Like most students at Richmond, Riannon Blaisdell-Black, ’09, spent a semester studying abroad. In the spring of 2007 she took classes in Ferrara, Italy, traveling around the country on the weekends. But unlike most Richmond students who secured internships or research positions for the summer that followed, Blaisdell-Black, who is a cadet in the Army ROTC program and will be commissioned immediately following her graduation, found herself with one last free summer to fill before her four-year commitment to the United States Army began.

Deciding where to spend the summer was easy. Her time she had spent in Ferrara wasn’t the first time she’d fallen in love with Italy. She had also participated in a summer study abroad program to Perugia following her first year at Richmond. She knew she wanted to return to Italy. But Blaisdell-Black, an international studies major and Italian minor, wanted to do something different this time around. She bought a round trip ticket to Rome with five and a half weeks between arrival and departure and began to explore ways to fill the time in between.

“I had heard about agritourism, where you work on a farm and live with a family,” said Blaisdell-Black. “And I thought it seemed like a great way to get to know a different side of life in Italy and to really immerse myself in the language.” She communicated with several families, none of whom spoke English, and settled on two families who owned farms on the Adriatic coast.

Blaisdell-Black’s first three weeks in Italy were spent outside the city of Pescara with a family who ran a farm and an 11-room bed and breakfast. Everything from produce to pasta was grown or made on the premises. Blaisdell-Black spent her six-hour workdays tending plants outdoors or preparing food in the kitchen and says that she picked up a variety of eclectic skills during her stay.

“I got really good with a knife after cutting tomatoes for over 100 gallons of sauce,” she said. Without any other English speakers around, Blaisdell-Black says she knew that within the first few days, she’d either sink or swim. But after spending just a short time living and working closely with the family, a switch flipped and her Italian vocabulary started to come together in conversation.

“It was such a different kind of abroad experience—there I’d be in a back kitchen of the bed and breakfast, folding ravioli with an Italian grandmother watching that I did it right!” Blaisdell-Black said.

Instead of traveling as she’d done on previous trips, Blaisdell-Black enjoyed spending her free time around the farm, reading by the pool or walking into town for gelato. She kept up with her ROTC workouts by running in the hills of a nearby national park.

After her time at the bed and breakfast ended, Blaisdell-Black went to work on a honey farm located outside the northern city of Pesaro. She says that the family, who also raised chickens and grew vegetables, treated her like a visiting relative.

“Both families were wonderful but the second family was especially wonderful,” Blaisdell-Black said. She learned about honey through watching the father and sons smoke out the bees from the surrounding trees and collect honeycomb from the hive boxes. The honeycomb went into a manual centrifuge, at which Blaisdell-Black spent many hours turning out honey by hand. She says the hospitality of the family made it easy to want to pitch in, and manning the centrifuge turned out to be a great workout.

With the communication barrier lessening daily, she was able to really enjoy the family and their friends from the surrounding farms. The nights were filled with dinner parties hosted by the family and their friends; Blaisdell-Black was always brought along as a welcome guest.

“At the parties the family would tell their friends, ‘this is our American’,” she said. “It was great to be able to talk to everyone.”

One of Blaisdell-Black’s favorite memories is the night of her birthday, which was also the night of a lunar shower. While at a neighboring farm’s star gazing party, she and a group of young Italians talked late into the night in a mix of both their languages. They taught each other new words and laughed at the cultural differences between their two countries.

Blaisdell-Black left Italy at the end of the summer with six jars of honey, two jars of tomato sauce and a bottle of olive oil, all of which she had a part in making. Now, after a summer devoted to taking time for herself, she is looking forward to devoting next summer to an entirely different pursuit—Army training begins shortly after graduation.