Text by Jamie Connors
American girl goes to Italy for a summer program worth nine academic credits. Girl meets handsome young Italian hairdresser who is a rising star on the Milan runways. Couple falls madly in love. They marry and live happily in the mountain town of Cagli.
If you think it sounds too much like the script of a made-for-TV-movie, you have company. So does Nicole Luccarelli. She's the American girl.
"I came to Italy looking for nothing more than those nine credits," Luccarelli says. "Not once did I think I would find the love of my life."
The conversation is taking place in Piazza Mattiotti just a few blocks from the home she now shares with her husband Matteo Susini in the historic section of this medieval town. The story of how she got here is one filled with serendipity.
In 2004 Luccarelli was a 19-year-old sophomore at Loyola College in Maryland intent on getting a degree in marketing and public relations and eventually working on "The Hill" in Washington. The prospect of earning nine credits during an intensive seven-week intercultural journalism course sparked her attention.
The fact it was in Italy, she says, a secondary consideration. Vacations and travel for the Luccarelli family had always meant trips to the seashore of their native New Jersey.
Looking for romance, she admits, was no consideration: She was "the biggest nerd" in her class, concerned only about school. She didn't even get her hair cut at Susini's shop the first year.
The second year she returned to Cagli as a graduate assistant for the program, having been one of the best students the year before. So it was no surprise that she arrived at the Caffe Commercio in Piazza Mattiotti one night, unconcerned with being hot and sweaty after a walk. Susini, then 29, certainly didn't mind when they were introduced.
When Luccarelli's family arrived seven weeks later to enjoy a tour of Italy with their daughter, they were introduced to Susini. Luccarelli's mother could see the future in their eyes. She tells people, "I knew right away my daughter was in love."
A long-distance romance followed, with the couple trading trans-Atlantic flights while Luccarelli finished her studies. Those trips were smooth sailing compared to the rough trip Susini experienced on the night he intended to propose. Luccarelli recalls how she locked herself out of the apartment, a problem that could only be solved by a visit from the local fire department to assist Susini through an open window.
The proposal was more successful the next evening, and the wedding took place in Cagli in September 2007.
Luccarelli understands the journey to the love of her life will read like a dream to many American girls. And, she says, that dream has become her reality for the most part.
There were challenges the couple had to overcome, including learning each other's languages, and her coping with the yearning to be with her family during the holidays.
But, by and large, Luccarelli says she is more than happy with the results of her decision to get those nine credit hours.