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Study Abroad and Domestic Study Away

Notes from Abroad: Goitseone in Italy

Goitseone Thebe ’18 is a major in Economics and minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation who studied in Milan, Italy

Prior to my semester abroad I had taken multiple classes with Professor Dlabay, a quirky professor of Economics and Business at Lake Forest College. Professor Dlabay was famous across campus for his obsession with geography and culture in business. He had mastered the art of weaving cross-cultural exchange into any and every lecture, assignment, and test. His homework assignments typically entailed completing long lists of assorted tasks, a large portion of which required his students to observe how people in different parts of the world lived. We were routinely asked to report our findings and develop theories about how dissimilarities in each country’s geography, economic status, society, culture, and political landscape might affect doing business in that particular country. 

My greatest takeaway from interacting with Professor Dlabay is the idea that it is impossible to create anything genuine, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial without first taking the time to understand the others’ full-lived experience. During my time in Milan, the theories Professor Dlabay emphasized and valued so highly evidenced themselves daily. Only this time there was no rubric or a numbered list of instructions telling me what to look for, where to find it, and what I might be able to deduce from it. 

My classes at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Milan were filled with students from all over the world. The many perspectives represented in and outside the classroom made discussions colorful and refreshingly stimulating. Our reactions differed even to shared experiences, whether they were a walking tour of Florence or something as simple as sitting through a Business Ethics lecture. I found it fascinating that we could all look at the same object but see different things. A large majority of the courses I took at UCSC required a considerable amount group work. Since the university’s exchange program was, and for the most part still is, separated from the main campus, many of the people in my classrooms were born and raised all over the world. 

More often than not, our inability to communicate efficiently with one another, due to language and cultural barriers made simple group tasks more challenging. Even if we all understood what was required of us, our differing perspectives made delivering cumbersome. Not because we were incapable or lazy, but because a lot of valuable information got lost in the translation of our experiences. It was impossible to get anything done without first taking the time to learn more about one another or, at the very basic level, understanding each other’s expectations. By celebrating our differences and building upon our similarities we grew more efficient and confident in both what we were producing but how we were producing it. 

It was not all roses and butterflies. Working so closely with anyone for an extended period of time can be taxing and at times frustrating. I got into a number of arguments with my teammates over things that were insignificant to begin with but were blown out of proportion by miscommunication and a difference in cultural norms and systems. Learning how to diffuse such situations meant actively seeking out what made us similar, remaining transparent about our expectations, and approaching each conflict with a desire to reach some common ground rather than win the argument.

Whether I was consulting for start-up businesses for a class project or simply taking in Italy’s majesty, I put Professor Dlabay’s theory to the test every day for six months. Those were the most empowering six months of my life! I learnt an incredible amount about myself and the world around me.