June 28, 2017 Edition

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A-State students soak
up culinary culture in Italy

Anna Bland (left) and Madison Cox visited numerous culinary locations during their Italian adventure, including cheese farms, ham factories and wineries. Among the stops was the Piedmont Cheese Farm in the Alba region.

Aubree Hughart
TD Intern

Anna Bland and Madison Cox, both Walnut Ridge graduates and current students at Arkansas State University, recently returned from a two-week culinary tour of Italy.

The pair traveled alongside 38 other students and faculty of the university. The trip was the culminating experience of a semester-long class about the Italian slow food movement. The trip was the largest study abroad excursion in A-State's history.

Entitled "A Taste of Italy," the tour included visits to Milan, Bra, Turin, Torino, the Alba region, Parma, Florence, San Miniato, Lucca, Montecatini, Bologna, Rome and the Vatican City.

Culinary activities focusing on the slow food movement included wine tasting, pasta making and tours of cheese, ham and chocolate factories. The slow food movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional Italian cuisine and encourages local farming.

Although much of their time was spent in group activities, the students also had free time to explore the areas they visited. Cox said she did not have a singular favorite place – she had a three-way tie.

"I loved the bike ride we got to do in Lucca because it felt like we were locals instead of just tourists," said Cox. She also loved the stunning buildings and fantastic shopping options of Florence and visiting the Biblical Paul's prison in Rome.

Bland also enjoyed her time in Florence. "Florence was my favorite place because it is the one place I would pick to go back and spend more time exploring," said Bland.

Both girls agreed the best moment of the trip was seeing the Coliseum in person. "I've been obsessed with the Coliseum since [the 2000 film] Gladiator, so I loved it," said Cox.

Although their trip was filled with experiences of a lifetime, Bland stated that the lowest moment of the trip was hearing about the bombing attacks at Ariana Grande's Manchester concert on May 22.

The short trip in a large group did not allow too much time for culture shock, however Cox did note that she was surprised at how many people spoke English. "Even if you knew absolutely no Italian," said Cox, "you would be able to get around just fine. That was a relief."

Bland's biggest surprise of the trip revolved around the food. "I only saw spaghetti with meatballs once and I never saw alfredo. Those are definitely Americanized Italian foods," she added.

Although the structured trip took the girls places they admitted they would have never traveled to on their own, they enjoyed more than anything the meals they ate on their own time.

"Once a day, we would usually have a traditional Italian meal as a group," said Bland. "They were good, but I felt like the little Italian restaurants and cafes we found on our own had some of the best food we ate."

Currently home for the summer, Cox is already looking at future study abroad options. She is interested in Arkansas State University's Costa Rica program, which places students in family homes in Costa Rica for a month where they are immersed in the Spanish language. She feels learning Spanish will help her in a future career in the medical field.

Bland also participated in an ASU Honors College World War II study abroad trip two summers ago. That group traveled to England, France, Germany, Austria and Belguim.

Madison Cox is a 2016 co-valedictorian of Walnut Ridge High School. At ASU, she is a biology major with a pre-professional emphasis. She plans to attend medical school. Madison is the daughter of Blake and Rhonda Cox of Walnut Ridge and has three siblings, Matthew, Courtney and Olivia.

Anna Bland is a 2014 co-valedictorian of WRHS. Currently a rising senior at ASU, she will graduate in May 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is focusing on the pre-professional coursework for a career in occupational therapy. She is the daughter of John and Renee Bland of Walnut Ridge.

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