27 Jul Member Spotlight: Cassandra Santoro, Founder of Travel Italian Style

Member Spotlight 7.23.15 (1)

We’re thrilled to debut our new #MemberSpotlight interview series today! It’s quite a pleasure to feature Cassandra Santoro, a young professional member who found NOIAW through social media and attended her first NOIAW event in April (our Italian Women Trailblazers wine tasting.)

Cassandra Photo (1)Cassandra is truly someone who embodies the values of our organization — an ambitious entrepreneur; an Italian American whose connection to her heritage informs her career, her passions, and her daily life; and a woman who works toward empowering other women.

In 2002, after her father’s untimely passing, Cassandra felt compelled to travel to Italy for the first time. Though she had just accepted an event planning job in New York, she took a leap and packed her bags for an internship in Italy. Upon arriving there, she says, “I felt more at home than I have any where anywhere else in the world. At that moment I realized that my paths had changed and I would never be the same.”

Following the internship, Cassandra returned to the States, obtained her dual citizenship with Italy, and moved to Florence full time. While enjoying the blissful dolce vita, she traveled throughout Italy, cultivating friendships with artisanal producers and local tour operators. It was this experience that inspired her to found her own boutique travel company earlier this year, Travel Italian Style, which offers authentic group tours throughout il Bel Paese.

Read on for her story!

Cassandra's closest friends in Florence, who welcomed her into their Italian family when she was living abroad

Cassandra’s closest friends in Florence, who welcomed her into their Italian family when she was living abroad

1. How did you hear about NOIAW? What drew you to join the organization?

Living abroad was a wonderful experience and a fantastic way to immerse myself in the Italian culture. Here in New York City, I was looking for a similar experience — a group that would understand my passion for Italy and my Italian heritage. I am grateful to have come across NOIAW during this search!

What drew me to the organization the most was the fact that it was solely women. To me, there is nothing more inspiring than a group of women who seek to empower one another. I absolutely love that we have the opportunity to network and get to know others who also are celebrating and bringing awareness to Italian heritage.

Cassandra in the hometown of her Tuscan friends

Cassandra in the hometown of her Tuscan friends

2. How has your NOIAW membership helped you personally and/or professionally so far?

Personally, I feel like NOIAW has given me a sense of belonging in New York. I love that I can interact with a group that completely understands and appreciates my travels and stories of Bella Italia.

Professionally, it has give me the opportunity to learn and grow with others in my field–it has been wonderful so far!

Cassandra's Sicilian grandparents: her grandmother was from Canciatti, and her grandfather was born in Palermo

Cassandra’s Sicilian grandparents: her grandmother was from Canciatti, and her grandfather was born in Palermo

3. Tell me about your connection with your Italian heritage. How has it influenced your life and your career?

My grandfather was born in Palermo and my grandmother was born in Canciatti, Sicily. I have so many special memories of growing up with Italian traditions.

For many years I took for granted being a part of a Sicilian American family. It was losing my father to cancer that was ultimately my wake up call.

After that day I promised to not lose sight of my heritage again. This is when I took my first trip to Italy. Since that first journey I have lived there twice and have traveled every year in between (for the last 10 years). My goal is to pass on this passion to others.

This inspired me to create my company, Travel Italian Style. In August, I will return once again for three months to explore the country. My focus will be Sicily, Puglia and Campania so that I can not only enjoy the Ferragosto but also research and create new, exciting slow travel tours.

I also recently launched customizable Italian Heritage tours that help others remember, celebrate and appreciate their Italian background. I work directly with professional genealogists to find my clients’ family history. We then create a tour based on our findings so that they can actually explore the area where their ancestors lived and worked.

This trip will give me an opportunity to explore further for these clients and to continue to stay connected to the Italian lifestyle.

Cassandra's father in the pizzeria owned by their family in the late 1980's, Papa Santoro's

Cassandra’s father in the pizzeria owned by their family in the late 1980’s, Papa Santoro’s

4. Do you have a favorite memory of your Italian family?

My favorite memories of my Italian family are the simplest ones. The smell of fresh basil, watching my grandfather in the backyard garden, the Sunday dinners and the sounds of Mario Lanza and Frank Sinatra playing in my house while my father was cooking breakfast.

Also, I love the memory of my grandmother’s arancini being a favorite in town during the time that my family owned a pizzeria! 😊

5. Anything else you’d like to share?

I believe the only way we can grow in life is if we know where we came from. I believe NOIAW offers a wonderful opportunity for Italian American women in the USA to do just this. Membership so far has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I look forward to seeing the organization grow!

Thanks so much to Cassandra for participating in our Member Spotlight series. We’re so thrilled to have her as a member!

If you’d like to connect with Cassandra or learn more about her, you can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and of course, her website.

If you have a story to share, get in touch with Beth Connolly at bconnolly@noiaw.org for your chance to be interviewed here!

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