For a long time I have tied success and passion to speed and persistence. The bustling city streets I’ve walked in my youth reinforced my value for unyielding movement—of my feet, my eyes, and my mind. “Walk with a purpose” is a common, a likely overused, motto of mine. From Point A to Point B, from one class to the next, from one event to another, move with the fire and light of the city.
It never occurred to me that I would find myself on city streets that begged for the opposite. Maybe it was the Firenze cobblestone that laughed at my ankle strength or the monuments that transformed me into an awful, and an in-awe, tourist, but my body and motion began to slow.
As I began to ease my pace, I found the passion and light I sought from life became stronger with observance and listening that came from a value for the procession of time. Like the making of a fine wine, the more time I spent on building engagement with my surroundings, the better my life abroad became.
My transition from Olympic-style speed walker to leisurely stroller did not happen quickly. On my first day of classes abroad, I walked briskly over the stone streets. As I was about to pass the Santa Croce church, I heard a “Hello” come from a few steps behind me. It was another girl my age, named Gabby, who asked if I was an FUA student. Unlike Gabby, I had not thought to look around and connect with another student on my mission to class. We admired the church façade together and had a round of espresso. The caffeine and friendship sped up my heart rate, but my mind and legs began to slow down for the better.
One hello led to many more. Friendships made on church steps, conversations with locals in half-English-half-Italian, dinners made of bread, cheese and prosciutto in hidden spots, moments in a secret garden: all this and more came into being when I lived with the city streets rather than racing over them. Gabby and I followed the winding and hilly roads of Firenze to the town of Galluzo not long after we met. A four-mile walk from my apartment to the small town made for one of the most beautiful and exciting day adventures of my life. We picked fresh oranges of trees, explored a vineyard, ran through the green hills and stumbled upon an abandoned church. By the time we returned to Florence, the sky was dark. We carried a new light within ourselves and shared it with the people dancing in Santo Spirito and the restaurants that lined the street.
Over the past three months, many of my friends and I have found ourselves walking at least six miles a day. Right, left, right, left, our feet move methodically—we know we have much to explore and things to see. But the streets say to take it slow and open-minded and, so, we do. Our passion for Florence, the friendships we have made, and the lessons we have learned are genuine and lasting. I can’t help but thank the cobblestone streets for showing me a slower, more beautiful path to success and happiness.
Isabel is a Fall 2017 SAI Florence student from The George Washington University.