Italian Experience Fosters Understanding of International Economics

August 23, 2016

Fourteen Haslam College of Business students returned from Italy Aug. 3 after spending three weeks living at the Santa Chiara Study Center in Castiglion Fiorentino, a small walled city perched on a hilltop in Tuscany.

With the fall semester now underway at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, supply chain management major Katie Keirstead says she looks back fondly at her time spent in Italy, which she shared with 14 students from the University of North Carolina.

“Our trip to Assisi to see the Basilica of St. Francis was particularly awe-inspiring and simply not the kind of experience you can get in the United States,” said Keirstead.

While the setting may have been bucolic, Keirstead and her classmates rolled up their sleeves during two 400-level courses on international business and management taught by Don Clark, professor of economics at Haslam, and David Woehr, professor of management at the UNC’s Belk College of Business.

The students also participated in two conversational Italian language sessions, as well as cultural lectures and tours.

“Our program gives students a true international cultural experience,” said Clark. “It requires living and studying in a foreign country with a different language, culture and business practice, as well as different economic and legal systems.”

Keirstead said international economics takes on a new light when, for instance, the effects of international currency exchange become part of daily life.

“Many things that feel theoretical in a classroom carry a lot more weight abroad,” Keirstead said. “Management case studies about how best to work with employees from other countries feel a lot more real when navigating cultural differences in person.”

One of the courses Keirstead took, International Economics for Business Majors, focused on economic strategies and tactics firms can use when competing in the global marketplace, while the other, International Human Resources Management, introduced issues facing organizations managing human resources at home and abroad.

Clark pointed out that, in addition to the knowledge gained through coursework, students exercised their skills in understanding Italian culture.

“Understanding culture is a prerequisite to successfully conducting business in a foreign country,” Clark said. “The coursework related to our daily Italian experiences, especially as students observed the excessive business regulations, oppressive taxes and unrestrained immigration that contributed to the British exit from the European Union. They gained an understanding of different tax rates, work ethics, business practices, lifestyle choices and advertising practices.”

During the program, cultural lectures and tours were conducted in the cities of Siena, Assisi, Florence, Orvieto, Civita, Arezzo, Cortona and Venice. Students took guided tours of the Medici Chapel, Opera di Santa Croce, Guggenheim Museum, Accademia Gallery in Florence, Basilica di San Francesco and La Pievuccia winery, which is eco-friendly and self-sustaining.