It was a time of violence and danger. Peru in the 1990’s raged with internal conflict, and Isabella Lanata’s family was living in the center of it in Lima. Isabella wasn’t born yet, but her parents knew they needed to leave the conflicted South American country when a bang erupted outside their five-year-old daughter (Isabella’s older sister)’s window in the middle of the night. Unsure if it was a bomb or a gunshot, the decision was made that they would move to meet family in Canada. There, in Edmonton, Alberta, Isabella was born.
She describes herself in the earliest part of her life as a “baby Isa speaking Spanglish,” growing up in a household with two Peruvian-born parents. She was the baby of the family with a 7-year-older brother, Juan, and 10-year-older sister, Fran, who both made fun of her for being the only family member not born in Peru. But home would be something of an uncertainty for Isabella, as her family left Canada only three years after she was born to come to America. They settled in Weston, Florida, where Isa spent most of her life growing up, from the ages of three to thirteen.
“I liked growing up there,” Isa says on living in Florida, “but I’m happy we didn’t stay.” She describes Southern Florida as having a “very specific culture,” a mixture of being pressured to look your best all the time, partying all the time, and relying on others to make friends. “I just don’t think I would have been the same person [had we stayed],” Isa says. But, her adolescence was happy, and she developed a love for Paris, with friends and family gifting her mini Eiffel towers and other Parisian memorabilia on special occasions.
Her dreams and social life were finally rooted down somewhere, but in the middle of her adolescence, Isa was uprooted again. This time, her family settled in The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb outside of Houston. Although she didn’t want to leave all her friends in Florida behind at the time, Isa says she learned a lot about herself in the process.
“I now know that I adapt well to those kinds of situations,” Isa says. She went from leaning on others to introduce her to new people, to having to introduce herself and meet people on her own. Coming to Boston University, Isa says, was another chance to adapt to Northern temperatures and a different culture.
“BU is one of those schools that embraces diversity really well,” Isa says, “especially coming from Texas where I had to worry about being told to stop speaking Spanish in the grocery store.” She felt that BU was too big of a school to not find some sort of belonging, and adapted well. She made friends in her freshman dorm, and even met a certain boy who we’ll call Channing* for the sake of privacy.
One month into her college career, Isa and Channing began a relationship, all while Isa was figuring out how to “be a student, how to college, and how to have fun doing it.” She got a job in retail in the fall of her sophomore year, which she says was hard to add on to her school work with a PR major and Sociology minor, and a relationship on top of that. But she still wanted to get more involved, and decided to explore Greek Life in the spring of sophomore year.
February of her sophomore year came to Isa as a testing time. Many college students go through rough patches, but for her, it had a personal touch: her sister was turning 30, and recruitment was the same weekend that her sister’s surprise birthday party was planned. Isa was supposed to fly out to surprise her sister, but she had to make a choice: to do something for her family, or to do something for herself. She decided to go for recruitment.
“I agonized over [missing her birthday] for months,” she says, but ultimately it was worth it to join a sisterhood.
In the spring of her junior year, Isa’s dream from the time she was 8 years old came true, and she traveled abroad to study in Paris. Although it wasn’t exactly what she expected, she still feels incredibly grateful for the experience, saying it brought in reality for her.
“I went in expecting something super romantic, picturesque, with lots of high fashion, and ended up realizing it’s just a city,” Isa says. “I wasn’t living in La-La Land anymore.” During the same time, her boyfriend Channing went abroad as well, but to Venice.
While many people might think college is a time to be single, Isa was grateful to have a relationship. Her relationship with Channing had grown to become something she greatly valued. “He gave me the balls to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have done had he not been there,” Isa says. “I wouldn’t have seen Rome, Venice, and Barcelona the same way, if at all. I never would have seen a Broadway show, which he took me to for our one-year anniversary.”
But in the fall of her Senior year, she was hit with what she felt was probably inevitable: the breakup. Although it wasn’t entirely “unexpected,” she “knew if and when we did break up… it was going to hurt like hell. And it did,” she says.
It was October. Isa was juggling her part-time job, an internship, her sorority, a full school load, and her relationship. She and Channing had both just returned from their separate adventures abroad, and went to Cape Cod together for a weekend to celebrate their three-year anniversary. Isa describes it as “very relaxing… but kind of weird.” Their anniversary was on Tuesday, but Isa would be busy, so they decided to get dinner on Monday.
“At dinner, he told me he had a question,” she says, “and he asked if I enjoyed that we were apart during our time abroad… if I enjoyed the independence.” That question opened a box that couldn’t be closed. The next day, they addressed the elephant in the room.
“Does this relationship make you happy?,” she asked.
“I’m happy with you, but there are things that I’m not happy with.”
They went their separate ways, although it was not without devastation. The breakup didn’t mean they did not love each other, nor did it mean the relationship was in any way a waste of time. It was a defining part of this chapter of her life, although that didn’t mean it had to define her.
Today, Isa sits in her west campus dorm with tokens from bits of her life: a wall of postcards from her European travels, plenty of Gamma Phi Beta merchandise, Obama calendars (there are two), and Mafalda: todas las tiras sitting on the windowsill. She loves her friends passionately, looks out for everyone, and makes a killer bolognese with cheap red wine. She’s about to graduate, and the world is definitely ready for her.
*Name has been changed