Even in a virtual world, the semester is passing by as quickly as ever. I’m having a hard time realizing and comprehending that it is already halfway through, as it feels like only a few weeks ago that classes started, and I came back to campus. However, when looking at our progress and comparing where we are now to where we were when we started, I can more easily see how the time has been spent. We have a much better understanding regarding our international clients, the scope of the project, as well as what we still need to accomplish.
We started off by gaining a much-needed introduction to Bolivia, its culture, and its differing topography, due to the fact that we will unfortunately not be able to visit this year. This also limits our interactions to those with technology and Internet access, which means that we have been getting closer to a few people instead of meeting many. Our main contact for CEOLI, Jean Carla, has been so kind in teaching us about her home. We learned about the many different climates, people, dances, foods, and art that Bolivians cherish and can experience on a day-to-day basis. I am hoping that we will be able to incorporate some of these areas into the art show, even though it will be virtual. It would be amazing to showcase the natural features of the country, historical attributes, or other cultural facets in a theme or in each “room” of the show. We also got the opportunity to learn many fun and energetic Bolivian dances after a visit from Rodrigo! He taught us some traditional as well as newer styles and had some more aspects of culture to show us. It has been so valuable to have this time and experience, to get a better look into the nation we are working so closely with.
To better aid CEOLI, we split into two smaller groups, each with a specific purpose. I was and am very excited to become a part of the art show group, which will be planning the event as well as marketing for it and CEOLI. I hope that my past experience as an “art major” will help me, even though we won’t be doing any art ourselves. Instead, we intend to draw attention to CEOLI’s talented artists. The dedicated children and adults create beautiful Bolivian cards with authentic styles, imagery, or landscapes. For many, this not only a hobby they show passion and skill for but a much-needed source of income. CEOLI and Amizade have been both thankful and supportive in our mission to promote the cards, as they do not often have the needed staff or time. We have plans to generate increased user interaction and engagement through polls and posts, and we were lucky enough to have Arielle’s help in securing funding from Pitt Business Study Abroad to support card giveaways. We recently were granted access to the CEOLI Cards Instagram account, so we plan to start posting soon.
However, we ran into some issues when deciding what to post. We hoped to get pictures or videos of the artists making the cards to start off. Unfortunately, many of the adult artists are from lower-income areas, without access to the Internet or a way of easy transportation. While I’m sure that this is something that hinders the artists more than us, it has posed a slight challenge for our group, as we have had to reconsider what we will be able to find or receive and then share to the social media accounts. At the midterm client meeting, we were reassured that videos or photos of the children painting and drawing would be possible, and coming soon!
Another challenge in interactions with our client has been the differences in language and communication. While most of the CEOLI contacts speak Spanish, our group is majority English-speaking. This could have posed an issue for the group, but thankfully we have been facilitating conversations through both Jean-Carla and our fellow group member, Oscar Hung. As a native speaker, Oscar has been happy to help us all overcome the barrier. His talents have not gone unnoticed, as I observed very positive reactions from our clients during our meetings. They clearly appreciate the efforts and are always glad to hear the questions asked directly to them, on behalf of the group as a whole. Oscar and Jean Carla also translate back to the group. As I have been taking Spanish since elementary school, I’ve been glad to understand most of the conversations, but I’m less confident when it comes to speaking. There are also times that I think I must have heard wrong, such as when Rodrigo said this at the start of lecture one day: “¿Estamos listos para bailar?” (Are we ready to dance?). Still, I find that I’m able to follow the majority of what is said by others, and if I miss anything the group (mostly Oscar) has been very good at keeping a record. We have been using documents on Teams to communicate within the group frequently, and they have been of use a number of times.
It has also been interesting to notice differences in mannerisms and communication styles. As we learned in a recent lecture, South American cultures often place a higher importance on relationship-building and implicit meaning. This high-context style is much different compared with the Western emphasis on direct and clear contact, and is therefore something we have been adapting to. We have been taking extra efforts to ask how the clients are, how their days are going, and how things are in Bolivia before we start “business-related” conversations. We kept out midterm meeting on the more casual side, without a formal presentation or deliverables sent to the client, and used a shared document with summaries of what we had done as well as any questions. This is a stark contrast to the Midpoint Presentation I am giving next week, as a part of a Pittsburgh consulting group aiding a local non-profit. We also asked CEOLI if they had any questions for us before we ended the call, to ensure we are still encouraging open and clear communication despite our focus on building a relationship. Through translations and multiple speakers, some points may be at the risk of getting lost, so we have been using teamwork to get what is said onto a document and rephrase or ask questions where needed. Beyond the sharing of information, we are doing our best to facilitate trust, letting them know that we are there to help and will make adjustments wherever and whenever we can to make things easier on them. I think we have been successful so far, as the clients seem to be more comfortable in our meetings and engage more. Most importantly, they are happy with our work so far as well as what we have planned.
As we go through the semester, I can tell that I am learning more about international business with each lecture and client interaction. While I suspected that cultural competency is a skill that one has to continually work on and evolve, like many other abilities, I was surprised to see how many layers and factors there were to consider. The use of the Cultural Map and scales have helped to see the differences between nations and groups of people, and has already been applicable to our client meetings. It has been such a unique experience to have this level of exposure when working with an international organization. I have no doubt that what we have experienced so far is only a small sample of what is to come, and I look forward to our future interactions and progress!