Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last chance...

“This is my last chance to study abroad,” I thought to myself last March as I hit “enter” on my laptop screen, submitting the deposit to what has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Being part of the university and Business Honors programs for four years, successfully completing three summer internships, and being an active student leader on-campus, I had very little flexibility in my schedule to leave the country for five months. With one year left of school, I was able to strategically organize my class schedule, and all that remains is a global business course – so convenient. Now, I’m studying halfway across the globe, and I see more clearly than ever why studying abroad didn’t work out any of the four years prior.

Eli’s view from the Rose Garden in San Gimigiano.
Lorenzo de’Medici offers more than 400 courses ranging in disciplines from art and business to fashion, language and culture. Some unique courses linked specifically to the historic country and city include Italian Culture through Music; The Genius of Michelangelo; Lost Symbolisms: Secret Codes in Western Art; Corporate Social Responsibility; Wine Business and Marketing; Peace Studies – the list goes on and on. Needless to say, because of my new flexible schedule and curious nature, I completely nerded out and wanted to take them all! I had so many options to choose from with only one real “mandatory” course – let the fun begin!

Global marketing management. This three-hour course shed light on the theory behind why and how companies “go global.” The course dissects financial implications, cultural nuances and political factors, and each play a huge role in how companies market products and services in a foreign country. My brilliant and challenging professor, in her adorable Italian accent and traditionally fashionable Italian outfits, lectures via PowerPoint adding in several two- to five-minute informative YouTube videos pertaining to whatever topic she discusses that day. I’ve watched relevant clips about international patent laws and the way Oreo’s packaging is tailored to specific countries and regions all over the world. Our in-class case study discussions are my personal favorite, similar to what I experienced in MGMT 449 with good ol‛ Dr. Leibson. We analyzed the global expansion of several companies and the various challenges that arise when deciding to go global. Big established companies such as Ikea faced political unrest and were almost forced to operate in a bribe-infested business culture when expanding to Russia. When Starbucks expanded into Australia, the coffee giant failed to understand the Australian consumer preferences and completely underestimated the necessity of adaption when introducing its product in a competitive and saturated market. With these observed challenges, we also discussed the success of one of the strongest and most recognizable brands in the world: Coca-Cola. Its brand identity implies that no matter where in the world I am, I can count on having a trusted tasteful glass of America’s history to quench my thirst. Coca-Cola’s nearly flawless strategy to adapt to the ever-changing domestic and global environment in a socially relevant way that resonates with the loyal Coke consumer is a key factor in its successful global reign. Interesting stuff.  Now, I’m finalizing two projects: a research paper on Singapore, where I’m assessing the business marketing opportunities by analyzing its culture, current marketing practices, and its financial and currency market; and my partner, and dear friend, and I are developing  a full-length hypothetical business plan: “Studamo Bene: a coffee house study lounge” targeting college students, since no such space exists in Florence … sounds like first-mover’s advantage to me. I promise learning is fun; all one needs is to be engaged, challenged and openly curious.
Window display on Luisaviaroma, a Florentine boutique.

Fashion means business: One of my professional and very personal aspirations in life is to open my own fashion retail store, where all of the merchandise is sourced from ethically sustainable vendors with a precise moral compass. I really do believe I can leave this world better than I found it, and I hope my generation is able to find a solution to the human injustices the apparel manufacturing industry has grown so fond of. The industry is unfortunately plagued with a benchmark for unapologetically harvesting unsafe working conditions in poverty-stricken countries, where labor is conveniently cheap and human lives are reduced to profit-generating machines. Fashion means serious business, and it’s time we start taking this $1.7 trillion global industry more seriously. Let’s think: What other product forces one to express his/her innate personality daily resulting in social capital based on what the individual wears or doesn’t wear? It’s an evolving, fast-paced and interesting industry that relies on innovative technology to develop textiles, a futuristic approach and anticipative skill to forecast trends and a loyal informed customer whom now more than ever seeks transparency and honesty in the brands he/she hangs up in the closet. My first goal is to become aware and educated about the ever-changing and exciting industry, which is exactly what I’ve been doing in and outside the classroom.

In the voice of “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” I must proudly say, I don’t usually take fashion courses, but when I do, they are in the country which is home to prominent global fashion brands including Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci and Roberto Cavalli. I enrolled in three fashion courses, Fashion Marketing, Fashion Entrepreneurship and Retailing Management. Each course is taught by experienced women, who have worked in the industry for 10-plus years, two of which own their own business and share valuable insight and experiences with the class every week. Each professor has a distinct personality, career path, style of teaching, and of course, style of dressing. I am surrounded by fashion every single day, whether I’m learning about the business of fashion in the classroom, casually passing by Gucci and Zara on my way to the Rose Garden, or observing the fabulous yet effortless street style of Florence walking past the duomo, it’s a great environment to be in for all lovers of fashion.

Needless to say, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my classes at LdM. I’ve made some great lasting friendships with international classmates, built relationships with my sassy professors and am immersed in an industry that completely fascinates me. The last semester of my undergraduate career has been full of hard work and artistic business inspiration that I can’t wait to bring back to the States. Being an international business student in a city synonymous to art and creative freedom has been stimulating, eye opening and absolutely necessary. After all, accounting and finance professionals can be creative too, you know.

*This post has been shared on the Mihaylo College of Business & Economics website.

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