It’s Re-Entry Reality Monday! This week we’re shaking things up and breaking from the traditional Re-Entry Reality questions.
In this interview, Lori shares her erreur de jeunesse, how it affected her re-entry, and what she learned about what travel cannot do for you. Enjoy!
Would you like to share your Re-Entry Reality? Contact me – I’d love to talk with you!
Although she was born and raised in Rochester, New York, Laura (Lori) D. Nolasco is often asked where she is “originally from.” She has lived in Paris, France, and traveled to the Middle East as well as the Dominican Republic. In 1995, she earned a Doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from the Sorbonne, and upon her return to her hometown, she acquired Spanish. Fluent in Italian and Arabic as well, she asserts, “culture rules my life to benefit others.”
Currently, she teaches English as a Second Language at the college level and is working toward becoming a cross-cultural trainer. She lives in Rochester with her husband Ramón. Since 2011, she has studied with baritone Derrick Smith at the Eastman Community School, thus reviving a long-cherished passion for vocal music.
If I had had dozens of photos of the Chateaux of the Loire Valley to show my family and friends, I am sure they would have looked at them not once but several times. If I had told them about the production of Sartre’s No Exit in a theatre-in-the-round, they would have listened in rapt attention.
It was not my story of a spring semester abroad in Paris, France that I was being banned from telling. Like a 76-year-old friend who shared her erreur de jeunesse (youthful indiscretion) with me recently, I had transgressed every boundary of decency by falling in love with un Marocain (a Moroccan, who for all intents and purposes was considered “black”). The only difference between my friend in 1956 and me in 1986 was that she realized the folly of such a union, whereas I defended it tooth and nail.
I had to keep my newfound “love” secret, and it festered into a wound that has taken all this time to heal.
What were the cultural differences you experienced?
It was not only a matter of race or religion, for my family had had similar reactions to white men from Western New York who were all too eager to take advantage of a naïve young girl with low self-esteem. And frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about him, his culture or his religion. All the red flags were there, but I wanted someone to make me feel alive.
To boys at home, I was invisible, and all of a sudden, it seemed that every man 5’8″ and under found me attractive. Among them were those who wanted an adventure before they went back home to marry a virginal girl from their hometown, and there were also the green-card seekers. I was able to ward off the first horde, but my shrewder “love” fell into the latter category.
Initially, he had been attracted by my flamboyant style of dress and asked me if I was an actress. I replied that I studied music as a hobby. I took him with me to my voice lessons, the ballet, and that theatre-in-the-round production of No Exit, where we sat on benches that were too low to the ground.
Then he started asking to “borrow” money for medical appointments, eyeglasses, and all and sundry, from the meager allowance that had been given to me to have a good time during my semester abroad. At one point I got angry and told him that enough was enough. The argument became quite ugly, and he used such words as “capitalist” and “materialist” as if they were obscenities. “If I am a capitalist and a materialist, then so be it,” I told him. He kept asking me, “What have you ever done for me?” to which I replied, “Too darn much!”
This was the time when Janet Jackson’s hit “What Have You Done For Me Lately” was heard everywhere in the world. In fact, it was playing in the café on the night I told him, as my parents would put it, to go rub rock salt.
Then boredom set in that Sunday afternoon. I tried returning to church, even going to confession in French while the priest helped me say the Act of Contrition. I tried studying, which was the reason I had come in the first place, and walking in the Parc Montsouris opposite the Cité Internationale student housing. In essence, I was once again the little nobody I had been when I arrived, so I did the unthinkable and went looking for him to apologize. I had been thoroughly brainwashed.
What was your re-entry experience like when you returned home?
On the day I flew home, I had $1.25 in my pocket, and a classmate from nearby Buffalo allowed me to borrow $20, which I repaid as soon as I found a summer job. Still I nourished the hope that I would be married within the year. The neighbor next door would walk to the mailbox every day in hopes of receiving news from her fiancé who was stationed overseas on a military base. I would tell my mother, “Diane looks so upset. That’s how I feel when I don’t get any mail.” The reply would be, “She’s engaged,” and my retort was always, “Well, so am I!”
I longed to be taken away from a drab existence. My traditional Italian grandmother cramped my style horribly, and even the neighbor across the street warned me to “stay single” when I announced I was returning to Paris after graduation. My final year of college provided some respite from the naysayers. In the fall semester, my secret fiancé wanted my parents to give me $10,000 to sponsor him to study in the U.S. and I wrote back to him with a flat no! Instead, I would forsake everything and go and live with him in Paris. Fueled by euphoria, I managed to earn a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the spring semester, when the letters stopped coming altogether.
It should have come as no surprise to me when he was nowhere to be found after the plane landed at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle Airport on May 27, 1987. He turned up ten days later and had obviously moved on. Without compassion, he told me that my “rich family” would always provide for me and that some day I would marry “an American.”
What do you know *now* about re-entry that you wish you’d known earlier?
I joke with GenY colleagues that a Skype session might have put a stop to everything. Since it was still the era of the cassette, I pulled out my Janet Jackson Control tape and played it to remind myself of who I had once been. I could not return home, and I forced myself to attend classes. By the time I earned my Doctoral degree from the Sorbonne in 1995, I had yet to realize that travel does not help anyone settle unfinished business at home.
For the first time in 28 years, I was able to laugh at my erreur de jeunesse as I discussed my erstwhile Desdemona complex with my grandmotherly friend.
Thanks for sharing your Re-Entry Reality, Lori!