Cherish family, especially abroad

Letter to the Editor by: Maria Vitale, Senior, Communication

There is no better word than “amazing” to describe my experience studying abroad in Italy. It would take way too long to talk about all the places that I visited so I want to talk about my favorite part … meeting my relatives in southern Italy for the first time.

It worked out perfectly that I was able to spend my entire Easter break traveling to Bari and Colle Sannita in Southern Italy. I was nervous to meet people who I have never met before. There were, however, two members of my family who are able to speak English. I learned so much about their holiday traditions and daily lives.

It is challenging to put into words what it means to meet family members whom you have never met, and to do it alone. I felt independent and very fortunate. Only a few of my family members in the US have met my relatives in Italy. I was the only grandchild who was able to meet everyone. While in Colle, my papa’s cousin showed me where his parents were born and raised until they came to the U.S. It is a special connection and was the most precious gift I have ever been given. Learning the roots of your family is interesting, emotional and inspiring.

I was very nervous to meet Maria Libra Pilla, the first relative I saw. I knew she did not speak nor understand any English. I was nervous, but the moment she saw me, she knew who I was an embraced me so warmly in her arms. She held me for what seemed like an hour. I was no longer nervous. I immediately felt safe and comfortable with her. It was overwhelming, yes, but I wasn’t scared. I felt like I have known her my entire life.

After a few days with Sister Maria, I went to Colle Sannita, which is three hours further south. I stayed with Grazina and Pepe who are my grandfather’s extended relatives. While with them, I was told that Grazina and Pepe’s two children, Angelo-Mario and Fabiola, have been to the United States and remember my mother and father and told me stories about their trip to the US.

Nicholette and her daughter-in-law Sonia came to pick me up on Easter Day. Nicholette is my papa’s first cousin. I made a very personal connection with her and her family. They had pictures of my papa and grandmother, my papa’s parents, and my mother and her siblings around their house. Nicholette kept telling me how much I looked like my mother’s grandmother. They knew that my papa had recently passed. They knew how I felt because they were feeling the same hurt. There is nothing more personal than that connection. They went on to tell me so many stories about my papa and his brother while they were visiting so many years ago.

The traditions my relatives had are very similar to what my family holds as important in the US. The order in which we eat our meals and what we eat, the importance of always gathering as one big family and the very typical tradition that the women cook and clean while the men enjoy a nice cold drink! Even though mass was in Latin, the tradition that I grew up in was very similar. I will never forget every detail of what I learned while I was with my family. I plan to return to Italy and visit everyone again, this time knowing a little more Italian!

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