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Teaching Business Culture in the Italian Context

Global and Intercultural Challenges

by Peter Cullen (Volume editor) Maria Elisa Montironi (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 179 Pages

Summary

Italy often suffers from its cultural heritage. Certain themes have passed into stereotype and popular consumption, while others have been overlooked. This volume discusses teaching choices and topics on the implementation of a US study abroad business programme in Italy. The authors first have a look at business questions, then at culture through a chapter on the fashion industry. The final section focuses on methods in teaching Italian culture, language, history, and intercultural communication. This volume highlights non-traditional aspects of Italian culture, and focuses on the intercultural dimension of teaching and learning for study abroad students. The points of view found herein should promote a more contextualized and contemporary view of what studying Italy can be about.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • PART I: Italy and the Global Dimension: Business and Management Challenges and Opportunities
  • Study Abroad for Business Students: the Italian Case (Kevin Clark and Peter Cullen)
  • Internationalizing Italian SMEs: Four Case Studies (Barbara Francioni)
  • Italy in the Global Economic System (Paolo Seri)
  • PART II: Italy and the Global Dimension: Inter-cultural and Didactic Challenges and Opportunities
  • Italian Fashion and the Global Dimension: Challenges and Opportunities (Silvia Scorcella)
  • Italian Language Teaching (Giovanna Carloni, Alessandra Gramolini, Silvia Vandini)
  • Teaching and Learning Culture from a Cross-cultural Perspective: A Case Study (Maria Elisa Montironi)
  • Pragmatics in Intercultural Contexts: A Classroom Case Study (Roberta Mullini)
  • The Economic History of Italy: problems in understanding and teaching (Peter Cullen)

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Introduction

This book was born out of conversation among staff members of the then newly created Business Culture in the Italian Context programme offered in its first edition by the University of Urbino Carlo Bo, Department of International Studies and the Villanova School of Business. The programme was created to be a joint-certificate programme offering credits in both the Italian and the US university systems. As such, both Italian and US academics and administrators have been involved in creating and developing the course. Now preparing for its fifth edition, the course offering is held in Italy at the University of Urbino. The nature of the course requires that both content and didactics are generated and updated in the context of international communicative strategies. Teaching staff is largely Italian, provided by the University of Urbino. One of the courses in the programme is co-taught by a professor from the University of Urbino business programme and a professor from Villanova School of Business. The challenges of teaching US students in the Italian academic context prompted many deep and interesting conversations among teaching and administrative staff. While both American and Italian cultures are closely connected, the context in which this course is offered provides countless intercultural challenges.

As an academic with a North American and Anglophone background, a long-term resident of Italy, as well as scientific and didactic coordinator of the programme, I thought it might be useful to find a forum in which some of the aforementioned conversations could find a more permanent home. Without focusing too much on the nuts and bolts of programme administration, I asked each member of the teaching staff as well as people who contributed to lectures, seminars and activities to submit an article that outlines some of the principal areas of interest and issues in the fields that they teach in the programme. The idea is to bring together the perspectives that each teacher has regarding their specific topic and thus to generate an interdisciplinary logic toward creating coherency in the programme offer. This reflects a suspicion on my part – that too often basic assumptions about other cultures are taken for granted when creating academic study abroad programmes. If you will, too often national and regional cultures are pigeon-holed as academic categories. Italy for art history, food and mafia; England, Germany, China and the US for business and international relations; Canada and Scandinavia or Brazil or Bangladesh for environmental studies… and so on. We tend to generate academic stereotypes that become so commonplace that we barely notice their existence. Italian study abroad has certainly suffered from ← 7 | 8 → this, with great focus on Rome, Florence and Venice as study abroad destinations, ignoring or only superficially treating other areas of the peninsula and other areas of interest. Given the specifically fragmented histories of the long-term resident populations on the Italian peninsula, how much of Italian culture can one understand from visiting these three cities? The University of Urbino is located in a small town near the central Adriatic coast of Italy. It is off the beaten path. The Italian professors who teach in the course are all from the area of Urbino-Ancona. The cultures they bring to the programme are not forged primarily in the traditional US study abroad destinations. The conversations generated with them during the development and implementation of the course are worth sharing.

