Lost Girl of the Week: Briana Palma

Lost Girl of the Week — By on July 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

This week’s Lost Girl, Briana Palma, graduated from Syracuse University in 2009 with a dual degree in magazine journalism and Spanish language. Shortly after, she moved to Madrid, Spain, where she took up work as an au pair before beginning a one-year master’s program and an internship at celebrity weekly, HELLO! magazine. Briana hails from Boston, which is often considered the most European US city, perhaps explaining her passion for exploring Europe. On her next adventure, she will travel to Rome, where she hopes to discover her Italian roots, eat pasta and tiramisu everyday, and learn to speak the most beautiful language in the world.

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I sat in my aunt and uncle’s apartment in Marsala, Sicily, just a day after seeing them for the first time in 20 years. I had visited only once before at age three, but don’t have any memory of the people or the experience. As I glanced around the room, for the first time in my life I saw myself in the face of someone other than my father: the oval shape, a mid-nose bump, thin lips and narrow eyes. The sensation overwhelmed me when I looked from my cousin Alessandro to his parents to another uncle who sat with his toddler granddaughter. My mom and dad had always said that, unlike my older sister, I resembled my paternal relatives, but I only fully understood when I saw the shy little girl and realized that even we had the same gray-blue eyes, passed down from my grandfather. I didn’t really know them, but these people were my family, my blood, and I hoped to make up for lost time.

But in the short three-day visit, I wanted to say so much that I just couldn’t. My inability to tell my endearing aunt Bice that her company made me so happy really frustrated me. I had come to speak fluently in Spanish, which is so similar but feels completely wrong when struggling to find the right words in Italian. As a language buff, however, I knew that I could change all that if I committed myself to spending some time in Italy, something I had dreamed of doing for years. And so, as a girl who prefers realities to dreams, I’m now letting my wanderlust lead me right to la bella vita in the Eternal City.

My four-month stay in Rome comes on the heels of a year – 362 days to be exact – in another Mediterranean culture. As college graduation approached in 2009, settling into the disastrous job market didn’t have any appeal. So, I packed up and moved to Madrid, Spain to do a master’s, which was a responsible-sounding excuse to get out of the US and get back to the city I fell in love with two years before.

Like many travel enthusiasts, it all started during my study abroad in the Spanish capital. I had the good fortune of living with a caring family and integrating into their life, often finishing the day with a three-hour long dinner filled with delicious food, personal stories and lots of laughter.

Through my relationships with them and a quest to experience all the culture I possibly could from art museums to soccer and bullfights, I began to see travel as an opportunity to learn about people and places, rather than a time to party and work on my (nonexistent) tan. Once an extremely picky eater, I now cherish the chance encounter with a local who will introduce me to his traditional fare. I love the challenge of merging with the life of a city rather than staying on the outside as a passive observer, though the experience often proves difficult. And with this next move to Rome, I’ll dive right in, seeing everyday as an opportunity to get to know the culture that shaped my dad and learn the language that can open the door to a relationship with my Sicilian family.

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    1 Comment

  • Ben H. says:

    What an amazing story. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to reconnect with such a large part of your family.