our way will not move, but it is our job to get over them to prevent giving up. Having that personal motivation will always make one stand out from others as they will have the determination to attain the unattainable and strive to do better. Employers want an individual who can problem-solve and who can always improve upon their skills, and that all starts with having the motivation to combat problems one is faced with.
Developing relationships is essential in conducting group work, especially that of which deliverables must be met. In working with any client that you are executing any sort of deliverable for, establishing a relationship with them will tremendously help understand their areas of concern and will educate you more about their organization as well as create a foundation of trust and communication. Pitt’s existing relationship with the in-country client held many strengths including the previous execution of promises/deliverables, familiarity with clients, and a formed an understanding of changes in expectations and abilities to provide deliverables. These helped our deliverables as we were able to adjust them to what was feasible at the moment without having to worry about upset clients or messing up the 10-year plan. However, there were some vulnerabilities present. Trinidad has a less developed technology network than in the United States, especially in Matura, the location of Nature Seekers, so communication was hard to create especially after the pandemic spread. This is not a fault of the Pitt-Client relationship but affected our deliverables as we could not be updated/get information since we couldn’t get in contact with them. As previously mentioned, we had to pull back on our deliverables and only deliver on information that we had gotten from the client before the pandemic or on information that we had researched ourselves. Continuing with the project helped the relationship as it shows Pitt Business’s commitment to carry out/work with their promises to clients to help them reach their desired business goals. Likewise, it shows the CPLE student’s professionality in adapting to the situation and still carrying out the project. This builds trust and shows how much Pitt cares about our clients even when they are in different countries.
In the original description of Global Service Learning, this program is already an attractive experience to bring up in an interview to a potential employer due to the cross-cultural component of the project as well as the continuing client consulting relationship showing the ability of Pitt Business students to fluidly work towards the same mission even in different stages of the project. However, given the constraints we faced, this became even more interesting. Although the in-country portion of the program was taken away, the fact that we were all still able to complete our deliverables and complete our presentation from remote locations shows incredible professionalism and dedication. I would explain this project as a cultural consulting project with a non-profit organization in a different country where my group and I worked to resolve varying business needs in a changing environment. With the constraints faced, I would pitch this as an opportunity to test and develop our adaptability, problem-solving, and quick reaction skills as even though we were given the opportunity to drop out of the program, many of us stuck to our original promise to the client. We learned how to work with limited resources, communication, and supervision to reach our desired goal. Overall, while it was a challenging experience, it gave me a great learning experience to share with potential future employers.
The three most important things that future groups should know is to communicate, be prepared to adapt, and be familiar with the project early on. It is important to communicate with your professors for clarification, with your clients to keep up with expectations, and with your group members to plan/execute project as well as adapt to any random changes (like a sudden global pandemic for example). Likewise, one should be prepared to adapt; not only to a change like the one we experienced but for any random occurrence (ex: scope changes, changes in client needs, new info from professors) and do the proper research to be able to bounce back from it. Lastly, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the project expectations, clients, and organizations early on. I made the mistake of putting off reading the previous year’s scope and final report and found myself scrambling to catch up as the project started much sooner than expected and kept moving at a quick pace. Overall, this was a great experience that I would recommend to any Pitt Business students as it allows you to further immerse oneself in the business school as well as creating a new cultural experience.