It is also worth considering how this programme came into being. The idea for the programme came out of discussion on US study abroad in Italy between the Director of the (then called) Office of Education Abroad at Villanova University, the Deans of the Villanova School of Business, Professor Kevin Clark, and me. The central issue we discussed was how to create a programme that would provide the greatest learning experience for Villanova Students wishing to study in Italy. Villanova University professors and staff had already learned to appreciate the “off the beaten path” approach to study abroad, and were curious to see whether a programme could be developed in which the didactic criteria could be met while optimizing experiential or extracurricular learning. To their credit, they also saw the utility of creating a programme that complemented rather than recreated their offering in Business Studies.

Specifically, the programme was designed to offer second-year business students a range of courses that would emphasize a range of factors that relate culture to business studies. To do this, the programme offers courses that in themselves discuss intellectual paradigms that tie macro and micro institutional questions to questions of belief, behaviour and communication. Students in the course take a combination of management and marketing, global political economics, Italian culture or Italian economic history, and Italian language. These courses are designed to offer complementary skills and push the students to consider complementary aspects of Italian social systems that may also complement or contrast with their own cultural paradigms. For example, although the programme offers instruction in management taught by a visiting professor from Villanova University, the required interaction with a local Italian client company necessarily challenges the students’ expectations of what management entails. While North American business schools tend to teach corporate management skills, in Italy the student is challenged to understand the mechanisms of small and medium enterprise management in a family setting. Global political economics too is necessarily ← 8 | 9 → different from the point of view of a European Mediterranean country with such a long and convoluted history. These two courses were specifically added to the programme to create a complementary macro-micro context in which teaching staff could teach cultural questions from the personal to the formal-institutional areas of culture. Purposefully placing the business education in a cultural context also creates a connection with the two elective classes offered to the students – Italian Culture, and Economic History – as well as to the language classes. At the time of this writing, the BCIC programme has had 82 students participate over the 4 years of its existence. From an initial participation of 11–12 students, the programme has scaled to accept around 35 students from Villanova School of Business for each edition. The next step is to help non-Villanova students access the course.

It is fundamental to this programme that students come away with a contextualized understanding of how Italian deal with their businesses and their economy, and how those strategies develop along with other aspects of their culture. For many students this puts into relief perceptions about their own American cultures and practices.

With this background, contributors were asked to present a chapter that they felt would represent this educational context. The chapters are ordered to create a narrative. As the educational emphasis of the programme is primarily Business Culture in the Italian context, the business and economics themes are treated first. The book then shifts to look at culture through a chapter on the Italian fashion industry, which unites the two core areas of the volume – combining business considerations and cultural issues, such as fashion semiotics and taste. The last four chapters focus on methods in teaching Italian culture, language and history, and intercultural communication.

Clark and Cullen discuss the practical aspects of developing the programme specifically for American students. Francioni analyses some specific issues of internationalizing Italian SMEs, a theme central to the education of students in this programme. Seri widens the scope to look at the Italian economy in the global political economic sphere, placing it firmly among issues of its Mediterranean European identity.

The second part of the book is opened by Scorcella, a guest speaker in the programme, who presents dynamics in the contemporary fashion industry and illustrates how contemporary tastes can be interpreted in contrast to expectations of Italian classic fashion – a common theme among critics of consumption of “traditional” Italian culture. Carloni, Gramolini and Vandini discuss specifically the issues and methods of teaching Italian language to US students using a communicative approach that integrates grammar rather than shifting emphasis from ← 9 | 10 → one to the other. This multi-modal approach also allows a great deal of flexibility in teasing out students’ competencies and makes the language teaching an integrated subject rather than something complementary to the business education provided. Montironi then addresses issues of cross-cultural communication in teaching Italian culture to American students, placing second-culture on the same plane as second language – an important approach to creating successful study abroad courses. The theme of second-culture and classroom diversity is complemented by Mullini, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Urbino. In her essay she offers a case study on pragmatics, which comes from an MA course in English literature taught to Italians, providing a reverse-look at the issue. Finally, Cullen provides some considerations on Italian Studies in general and the way we fall into paradigmatic traps when considering the histories of other cultures, emphasizing aspects that fit our expectations without considering weaknesses in our own disciplinary cultures.

Biographical notes

Peter Cullen (Volume editor) Maria Elisa Montironi (Volume editor)

Peter Cullen, Doctorate University of Bari 2007, teaches language and culture for business at the University of Urbino. Maria Elisa Montironi, Doctorate University of Urbino 2012, teaches Italian culture and English literature at the University of Urbino.

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Title: Teaching Business Culture in the Italian Context