Fall Blog Post 1: Lessons Learned from Fieldwork

Top Three Things I Learned in Sierra Leone:

  1. I learned to have thick skin. Not everything will go my way – sometimes, nothing will go my way. But it’s important to keep the larger mission in mind, even in times of struggle, frustration and turbulence.
  2. The problems are real, vast and personal, not abstract and imaginary. And statistics can rarely capture the scope, magnitude and personalization of the problems each of the teams in Sierra Leone focused their efforts on. People’s lives are at stake, so to think of this as a class project or as a credit-bearing activity demeans the work we do.
  3. Fight for what you think is right. Even if you lose, your contribution can better refine the final product or push the conversation forward in a productive way.

How did the GSIF trip facilitate your professional development?

  1. When communicating cross-culturally, an important skill is learning how to get a point across in simple and understandable terms without being patronizing to the individual’s life, level of education and experiences within his/her context.
  2. Fairness must be balanced with a motivation to get results from yourself and others, and neither one should outweigh the other. Including all stakeholders is the only way to produce a result that satisfies, or at least reaches a compromise, between all relevant people’s positions and perspectives. But being fair should not go so far as to delay the project’s goals or to reduce efficiency in the decision-making process.
  3. Dream big: think of ways to achieve results both within and outside of the current system. The current system works sometimes in some ways, but may not in other instances. Sure, not reinventing the wheel saves time and can have its benefits, like minimizing confusion and not appearing to be “radical.” But thinking of ways to accomplish a task in a way that is revolutionarily different from what is currently done is less restricting in the idea and innovation phase and can lead to results that would never have occurred otherwise.

How did the GSIF trip help you grow personally?

  1. I think I improved my ability to balance speaking with listening in a team setting. I hear other opinions out and jump in to the discussion when I feel I can contribute a valid point or to synthesize what has already been said, but without dismissing, overshadowing or talking over my teammates.
  2. I handled multiple, often competing personalities in a team environment in a manner that still produced results and minimized the damage these personalities could do to the project if weaponized in such a way.
  3. I honestly felt like I simply became a much more empathetic person from this trip, and I had the unique opportunity to turn this empathy into action. It is so easy to forget all the privileges and true luxuries we at Lehigh are afforded, and on the flip side, it also very easy to “feel bad” for people but get reserved to a state of inaction. Both of these extremes became apparent to me on the GSIF trip, and I was able to navigate the middle ground of remembering to feel empathy in a deep way but also become moved in such a way to act on it for the betterment of humanity.