UMD student, Daniela Adler Mzhen, observes behavior and its relation to culture as she studies human development during her study abroad experience in Perugia, Italy.
March 22nd, 2016
PERUGIA, Italy — “There is no one right way to do things,” said UMD Psychology Major, Daniela Adler Mzhen, as she shared her thoughts on her most recent courses in Human Development and Psychology. Daniela is currently studying abroad in Perugia, Italy through the Maryland-in-Perugia program hosted at the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program whose courses focus on introducing students to intercultural interpretations of international realities.
During her time at Umbra, Daniela has been enrolled in PYHD 430: Human Development in Culture, a course led by Professor Christian Tarchi. In this course, Tarchi teaches the ecology of human development, or the complex interaction of a constantly changing organism and its constantly evolving environment. He emphasizes the idea that even though individuals and groups of individuals differ from each other, some ideas, values, and behaviors may be universal and shared by all humans in all cultures, ultimately making us more alike than we may realize. “I want to do therapy at some point so being able to put myself in other people’s shoes to understand where they are coming from is very important,” explained Daniela as she discussed the importance of taking a multicultural approach to the study of Psychology. “You are not them”, she added before emphasizing that it is important to realize that people come from different places and therefore have different values that dictate their actions and reactions.
“In Perugia, I feel like a part of the community, I feel like I am making a contribution,” states Daniela as she reflects on her time spent volunteering with local UNICEF volunteers. This semester, Daniela has been able to immerse herself in the Italian culture of Perugia, despite not knowing the Italian language before her arrival.
In addition to her volunteer work, Daniela has been able to take advantage of the fact that, at Umbra, study does not revolve around in class discussion and textbook reading, it revolves around community engagement. Through the PYHD 430 course, she has had the opportunity to visit multiple schools in order to observe and interact with Italian youth to better understand their perspectives. Community interaction does not end with service-learning project, but rather, it continues through course-content related excursions. For example, when Professor Tarchi introduced the concept of the Hofstede Dimensions of Culture, Daniela and the rest of the class were tasked to exhibit their understanding by exploring the cultural relativity of common locations that resemble one another across cultures, such as a library or a shopping center. Daniela and her group went to the local library where they observed the behaviors of library visitors, the emphasis of items used to promote the library, and items that were either scarce or plentiful. They were then tasked with asking Italians for their experiences and perceptions of their chosen location and seeking out examples of the 6 dimensions of the Hofstede Analysis. When asked about her experience with this project or with Italians in her classes at Umbra, Daniela shares that she loves hearing the Italian perspective because they help her understand when an idea is just a stereotype or is outdated, adding that “it makes everything we learn in class all that much more real.”
Now, as the second half of her semester abroad begins, Daniela reflects on her appreciation for “understanding another culture and getting to learn about why they do things and why it’s not wrong that they do things differently.” Daniela feels that she has learned the most through immersion, both cultural and linguistic. She has learned to recognize specific concepts studied in class, such as that of “imposed etic,” simply explained as the act of incorrectly imposing one cultural concept on another culture. Through experience with psychology in Italy, Daniela has learned to recognize ethnocentric behavior and has begun to step out of her personal comfort zone in order to better understand Italian culture and, in general, cultures and behaviors that do not reflect her own.
Maryland-in-Perugia is a program hosted by the Umbra Institute, an American study abroad program located in the central Italian city of Perugia. Perugia is the ideal setting to study abroad in Italy, with a vast variety of fine arts, psychology, business, and liberal arts courses. It also offers a wide range of service-learning offerings including seminar & practicum and community-based courses. For more information about the Umbra Institute, see the website above.