For eight weeks over the past two summers, Senior Jillian Dunn traveled to, studied, and lived in Borca di Cadore, Italy, with her professor and a few other UR students. The purpose of Jillian’s time in Italy, however, wasn’t spent as most study abroad programs are, in foreign cities and university classrooms. Her goal was to study social cohesion and community resilience in a small mountain village.
The principal investigator of this study, Professor Nancy P. Chin, first approached Dunn about the opportunity after Dunn had taken in her Public Health 101 class, and had later been a TA for the same course. Dunn was already planning to travel with Chin at this point to Leh, Ladakh, India, to study the community there, but Chin realized Dunn’s potential for a similar study in Italy and encouraged her to travel there, as well.
Borca di Cadore is an alpine village in the Dolomites that was chosen for this study partially because it is where Professor Chin’s ancestors originate from.
“As a whole, mountain communities experience a special set of vulnerabilities, and we wanted to understand possible models for strength, resilience, and change,” Dunn said.
In 2014, Dunn took part in the Italy Project with one other student, senior Michael Healey, and collected life histories of elderly populations with the goal of understanding this population’s responses to changes between 1935 and 1960. Dunn returned to the program in 2015 as the Project Coordinator, along with other UR students: senior Chloe Chepigin, junior Andrew Tarbox, junior Marissa Martin, sophomore Nicole Kase, and sophomore Erin Muir. The principal investigator was Professor Chin again, with an Italian anthropologist, Marta Talpelli, and a UR alumna, Giulia Perucchio, as co-investigators.
In 2015, they wanted to continue understanding responses in the community to specific historical changes, but they had also added new, additional goals. Dunn and her fellow students wanted to understand the same changes investigated in 2014, but also “how to rebuild community cohesion, as well as different community and institutional resources to do so,” through conducting interviews, transcribing interviews, and analyzing the collected information.
The students wanted to be positive influences in the community, and tried to learn about Borchese culture through interactive activities within it.
“We would help with gardening or a town fair and attend different town hall meetings or lectures and demonstrations.” Dunn said.
These demonstrations were specific to Borchese culture; some taught the students how nineteenth century mountain men would farm and other activities included meeting up with a sheep herder, alpine artists, carpenters, and blacksmiths.
“The research was really successful, with great credit to our wonderful community partners,” Dunn said. The project is planned to continue, eventually hoping to benefit the community by providing the “essential tools and capacity to own the work and leverage the data that best fits their needs.” They’ve already taken a step toward their goal by making friends and finding collaborators in Borca di Cadore that will help the cause rally on.
When asked whether she’d like to go back to Borca, Dunn said, “I would love to go back, whether or not it is specifically on the next stint of the project.” As a senior, and with graduation approaching, she expressed that she wasn’t sure of next summer’s plans or whether returning would even be possible. “I, myself, cannot imagine not meeting up with my wonderful host parents or Borca friends somewhere in the future.”
Students on the trip spent half their time in Borca staying at a local bed-and-breakfast, but, for the other half, they stayed in homes. Dunn was lucky enough to stay with the same homestay mother for both years, and looks back fondly on hikes with her host-mother and host-mother’s boyfriend, exploring outside. For the most part, when the students were in Borca during their 2015 trip they didn’t have the chance to travel for fun, but when they did have time off, they went on walks and took day trips up and down the valley to various surrounding villages.
“It is a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun,” Dunn concluded. From the mountain views and cute goats, to the Borchese community and the Italian Research project, to her new friends and new experiences, Dunn described her time in Borca di Cadore as unique and exciting.