Intensive rural experience in the Italian Dolomites

In the impressive mountain area of the Italian Dolomites, province of Belluno, four female students from the Wageningen University spent the first two weeks of April. They participated in this year’s Intensive Program on Rural Development. The IP was about “the role of agriculture in territorial identity” of Belluno Province. To read more about their experiences, click on the links below.


– People in the IP  – Suzanne de la Fonteijne
Methods used during the IP – Lise Alix
– (Food)culture – Annemijn van der Schaar
– Role of Wageningers in the IP – Marina van Maanen

People in the IP – Suzanne de la Fonteijne
The students that participated were from a lot of different countries in the EU and moreover from different fields of study. Some were bachelor, some were master students. Some were partying all night, some were serious. Some spoke 3 languages fluently, others knew some basic English. Some were only 20 years old, others  already 30.  It was, in short, interesting  to work together with such a diverse group, all having their own interests and working styles.

The same counts for the tuGroupicture of the excursion to Sud-Tiroltors who were giving us lectures and were guiding us in the group work. Before the IP, I always thought that the teaching style between lecturers in Wageningen we very diverse. But here, everybody came from such a different background and had different qualities, that I realise that studying in one university is making you get used to one way of thinking and working. So that was really an eye opener.

Also we got to know the local people in a different way than as being a tourist. We visited farmers, hunters, foresters and other active people in the area. We enjoyed their hospitality a lot and tried to get better insight in their lifestyle which is strongly based on the regional identity.

Concluding, we enjoyed the mountains for two weeks and the weather was amazing. This was definitely a contributing factor to the positive atmosphere in the group, although the grappa contributed as well…. We made new friends, of which we probably see none of them again.

I must say, it was not always easy, and frustrating at some times. But now I realise, that’s all part of the learning experience and I can appreciate it a lot!

Methods used during the IP – Lise Alix
With around 30 international students we have undertaken a Rapid Rural Appraisal of different regions in this area. Divided in small groups we visited several important stakeholders to get a global impression of this area. After having presented our conclusions to each other, we were remixed into different groups. Each group studied the entire area on a specific topic, like Nature Conservation, Tourism, Economic Development, etc. Two days we locked ourselves inside again, ignoring sun and mountains outside, to work on Problem Trees, SWOT-analysis , Alternative Strategies and Logical Frameworks.

The last day we all presented to each other  and to involved stakeholders what we thought would be best for future development of the region. Since it had been a very Intensive Program, which meant little time to prepare, presentations had an overall appearance of Great Chaos, which I thought was a pity to all the work that had been done and the ideas that had  been created.

(Food )culture – Annemijn van der Schaar
The IP was more than methodologies and group work.  For me,  it was the cultural aspect that made the program even more interesting. First of course I am talking about the culture of the Northern region of Italy. To begin with, their eating culture. Besides lectures and field trips, the third activity of the IP was eating. Breakfast, coffee break, lunch, coffee break, dinner: an average day of IP. The Italian eating culture was amazing. Not just an half hour break for your sandwich during lunch time, as we are used to in Holland, but instead we took one hour and a half for eating the three different dishes served during lunch. As IThe food wasn't always great, but the people were... learned from one of the Italian students, this was the Italian lifestyle.  I could get used to that!

During the fieldtrips we learned more and more about culture and personally I noticed that their eating culture had a prominent place in this. In relation to territorial identity this was noticeable as well, because it were mostly products like cheese, wines and beer with which they promoted the area. The focus on using exclusively local milk and barley for producing these products showed the attachment people have with their territory and their passion for high quality food products.

Role of Wageningers in the IP – Marina van Maanen
It surprised me that we as students from Wageninger University  were very good in presenting and expressing ourselves. I think we are used to interactive processes within Wageningen university. This came out to be very beneficial in comparison to other universities/countries, where interactive processes are not the norm.  We almost always have an opinion about what is going on (very reflective) and within the group of Dutch girls we evaluated a lot of things happening within the IP both positive and negative. This made us also very critical, was the IP what we expected it to be?

The answer to that question is no, but we appreciated the IP in very different ways. We all agree that it was and is a very good experience to participate in an IP, but progress in IP programs can be made.
Participating students from Wageningen can make a very good contribution to future IP’s! A unique international experience….