Zack came to us from Towson University in the fall semester of 2005. He’s now on the Product Creative Team at Netflix. Read on to learn what happened then that affected the now in Zack’s life and work. And don’t miss his fabulous Instagram feed at @alphalight!
Why Arcadia? Why Athens?
I went into my study abroad search with a few things in mind. I wanted a less popular destination, I wanted to challenge myself with the language/culture, and I didn't want to attend a big program. I'm also Greek, and at the time I wasn't very in touch with my Greek heritage so Athens was appealing out of the gate. Arcadia matched most of the criteria, and the early conversations with the recruiters fueled my excitement. I admittedly wasn't the most motivated college kid. I think I went to my advisor once or twice in four years, and I easily got lost in the shuffle of attending a bigger school (Towson was ~15k). The Arcadia recruiters weren't just trying to fill spots, they were genuinely curious as to why I was interested and shared a ton of context upfront about the program.
The teachers at Arcadia Athens did more than just teach. They became friends and were more than happy to meet with us after hours to continue a conversation, or show us a new place to visit. A class trip to a museum turns into afternoon coffee, which turns into a long walk back to the school through a different neighborhood. The faculty encouraged our curiosity and pushed us to explore the country and take trips, while still being available for guidance and help if needed.
The school and housing truly feel like part of the community. Dropped right in the middle of Pagrati, the school and apartments are integrated into the community, and you couldn't get a more genuine experience abroad. Because the apartments are spread out across the area, it forces you to get out of your comfort zone, explore, and not stay in the dorm with others. Seeing familiar faces around town for the whole semester quickly created a sense of place, and comfort.
Athens attracts a certain kind of person. London is amazing, but there's no language barrier. Barcelona is amazing but it's saturated with American students. Athens is challenging, but in the best way possible, so you know you're going to be with a group of like-minded students.
Did your time in Athens impact your career path?
Spending time at in Athens made me realize I wanted to work somewhere that required interaction with people outside the US. I first experienced this working at Ogilvy & Mather, an ad agency in Chicago. We had a few satellite offices internationally that I worked with to deliver creative materials to. Now at Netflix it's a daily activity. We’re a global company, and success relies heavily on building and managing relationships with people all over the world. Arcadia taught me the patience to communicate with people who aren't native English speakers, and the mindfulness to learn a little bit about their business culture so I could read between the lines during email and phone conversations.
Dare I say that most companies now have some sort of international aspect? If you’re even mildly interested in tech, advertising, entertainment, banking, or pretty much any other, experience abroad can be impactful.
The other obvious thing study abroad programs do is widen your social network. College is a whirlwind of making friends, but studying at Arcadia in Athens was a more intimate experience. You're all in it together . . . really excited, kind of scared, mildly homesick, but all of those things, along with some occasional ouzo*, strengthened the relationships between students. Throughout my adult life there have been pivotal moments where I moved to new cities, and I had built-in support groups of Arcadia alum, specifically my moves to St. Louis, Chicago, and LA.
*Ok, the ouzo was might have been more than occasional.
What sort of useful skills did you acquire in Athens?
The first thing that comes to mind is problem-solving, aka,"How the f*ck do we get home from here?" Before anyone finishes college they should get dropped on a remote Greek island with 3 people they’ve only known for a few days, and forced to figure out how to work together to get home after the last ferry just left for the night.
This one may seem obvious, but the value of quickly adjusting to new personalities and building relationships was also a big takeaway for me. The reality of starting a new job is that you're not going to vibe with every single person at the office, but you're definitely going to have to figure out how to work well with those people to achieve the overarching goal of the company. Arcadia Athens is a microcosm of a business, with different personalities and experience levels forced to work together in order to succeed. The commonality at Arcadia Athens is that you ALL chose that location, and you're essentially reliant upon the group to dictate the experience you have there. The staff and faculty do an amazing job of encouraging group activities and projects early on to help strengthen the bond of the students.
I touched on this earlier, but I also became much more globally minded during my time in Athens, especially because it was such a long program (a full semester as opposed to a mini-mester). My program was laid out in a thoughtful way, with only 4 days of classes, which gave me ample time to take quick weekend trips around Greece and Europe. This exposure to different cultures not only fueled me creatively but also planted the seed that not everyone operates the same way I do. At Netflix I’m on the Product Creative Team, which is a fancy name for the team that creates the thousands of images that are used on Netflix to promote our films and series. We have to be SUPER globally minded because these images are used in over 190 countries. We’re constantly evaluating how our creative will be seen and interpreted, and what will resonate best with our members.
And your photography?
I started taking photography seriously a few years ago when I was living in Chicago. I would walk around the city during my lunch break and take pictures of the city. When I moved to LA, I ended up renting an apartment in Venice Beach, where I still am today. Most of my photos are taken around Venice, which as you can imagine offers an endless amount of subjects to shoot. It’s easy to find inspiration in such a lively place, and I just bought a drone, so it’s been awesome seeing Venice from a new perspective! Since I create images all day at Netflix, learning photography has helped me give better creative feedback to the designers I work with and has improved my editorial eye. Looking back at the pictures I took in Greece I could have used these skills!