Tuesday, April 29, 2014

GlobalPittsburgh Volunteer Sees International Side of Pittsburgh, Learns Valuable Office Skills & Etiquette

Kevin Tang is a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, having studied Ecology & Evolution and Urban Studies. He spent the past semester working as a volunteer with GlobalPittsburgh. He wrote this account of his experience.

Like many undergraduates, I had no clue as to what I wanted to do after I graduate, and, to be honest, I still don’t know. Throughout my undergraduate career, I had participated in a variety of fields, including scientific research and volunteering with local schools, hospitals, and nonprofits. Given my lax senior year, I began to look for interesting volunteer and work opportunities to better utilize my free time.

Kevin Tang
In my search for such an opportunity, I came across GlobalPittsburgh. I had participated in something similar to their GlobalPittsburghCONNECT program at school. However, what I found interesting was the International Leaders Program. I had not seen anything like it in Pittsburgh and thought it would be a neat opportunity to be a part of. The application process was fairly straightforward and I was accepted. While I had applied for an internship position, other jobs interfered with working times, so I offered to remain a volunteer instead.

Honestly, it was a bit strange to work in an office setting; I had always been data crunching, conducting experiments, or moving about. Now I sit at a computer, send e-mails, and answer phone calls to help develop programs for international visitors. Not that I minded; it was refreshing and relaxing to send out e-mails and wait for responses along with compiling and organizing data for GlobalPittsburgh.

While that consisted of a major part of my time, I was also occupied with opportunities more unique to GlobalPittsburgh. Matchmaking international visitors with homestay hosts and researching foundations that could potentially provide grants allowed me to see the gears and cogs of GlobalPittsburgh. While these things may seem small, being able to see everything come into fruition felt pretty fulfilling.

However, the feeling of dread came when the phone began to ring. While Cathy Shader, a fellow volunteer, or Yiqun Sun, an intern, were usually at the front desk with me to handle them, there were several moments when I had to answer. I rarely ever make phone calls, and if I did, it was to someone I knew well. Maybe it’s a generational thing since texting came about. But when I was alone at the desk and the phone rang, it was truly an awkward experience, at least in the beginning. While greeting was usually not an issue, what followed was usually stutters and “Uhh.” But the more calls that I made, the more confident I became, and eventually I felt I had become pretty competent. Additionally, people are more forgiving and patient than one might think, so do not be intimidated by the phone if you are like me.

Word of advice to others my age: practice your phone skills. Phone calls are the quickest and most direct form of long-distance contact, meaning they are still relevant even as technology advances. You will never know when you will need it, whether it is for work or a phone interview. In fact, I had several successful interviews over the phone as I applied for jobs and programs for after I graduate.

Overall, I felt my time with GlobalPittsburgh was great opportunity in understanding how a globally- and nationally-oriented nonprofit organization operated and gaining skills in an office setting. The amount of knowledge and time the staff (Gail Shrott, Tom Buell, and Nadya Kessler) invested in researching and compiling resources and interacting with organization members was truly admirable. I only regret that I dedicated more time to working at GlobalPittsburgh to better understand how the organization operates and to see parts of the program while they are in progress.

If anyone is looking to gain experience in a globally-connected organization at the local level, whether it be as a volunteer or intern, look no further than GlobalPittsburgh.

Kevin Tang will be working at Phipps Conservatory as a Horticulture Intern during the summer and will participate with PULSE, a program dedicated to cultivating a community of young servant leaders to transform Pittsburgh by partnering with local nonprofits and living with other participants, during the 2014-2015 year.