PERUGIA, Italy — This spring, Penn State’s Zach Horbal, a Business Major with a focus on agricultural business management, supply chain management logistics and economics, is studying abroad at the Umbra Institute. At the end of his semester abroad, Zach sat down with Umbra staff to reflect on what he had learned about international business and sustainable urban spaces while in Italy.
“In my [international] business class we learned about what it means to possess cross-cultural literacy,” shared Zach, who went on to share that the course helped him improve how he understands “adapting to different cultures that have different political and economic agendas.” Zach also said that the course extensively discussed how a manager can develop and organize a firm’s capabilities and resources to successfully navigate crossing a new political, economic, cultural, and/or social border. He values the course’s content because he hopes to have a career in management, but he also appreciates the small class sizes that allowed him to frequently engage with his professors and classmates through vibrant discussions on how culture, politics, and economics directly influence how businesses in different countries trade and interact.
To compliment his interest in international business and background with PSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, Zach also enrolled in Umbra’s course on Creating Sustainable Urban Spaces and Communities. “Our project consisted of using a framework called MOVE,” said Zach, referring to the European Union’s framework for recognizing natural/environmental or social events that impact local and international societies or environments. He continued describing how the class was structured around work with the local College of Agriculture and their community garden. “We helped them develop their community garden so that not only can they grow things, but people can interact with it and the community feels like it is a place for them that shares their values and helps them learn about each other,” he explained. Ultimately, the aim of the course was to use the city of Perugia as a classroom in order to teach students how lifestyle and demographic changes influence a city’s development, consumption patterns, residential and commercial delocalization, transportation, and communication technologies. It then went a step further to ask students to think critically about working with community members to ensure that development happens in step with their needs, in order to encourage sustainable spaces that locals identify with, support, and maintain.
Concluding his reflection, Zach shared that these courses, his other electives, and his experience navigating life in Perugia and traveling through Europe, provided him with significant personal and professional development opportunities, specifically in terms of critical thinking and problem solving. “What I’m getting here is going to translate back at home,” concluded Zach. He continued mentioning that there were situations abroad, both in and out of class, in which he felt frustrated, “[you] miss a train, or don’t have money for something, or you don’t understand what someone is saying and you have to think ‘how can I calm myself down and really go about solving these problems?’” He believes these skills and experiences to be truly invaluable and will transfer back to the rest of his time at PSU, as well as his career as a PSU and Umbra alum. “I think [studying abroad in Perugia] was the best decision I made.”