Hello everyone, welcome back for my final blog post for the Global Service Learning: Trinidad program. While it did not go exactly how I wanted it to go and we were unable to travel abroad, I still learned a lot of invaluable lessons throughout my experience. The first main lesson that I learned is to always have a backup plan. This was extremely important during our time in the program because for most of our time working on the project, things did not go exactly as our group had planned. We went from not being able to travel to Trinidad to attempting to set up a Zoom meeting with Nature Seekers to get some of the information needed to not being able to get in any contact with them at all due to Trinidad’s stay at home order. After the trip was cancelled, we decided as a group to create a new scope of work. We also created a backup plan for in case we were unable to get in contact with Nature Seekers after the trip was cancelled, a plan that we ended up having to utilize. This program taught me to always be prepared for anything to happen, such as a trip to meet with a client being cancelled, and to make sure I have a plan for every possible scenario.
Another lesson I learned is that teamwork and communication are extremely important when working in groups. I have always known the importance of these attributes, having played soccer for most of my life, but this program showed me that they are extremely valuable in a group project setting, especially when we are unable to meet in person. After the final month of the semester was moved online, it could have made it difficult for us to complete the project. We were unable to have in-person meetings to discuss the project, which was a major challenge for us. Because of this inability to work in person, communication was key in making sure that we were all on the same page. We used every Zoom class to discuss the project and how we were going to complete our deliverables and we even had multiple other Zoom meetings outside of class to make sure that we were all on the same page.
The final lesson I learned is that even though we were not able to complete all of our original deliverables, the information we gathered for our clients is still extremely beneficial to them. It is easy to think that because we couldn’t gather all of the information we had planned on getting, our final project will not help the client, but after completing our final reports, I have realized how helpful they could still be for Nature Seekers. All of the information we gathered about their different marketing communication channels allowed us to make recommendations for them that can still have an impact on their business growth. We had to make sure we were still putting a lot of effort into our reports and fulfilling our end of the scope of work.
Overall, these lessons played a big role in my development of adaptability as a transferable skill. There were multiple times throughout the project where I had to adapt to the new situation and remain flexible, most notably when we found out classes were going to be moved online for the remainder of the semester. Adaptability is an extremely useful skill to have because it is constantly used in the business world. The business world is so unpredictable and so it is important to be able to adapt to any situation. For example, let’s say I end up using my Human Resources major to begin working in employee and labor relations after I graduate. This aspect of HR, along with many of the other branches, requires a large amount of adaptability because the laws regarding hiring, firing, etc. are constantly changing and so HR needs to make sure that they are keeping up with these changes and making corresponding changes to their company policies on their own. Even looking at less specific examples, adaptability is a huge part of business. For example, if you are working with a client and need to set up a meeting, but they are sick and unable to meet, you have to be able to work around that. This program has helped me to become more flexible and adaptable, something that I will definitely be able to take advantage of in the future.
Additionally, this program made me realize the importance of building relationships with clients while working on projects. Because this is the first year where the Trinidad programs focus was solely on Nature Seekers, the relationship had not been built. This made it extremely hard for us when working on the project because we had very little contact with them. Throughout the project, we were only able to exchange a handful of emails with them and a lot of the information we had hoped to get, we did not end up receiving. Although the relationship may not be the strongest currently, the reports we created for them will hopefully help with the development of the relationship, allowing for more consistent communication. In our discussion of the Culture Map, we discussed the important of relationships in building trust. This means that Nature Seekers may have had limited trust due to the relationship only recently starting, but as the program progresses through the ten year plan and we supply them with more and more recommendations on how they can grow their business and the Turtle Warriors brand, this trust can build up.
The program also allows for me to have a good talking point in interviews. When in an interview, I can discuss the experience that I got by working with a client to aid in the marketing of one of their brands. I can discuss the final report we created discussing best practices in the industry, as well as the marketing report which included a marketing audit of their communications channels, a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, and our strategic recommendations based on the audit and SWOT analysis that we conducted. I can also discuss how I developed the transferable skills of flexibility and adaptability. I can talk about all of the challenges that we faced due to the cancellation of our trip and the outbreak of the coronavirus and how we worked to overcome these challenges. I can even discuss my experiences working with a company abroad and how it differed from working with a company here in Pittsburgh. This can include a discussion of the differences in cultures and how they played a role in our final deliverables. Even though the travel part of the global service learning program was cancelled, there are still so many valuable talking points that I can mention when discussing my experience that will be extremely beneficial in an interview.
Before I end my blog, I want to talk about some things that future groups participating in the Global Service Learning: Trinidad should know going forward. The first thing that I think they should know is that communication may be a challenge. We found it difficult to maintain communication throughout the whole semester. While this may have at least partially been due to the coronavirus, Carnival also resulted in a week where they were unable to respond to our emails. Be mindful of the different events that they have, as well as Trini time, and how they could play a role in maintaining communication with Nature Seekers throughout the project. Another thing that future students should know is that it is always important to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. We made the mistake of not creating a backup plan until it was too late and the trip had already been cancelled. Even though the coronavirus outbreak is something that we have never really experienced before, it is important to create plan in case something like this does happen again that results in future groups being unable to travel to Trinidad. Adding on to this, my final piece of advice for future groups would be to make sure that you are not relying too heavily on receiving information from the clients. We relied too much on information that we were going to get in Trinidad or in emails from Nature Seekers, causing us to make major changes when our trip was cancelled and we were unable to contact them. Obviously, the travel aspect of this program is still an extremely important part, but it is important to make sure that you are prepared if something were to happen.
Looking back on our progression through the program this semester, I am still glad I was able to participate in it. I learned so many valuable lessons, developed key transferable skills, and got to work as part of a close-knit team. I came in only knowing a couple people in the program but working on the project together and working through the challenges we faced as a group really helped us grow as a team. The experience gained from this program was beneficial in my career development and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering a study abroad program.