I am very thankful that I was awarded a substantial scholarship toward my participation in the Plus3 program. I traveled with my group to Italy, where we mainly stayed in Milan, but also visited Verona, Florence, and even Venice. The focus of our trip was to study supply chains within the fashion industry. This was particularly interesting to me, as I am in the Fashion Business Association at school and hope to incorporate the retail industry into my future career. While abroad, we went on several scenic walking tours that allowed us to get a great sense of the cities we were in. These tours also led us into historical museums that displayed wonderful works of art and other Italian artifacts. My personal favorite of these was the Uffizi Gallery, which featured “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera;” both are beautiful paintings that I had only seen in pictures before. Another amazing museum was the Armani Silos, which showcased many different Armani fashion collections over the years. Several of the pieces had been worn by celebrities on the red carpet or in films. It was also very interesting to see the impact that Armani has had on fashion through his unique and futuristic designs. In addition, we also had the opportunity to visit many different fashion companies. One of the first was a small shop in which the owner handcrafted purses, wallets, and luggage all from scratch; he simply ordered the leather from a tannery and completed the rest by hand. Many of the other companies were factory based, but they also had a large component of human interaction involved. These companies were producing garments and fabrics for Gucci, Prada, Versace, and even Kanye West, which was very cool to see. Through these factory visits, my group and I were able to learn about the retail supply chain firsthand while also seeing the passion and pride that Italians have for the quality clothes they make. Overall, it was a unique and educational experience.
To continue, I learned many things about the retail industry and about Italian culture while on my trip. First, many of the companies we visited obtained raw materials from other parts of Italy or from China in order to make their goods (such as leather products, textiles, shoes, etc.). I thought it was very interesting how only a very small percentage of raw materials came from China or other countries; Italian producers take pride in having their products made in Italy from start to finish. When the products get to the factory, there are usually many machines present, but often there are actual people also taking part in the process. At a textile production company, we saw workers adding colors to fabrics and washing fabrics. At another company, craftsmen guided shoes through machines and then completed some parts of the manufacturing process by hand. There were also companies we visited that made leather products completely by hand without the aid of any machines. The hands-on aspect of Italian retail manufacturing is what gives their products the reputation of being high quality (not to mention expensive). It also shows why Italians have such pride in their work: their finished goods are the products that come from work done by their bare hands, and it is highly respectable. Also, I learned quite a few things about Italian culture. First, their coffee culture is very strict. They usually only drink cappachinos and small expressos; this is why there are no Starbucks stores in Italy. As an avid drinker of large, flavored coffees, this was a difficult adjustment for me to make. Additionally, there is no tipping of waiters or taxi drivers there, which is very different from the US where gratatuity is expected. In general though, I learned that the culture of Italy is more formal than that of the US; people dress more formally, greet each other more formally with a kiss on each cheek, and dine in a more formal fashion, often for several hours with three or four courses. I found this especially fascinating.
In addition, this award allowed me to enhance my participation abroad. I was able to have a more flexible budget in my spending money after receiving the scholarship. This allowed me to take advantage of my experience abroad. I was abe to eat out at authentic Italian restaurants, shop on the streets of Milan, and buy souvenirs for my family and friends. If I did not have the added financial freedom that this reward provided me, I may not have had as an immersive experience abroad. Eating and shopping are extremely important aspects of Italian culture, and I am thankful that I was able to participate fully in these activities.
In conclusion, this study abroad trip actually helped me to be sure of my future plans in Pitt Business. I am now sure that I am going to study abroad in London during spring semester of my junior year. My experience in Italy was so fun and educational, I absolutely must study abroad again and for a longer amount of time. While I know it will be difficult to be away from my family and friends for an entire semester overseas, I know it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I must take. Also, I am planning on majoring in accounting, and once I take my first accounting class this fall I will be able to finalize that decision. I also am going to try to take advantage of site visits offered through clubs such as FBA and hopefully get an internship with a retail company. I am looking forward to my future endeavors at Pitt.