SFA students go abroad to explore businesses in Portugal

NACOGDOCHES, Texas ­— Twenty students from Stephen F. Austin State University’s Rusche College of Business traveled to Portugal May 15 through 25 to explore businesses and unique sites in the country. They included a company that has made hand-painted tile the same way for 400 years, a small shoemaker who produces shoes by hand with 30 employees, and the largest producer of cork products in the world.

“For many of the students, it was their first opportunity to experience another culture and learn the fine art of international travel,” said Dr. Matt Lindsey, chair of the Department of Management and Marketing, who led the trip with Dr. Mikhail Kouliavtsev, chair of the Department of Economics and Finance.

The students and two faculty members met with a representative from the American Chamber of Commerce in Portugal and visited a variety of cultural and business locations. Those included Sant’Anna, a producer of ceramic tiles; Hotel Mundial, where students received a behind-the-scenes tour with operations manager Joao Monterio; the University of Coimbra, a public research university founded in 1290; the Quinta da Pacheca wine estate in the Douro Valley; the D’Origem olive oil museum; Mariano Shoes; and Amorim Cork.

At Amorim Cork, the students discovered the importance of sustainability. The cork oak tree has been protected in Portugal for over 1,000 years, so cork is harvested without killing the tree. After 40 years of tree growth, the cork can be harvested from a tree every seven years for centuries. 

Kathryn Duncan, a Master of Business Administration student from Plano, said she was impressed by Amorim Cork’s process.

“When they are finished with the production of the bottle stoppers, they can then take the waste from that production and turn it into so many different products, one of the largest being flooring,” she said. “This was one of the most ethical businesses we visited, and seeing how successful they are with such a clean business model gave me a lot of ideas on how to implement this structure in the work that I want to do.”

Students also visited cultural sites, including St. George’s Castle in Lisbon; Jeronimos Monastery; the National Coach Museum of horse-drawn carriages; the historic towns of Sintra, Cascais and Estoril; the medieval town of Obidos; the Douro River; and Clerigos Tower, São Bento Railway Station, and other important points in Porto, Portugal.

“I really enjoyed learning about the history and traditions in each city, especially the São Gonçalo Church in Amarante,” said Lena Brown, human resources senior from El Paso.

A highlight of the trip for Bree Jones, entrepreneurship junior from Beaumont, was “exploring the narrow streets of Lisbon’s historic neighborhoods and taking the river cruise on the beautiful Douro River with vineyards and olive trees decorating the landscape.” 

Oscar Sanchez, a management junior from Jasper, said the trip helped him learn a little patience.

“Time is a suggestion to the Portuguese,” he said. “They are not in a rush because you are.”

For more information on the business college, visit sfasu.edu/cob.