Victor’s college essay
He sat there, lit his cigarette, placed it on the table, and made shoes.
“Hello, Filippo! I’m the American student my teacher talked to you about,” I said in my best Italian.
I was doing the capstone project for my junior year abroad; I could choose anything to study. I chose shoemaking. My school was in Viterbo, a mid-sized city north of Rome. While there are shoemakers in Rome, I wanted to work and connect with people in the local community, to learn from first-hand experience, not YouTube.
I was in the piccolo paese (little town) of Caprarola, a short bus ride away.
Filippo and I connected immediately by talking shoes. I showed him my sketchbook filled with hand-drawn shoe designs and explained them, in my developing Italian.
Filippo, taken aback by my designs, said, “good design is the most important part of making shoes.” His voice was so deep, so wise.
I was taken aback that he liked my designs.
Cobbling is one of those “wax on, wax off” kind of professions. Filippo became my Mister Miyagi from The Karate Kid. For three weeks, every morning for three hours, I worked in his cluttered workshop.
He sat there, lit his cigarette, placed it on the table, and now we made shoes.
I watch, ask questions, and learn about the history and culture of shoemaking. Filippo cares deeply about his work. You don’t do something for your entire life if you don’t care about it.
Caprarola is a perfect example of community. Everyone loves everyone. I say ciao to the people in the café and they know who I am and I know who they are. Filippo is a cornerstone in Caprarola. In the mornings a man from the bakery up the road brings Filippo pizza bianca for lunch. The captain of the carabinieri comes into the shop with his wife. When I meet him, he is astonished an American is picking up cobbling. I quickly realize that making shoes is not only about having a great product but connecting with the place you are in.
I felt a part of this town.
At the end of our first meeting, Filippo told me, “Make a design, call me, I want to help you.” He saw that I had the passion of a shoemaker. Then he told me to wait, glanced at my feet, went to the back of his shop, and came back with a pair of lasts: my size without asking me. He grabbed two rolls of leather and said: “here you go, it’s a gift.”
I was honored that a man I had just met would do this for me.
“Are you serious? Really? Thank you!”
We said our goodbyes.
I walked up the road and sat down at a cafe. My mind was bubbling with ideas and I just drew and drew. I took the lasts out of the bag, put them on the table, and continued to sketch. As I left, an old woman in the cafe said, “excuse me, are you making shoes?” She looked at me like I was her grandson carrying on a family tradition. She was talking to me more like a family member than a stranger.
It’s weird. Right?
I didn’t understand when I got there, but after a couple of sessions with Filippo, I learned that shoemaking in Italy is dying.
My Italian friends were amazed that I took to their town and their unique tradition. A job that is strictly Italian, full of passion and history. A career that the new generation isn’t picking up. A craft famous around the world.
I answered the woman’s question, “are you making shoes?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
We love this essay
Admissions officers are starving for engaging, authentic short stories that show who teens are. They want to hear their voice, see them in action, get a sense of what it’s like to be around them.
Victor’s essay this beautifully.
In fact, it’s our Chief Essay Mentor’s all-time favorite essay. Victor is a craftsman and it shows in his writing.