Let’s be honest – a lot of Longwood/Lake Mary residents would likely leave everything behind to live in the City of Lights: Paris, France. But for this local lady, it was the other way around.
It’s one of the great clichés of popular culture – the desire to someday visit Paris and lounge in a café near the Eiffel Tower. Virginia Silberstein, who works in Lake Mary and lives in Longwood, turned that sentiment on its head.
Born and raised in Paris, Virginia traveled to Lake Mary as a young girl to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was transfixed.
“Even before my first visit, my interest for L’Amérique and the English language started at a very early age,” Virginia says. “I grew up listening to Elvis Presley with my dad and Carole King and the Bee Gees with my mom.”
At age nine, Virginia even persuaded her English teacher to teach King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” to the class.
In the summer of 1987, Virginia got to see the United States for the first time, visiting Disney World, Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, and her family in Lake Mary.
“I got to run outside with no shoes like the neighborhood kids,” Virginia remembers. “I was experiencing a whole new way of life.”
Her aunt would drive her around the luxury homes off Markham Woods Road. Raised in a cramped Paris apartment, Virginia told her aunt that one day she would live in one of those grand houses.
Returning to Paris, the then-fifth grader decided she would move to America. There was only one little problem: Her parents did not share her aspiration. Life in France would continue, but Virginia never abandoned her dream.
In the eighth grade, she recalls, her teacher went around the classroom asking students what they wanted to do with their lives. Virginia told everyone she wanted to move to the United States.
“They all laughed at me, including the teacher,” says Virginia. “He asked me to be a little more down-to-earth.... If only he knew.“
Virginia used her artistic talent to keep the dream burning, drawing anything and everything related to America. But as late as her early 20s, she says, “I still had no plan.”
Virginia found success in the comic-book industry and moved to a building right across from the Eiffel Tower. She would go on to work as an assistant for a movie production company before being hired by a French television talk show, which often kept her at work as late as 1:00 a.m. She was thriving as a professional, at the top of her game, but the void persisted.
“I was tired of Parisian life,” Virginia says. “Too much stress, too much work, and I knew Florida was waiting for me.“
Eventually, she saved up enough money to make the big move and applied for a student visa. The day of her interview at the American Embassy in Paris, she was nervous that it would not work out. But to her astonishment, she was granted a five-year visa.
“I was shaken up pretty good – I was crying the whole way home on the bus,” says Virginia. “I felt happy, lucky, scared.”
When Virginia ended up back in America, this time it was for good. She married in 2009, had two daughters, and became a real-estate broker. Today, she sells those same luxury homes that she marveled as a child.
Virginia became an American citizen in 2010, and her parents moved to Lake Mary to share her Seminole County dream two years later.
Her life trajectory leaves Virginia with this advice for others: Go confidently in the direction of your dream, and live the life you have imagined.
At times, Virginia is asked why she left such a beautiful, romantic city.
“I answer that Paris will always be in my heart – it was my playground,” says Virginia. “But the United States is now my forever home.“
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