Farewell, GSL…

The end of my sophomore year spring semester is approaching. It is shocking to me to see how much has changed in myself and in my environment over a short, yet seemingly long, four months. While I did not get to travel over spring break as planned, I still received a unique experience that I will truly never forget.

First, my experience as part of the Global Service-Learning course taught me that international business is sensitive to any sort of change. Of course, the change that happened to occur this semester was unprecedented. But I am slowly, but surely, learning that most – if not all – changes are unprecedented. This meant I had to work harder on our project and deliverables to provide our client with something my team could be proud of, but also something that would be beneficial to our clients once this crazy pandemic subsides. Since my team was unable to speak with our client in Trinidad, this became especially important. In other words, learning to make do with the information that I had and the research I could conduct without being able to communicate with our client was a key lesson for me in this class – sometimes you don’t get everything you want or need, so you just have to make the most out of what you have.

As I have mentioned in past blogs, flexibility and adaptability were critical in this course in general. Working with a client who is international poses its own complexity, but when a virtual element is added it becomes exponentially more difficult. On top of that, being unable to travel to conduct our primary research in-country proved to be perplexing as well. As understanding as everyone involved was, my team needed to cut back on some of our deliverables in the hopes that next year’s students will get to travel and carry out those plans. Learning how to be flexible and adaptable comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. Not only do you have to learn to be flexible and adaptable, you also have to be flexible and adaptable to how you will learn those skills! In my case, I had to change how I communicated with my teammates in order to complete the project. I had to be open to understanding that there was a very slim chance we would be able to communicate with our client in Trinidad. My team needed to adjust our scope of work to the virtual climate we had been subjected to. While it was a long and confusing road, it has seemed to have paid off. I am very proud of my team for what we have accomplished, despite all the challenges we have faced in these few short months. These skills will be critical for my life as a business professional because it is impossible to know when a new situation will occur. So, in a business environment, being ready to roll with the punches and get back on track will be expected of me. Despite all the craziness these last few weeks have brought, I am more confident in my ability to be flexible and adaptable because of my participation in this course.

Another huge takeaway from my experience in this class is how important relationships are when working on project deliverables. Since my group was unable to communicate with our clients in Trinidad, we could not gain access to any primary research other than what we had already been given. Furthermore, this was the fourth year of Pitt Business’s 10-year plan in Trinidad and was supposed to be a transition year where we worked more closely with Nature Seekers, rather than with DORCAS Women’s Group, as it had been up to this point. This could be considered a vulnerability regarding the relationship between Pitt and Nature Seekers, since there has not been much work completed with them in the past. However, this did not hurt my group’s ability to complete the deliverables once we switched to online learning. If anything, COVID-19 hurt it, since our clients live in a rather rural part of Trinidad, where virtual access was limited, and strict stay at home orders were in place. Despite all of these obstacles, our completion of the project will help the relationship between Pitt Business and Nature Seekers because it shows them that we are dedicated to providing them with the best possible work, regardless of difficult situations that arise. My hope is that future groups will not have this disruption and that Nature Seekers won’t forget the effort Pitt Business students give, no matter what the circumstances are.

Reflecting upon admission to this program, I was thrilled to be able to add a section to my resume that I would title “International Experience.” I knew that at any interview that I would get, I would be asked questions about my experience and what I learned. I thought about the different experiences past Global Service-Learning students told me and how the trip completely changed their ways of thinking. But despite not being able to gain these experiences in Trinidad, I still plan to keep it on my resume. I would explain to my interviewer that I worked with a team of Pitt Business Student Consultants to provide services to a company called Nature Seekers in Trinidad & Tobago. I would continue on to explain that in this course, we worked together to write a scope of work where we identified three deliverables, based on the information from the prior year’s report, as well as information from our team leaders, and in-country clients. Our three deliverables included a best practices report we conducted based on research from similar ecotourism brands, a marketing plan to increase brand awareness of Nature Seekers’ jewelry line, Turtle Warriors, and a partnership analysis between Nature Seekers and another Pitt Business client, DORCAS Women’s Group. However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, university officials made the decision to cancel our trip. This caused us to cut down on our scope of work, limiting the number of deliverables from three to two – eliminating the partnership analysis because it was no longer feasible. While moving to a virtual learning environment provided numerous challenges, including being unable to communicate with our clients in Trinidad, due to their rural location, we were still able to provide a final report for them with the deliverables we could complete. Despite not being able to visit Trinidad, the experience provided me with the ability to be flexible and adapt to various situations that arise. For example, my group performed a great amount of secondary research to create the best practices report and the marketing plan in order to provide Nature Seekers ideas on how to achieve their goal of expanding the reach of Turtle Warriors products. Overall, the experience I gained as part of this project was unique but also valuable, making me a strong candidate for a variety of job positions.

Finally, the three most important things I would tell future groups is to speak up when you feel the need to, be prepared for things to change on a whim, and immerse yourself fully into the project and in-country. Throughout this semester, I often felt like my opinions and ideas were not being heard by my group or my team leader. This was not the fault of one, but still a fault of my own because I did not raise my concerns until later on, when I felt more confident to do so. My team was full of headstrong people and hard workers. While it was nice to have so many ideas bouncing around, I often found that a few of my team members, including myself, were not a part of that conversation. As a result, I now know that I do have a voice in projects and that I should use it as soon as possible if there is something I see issues in. I would provide this advice because working with a project so intense with so many group members, it is easy to just be quiet and go along with what others are saying. But if they do that, as I have learned, they will not be benefitting from the experience as a whole. Furthermore, being able to cope when things do not necessarily follow the plan that has been laid out is advice I would give to future groups. As I have mentioned before, doing business in general, but especially internationally, causes many logistical challenges that college students have not necessarily seen before. While it is impossible to fully prepare oneself for these unexpected changes, they will need to know that it can and will happen at some point during their semester in Global Service Learning. Lastly, immersing themselves into the project and country completely is something I would suggest to future groups. Personally, I felt detached from my project because of various communication issues from my team and how we split up work for our deliverables, even though we were strongly advised to not do that. If I had spoken up more, I believe I could have much more fully engaged with the project and deliverables. Also, since I was not able to experience Trinidad and its culture, I hope future groups will take that into account when they are there and, despite any fears or reservations they may have, experience a culture so rich and different than our own.

Overall, the growth that I have experienced during this semester and class alone shocks me. Learning about international business operations, how quickly situations rise and fall, and how to better myself, both professionally and academically, are all lessons I will take away from this course. Global Service Learning, while not the experience I was expecting, is still an experience I will never forget when I look back on my college career, and one that I will recommend to other students for as long as it is around.

Thank you Global Service Learning – you will be missed.