Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another islandista 'it girl' - Nicole Fiscella

Well this came as a bit of surprise even to us here at islandista, who avidly track the Caribbean heritage of every celeb.

Did you know that Gossip Girl's Nicole Fiscella is an islandista? St. Lucian mother, Guyanese father.


So... what gives with the last name Fiscella right? That's what we thought. It's not a very Lucian or Guyanese name.

Apparently it is the name of her stepfather. Her father doesn't seem to have been a big factor in her life - in fact, her mother Julietta Fiscella who emigrated to the States when she was 19, went through some rough times after she and Nicole's father split when the future Gossip Girl was just 18 months old.

She decided to go to medical school which is not any kind of cheap and actually had to go on welfare, use food stamps, the whole nine yards.

From the alumni site of the State University of New York, University at Buffalo:
Fiscella enrolled at St. John’s University as a biology major, but foundered her freshman year. Her schoolwork suffered as she juggled academics with single parenthood. Lacking a solid foundation in the sciences, her courses overwhelmed her. Unaccustomed to multiple-choice exams – in St. Lucia, students were given only essay tests – she earned all Cs and Ds her first semester.

To motivate herself, Fiscella posted affirmations on her bathroom mirror that reinforced the pact she had made with herself: “I will support myself and my daughter.” “I will help my parents.” “I will be at the top of my profession.”

By her sophomore year, Fiscella’s grades had improved, but her savings had run dry. To make ends meet, she saw no other option than to apply for welfare.

Lean times meant that she had to make meals stretch as far as possible, while putting money to the side so she could take her daughter, Nicole, out for a modest meal once a month. To bolster her morale, Fiscella always performed the same mental exercise: She imagined herself as a doctor.

“The whole picture would play over and over in my mind,” she says. “Every moment of the day was spent focusing on my goal. I visualized myself in a white coat with a stethoscope, helping patients.”

It has been two decades, but Fiscella vividly remembers the plane landing in the midst of a Buffalo blizzard for her medical school interview.

“It was like it was already my home,” she says. “That night I told my mother that, no matter which other school accepted me, I was coming to Buffalo.”

Like many of her peers, Fiscella found medical school grueling. Being away from her daughter throughout the day made the experience more challenging still.

“But, again, I had my focus,” she says. “I had all these people depending on my success, especially my daughter. It was a different experience than many other people have.”

Different, indeed. While other students were studying, Fiscella was standing in line at schools and churches to receive free eggs or cheese. One day Nicole came home from school in tears, upset that kids had teased her because she received meals from the subsidized “food line.” In response, Fiscella started skipping her own lunches so her daughter could have them to take to school.

At the supermarket one afternoon, she found that she didn’t have enough food stamps to pay for her groceries. With her daughter by her side, she watched in mortification as the clerk flicked on the checkout light and began shouting for the manager to come and attend to the problem.

Even worse were her routine visit to the Social Services office. Although she made her own clothes, she purposely dressed down for these appointments so the social worker wouldn’t suspect her of being better off than she was.

“I don’t wish anyone to go through what I went through,” Fiscella says of her years on welfare. “People make judgments about who you are. But at the same time, I knew that if I could put my pride on the shelf, I could get through this time and achieve my goal.”

Inspiring. And funny how life is, isn't it? After coming up pretty hard, Fiscella (the younger) is now making a living portraying this uber-elite, aspirational lifestyle. Interestingly enough, Gossip Girl is her first ever acting role. After graduating from Boston's Tufts University she started working as a model for a few years. During that time, she resisted numerous urgings to try acting but finally gave in and went for the Gossip Girl role - and got it. Go girl - we love to see islandistas doing well,  no matter where in the world they are.

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