In our first class back on campus, we spent some time discussing what we learned during our summer fieldwork earlier this month. After some personal reflection, these are a few things I learned.
- Being in Sierra Leone for three weeks was such an enriching and illuminating experience. The most obvious thing I learned was just about the culture in this small, sub-saharan nation. Unlike anywhere else I have been in the world or in the United States, Sierra Leone had the strongest sense of community that I have ever experienced. Everywhere I went (bakery, shop, village, market, etc.) I noticed how much everyone meant to each other and how each person had their own role within their community. People were overwhelmingly welcoming and respectful to each other. Which unfortunately, is not something we always experience back in the States.
- I learned how to negotiate and communicate in a market and in stressful situations. Often times early on in the trip, our team had to travel to the market to buy supplies to make our products. After experiencing the crazy markets a few times, I began to notice some vendors were trying to sell me their products for a higher price. To use our money responsibly, I frequently spoke to these vendors and negotiated their prices down to an acceptable price.
- One of my favorite things that I was able to do in country was travel to people’s homes to get surveys filled out because through that one conversation, I was able to learn so much about that person’s values and personal priorities. To me it was interesting how different some of these priorities are. Based on my experience, religion and family are the most important parts of people’s lives.
- Professionally, my experience in Sierra Leone this summer was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. Our team worked on a daily basis with translators and interns. Our translators were paid and were working only for our group. The interns were assigned to our team and wanted to learn as much as they could from our project. So, I really learned how be in charge and lead a group of people. I frequently had to communicate with our translators and interns to tell them what needed to be done. Leadership is a really important skill to have and is something that I will utilize academically, athletically, and socially.
- At the same time, I also learned how to step back and let someone else lead every once in awhile. To me, this is one of the most important skills to learn as a leader. Each person that I worked with had their own strengths and weaknesses, just like myself. There are times when someone else is more qualified to complete a task and I learned how to utilize all of these strengths on our team to make us the best we can be. Again, this is something that I will carry with me back in the States in all aspects of my life.
- Finally, I learned how to make decisions in tough situations. Early on in the fieldwork I think our team ran into some issues when we encountered difficult situations. Not only is it important to be able to make a firm decision, it is also important to plan for when things go wrong. Multiple times in country we were forced to come up a plan b. Learning to adapt to the circumstances was vital to our success.
- Personally, I feel like I became more confident in myself. During my time this summer I was frequently put in situations that I had never been in before. I think the success of our team helped me to believe in myself and my ability to work through new experiences.
- I also think I learned how to communicate better. Clear communication was critical in Sierra Leone whether it was among team members, with the translators, or just about anyone else. Good communication facilitated the strong relationships that we developed in country. Additionally, it brought our team closer together and I really believe that we will be a more cohesive and united team moving forward.
- Lastly, I was able to make so many new friendships and formulate strong relationships with faculty and students at Lehigh. The group of us that travelled to Sierra Leone became incredibly close and frequently gave each other advice when they were stuck in a rut. I think these relationships will bring fresh ideas and help to our projects this fall.