Travelling Alone and Finding Your Heritage- a Photo Essay

This post is from our official student blogger, Gianluca D’Elia. Gianluca is a Junior Journalism major with a minor in Political Science from Rider University.

The decision to travel alone can be a scary one. Several of my friends abroad travel in a group, with their roommates or at least with one friend. But when I decided to visit my family’s hometown all the way across the country from Rome, I wanted the weekend to myself. The only issue here was that I had never traveled alone.

I felt comfortable getting through an airport alone, having traveled from Rome to Copenhagen (with a layover in Oslo) to visit my friend from home who was studying abroad. But this was different — how this whole weekend would go was up to me, and no one else.

So in early November, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Bari, Italy, in the Puglia region where my great-grandparents first immigrated to the U.S. from. Even before I studied abroad, I knew I wanted to visit this region. I read that the Puglia region was an up-and-coming vacation destination, but not as tourist-heavy as Rome or Florence.

My ancestors on my father’s side of the family moved to New Jersey from a small fishing village called Molfetta in the early 1930s, so I didn’t have anyone to stay with. This led me to book my first solo experience with Airbnb, which turned out to be wonderful. I stayed in a private room with a balcony overlooking the sea at the apartment of a Barese woman, who recommended sites to visit and restaurants to dine at. Having traveled to Bari by myself, I was nervous to do both of these things by myself, but I found a sense of empowerment in eating alone and taking my time to visit sites like the Basilica of Saint Nicholas.

On the second day of my trip, I took a 20-minute train ride to Molfetta, my family’s town of origin. I did not find any long lost relatives, but I enjoyed the historic district of town, ate a gelato by the dock where my great-grandfathers had once fished, and took plenty of pictures. Even though I did not meet anyone, I felt satisfied. I had learned so much even before I set foot in Molfetta. My dad told me that during the great Molfettese migration before and after World War II, several villagers left and went wherever they could as soon as possible. Some went to Argentina, some to Australia, and some, like my grandfather’s parents and older siblings, went to Hoboken, New Jersey, where the Molfettese culture, dialect, and traditions are still present to this day. My aunt even keeps a list of Molfettese vocabulary words and slang on hand for when she encounters fellow Molfettese New Jerseyans.

If you are lucky enough to study abroad in the country your family is from, I highly recommend trying to find the town they once lived in. For me, it was a humbling experience that made me feel more connected to my family and my identity as an Italian-American.

These are some of the pictures I captured in Bari and Molfetta:

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  1. […] The API Abroad Blog: This blogger used the opportunity to study abroad to find answers about his family origin in Italy. Which really peaked my interest in exploring my own family history and seeing all the potential places it can take me. […]

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