Well It’s our tenth Friday here at iSTEP 2012, our last day of the internship. It’s a bittersweet day for all, as we are proud and happy of our accomplishments over the past seven months, yet now we must bring things to an end and pass on our work. For the CMU interns in Ghana, they must soon depart the beautiful country they have turned into a home for the past three months.
To end this Friday’s “Five”, I first recommend you look through all of the posts of this week. There have been so many quality posts. From our iSTEP alum Bea, who is now an advisor on TBW, to a guest post from Maame, there are many words that help explain the end of our experience.
In that regard, I leave you with this: the iSTEP 2012 final reflections of the 5 CMU interns. So here we go, Friday Five:
1. Corinne, Software Developer:
My time in Ghana was as inspiring and intriguing as I expected it to be. I loved experiencing the culture and language, and noting the differences, as well as the fundamental similarities, across two very different continents. I had expected this internship would hold a lot of lessons for me regarding patience; I mentally prepared myself for the delays and frustrations that living and working abroad would hold. Those issues certainly occurred, including the unfortunate “frying” of my laptop’s motherboard.
But rather than learning to value more patience and reserve, I recognized the importance of being pro-active and persistent. The search for information and quotes on sensors around the world couldn’t be finished by template emails and web searches; we had to call, Skype, and call again to proceed. Many similar scenarios proved that an initial effort that isn’t quite productive enough calls for new approach by another route. This doggedness is exhausting to put forth and can even be exhausting to co-workers who are jostled by it, but it’s what was needed for the projects to proceed as far as they have. I was impressed by my team members who started with this attitude and challenged me to follow it, and I’m thankful to have learned from them.
2. Sandeep, Project Manager, Waste Project:
The internship experience helped me to develop an understanding of working culture of students and professionals in Ghana. Working together with a diverse team of graduate and undergraduate students from CMU and Ashesi helped me to gain a perspective of different topics under discussion. The regular team meetings and brainstorming sessions helped to keep the project on time and to constructively develop the ideas for the project.
3. Ronnell, Assessment Coordinator:
The two-hour journey from Accra to Ashesi’s campus requires one to take two tro-tros and a shared taxi through an assortment of paved, non-paved, dusty streets and roads from an urban to rural settling. Just as the bumpy road flanked by pineapple plots and cornfields reaches the perimeter of Berekuso village, one can see the Ashesi campus beaming on top of the hill. On a couple of nights, apart from the moon, Ashesi was the only source of light for kilometers as it is nearly immune from power outages on the national electricity grid because of its generators. As I witnessed this marvel, I was struck by the contrast: darkness and light.
Ashesi represents a light to many of its stakeholders, especially its students and employees. And because Ashesi is the bearer of many resources such as abundant electricity and water, it must employ a greater management responsibility. iSTEP was invited to be here partly to give perspective on how that responsibility might be managed using technology.
iSTEP has given me a hard look at the things that I am not strong at doing. I won’t list them here, but I know what they are. From this experience, I have been able to engage in activities that I excel at, but I have also identified areas where I should focus my attention this coming academic year toward professional development and attainment of more skills that will prepare me for future work experiences. The structure of this internship gave me the opportunities to learn from teammates, TechBridgeWorld staff, and its network of research professionals.
Communication that accurately an expresses ones need, uncertainties and intentions, is the most valuable asset to a team. This was a recurring theme throughout my iSTEP experience. It is rather simple, but very complicated. I strive to become a better communicator even in the face of setbacks, egos, Internet loss and personal health issues. Fieldwork requires heightened communication even when the host country’s official language is English.
In all my travels and time living abroad, I have really never felt so at home in a foreign country as I have in Ghana. I attended undergraduate in the southern United States, so I know what hospitality and close-knit communities feel like. Ghana has reminded me that people are capable of showing a high regard for strangers, embracing outsiders and showing sincere concern for the well being of visitors to their communities. I am pleased that my second, but longest stay in Africa yet, was spent in this nation.
4. Scott, Project Manager, Water Project:
On this project I learned the importance of thinking clearly about timelines in technology development projects and to consider tasks that may take longer than anticipated. I learned to be a flexible manager, and because the management role required leadership by consensus, to take the time to incorporate the team’s ideas within project decisions.
5. (me) Julie, Dissemination Coordinator:
I spent eight out of the ten weeks on this project working at the CMU campus in Pittsburgh. Having to coordinate large projects (for example this technical report) with multiple people over various time zones has been challenging. Now take that scenario and add technical difficulties like little or no internet connectivity, misunderstanding and miscommunication and the fact that everyone I am coordinating with has many other tasks that must be completed at the same time. This type of environment could easily lend itself to inefficiencies and frustration. Through this experience, I learned effective ways to move beyond the inherent challenges of working on a globally distributed team.
Some strategies I used included, starting my work day by 8 AM EST / 12 PM GMT and sometimes much earlier, in order to overlap with GMT work hours as much as possible. I also needed to be prepared ahead of time so that I would have extra time to ask the rest of the team questions with enough time for them to answer them. Always staying cognizant of the time-zone difference helped to keep the multiple tasks I worked on efficient and strong.
For the two weeks I was not in Pittsburgh, I had the amazing opportunity to join my teammates at Ashesi. I joined them in weeks 8 and 9, so by that point the team already had a good handle on navigating from Accra to Ashesi, and on being acclimated to the culture and location in general. This gave me a leg up, so that upon arrival, I already felt acclimated because my teammates could clue me in on any questions I had about the new location. It also made me capable of getting a lot of accomplished in my short two weeks there. Working with the team in person was infinitely easier than working with them via Skype and email, two methods that fail to convey human emotion and understanding like a face to face conversation might.
This experience has prepared me for what might be a future of freelance work, working with people on the West Coast, while staying on the East. Using Skype, Dropbox, and email. With this experience, I learned how to navigate the workplace almost 80% electronically and independently. At this point, I feel prepared for anything.
Want more?? WATCH all 12 iSTEP interns reflect on their experience at Ashesi and during iSTEP 2012