Students walk sacred pilgrimage in Northern Spain

During their study abroad trip to Northern Spain, Ford, Fraley and ECU students visited local monuments.

During their study abroad trip to Northern Spain, Ford, Fraley and ECU students visited local monuments, including the Running of the Bulls Statue in Pamplona. (Photo by Katie Ford)

From June 9-22, six students traveled to Northern Spain with Dr. Katie Ford, professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and Honors College faculty fellow, and Dr. Todd Fraley, director of the EC Scholars program. The students went on the trip as part of a digital course on the Camino pilgrimage, a course in storytelling or a course in Spanish conversation.

The trip began in Madrid, where the group spent two days. The next day, students and faculty began walking portions of the “Camino de Santiago” – an ancient pilgrimage that began during the 9th or 10th century and traverses 400 miles. It ends in the City of Santiago, where St. James the Apostle is said to be buried.

“At that time it was considered the third holiest site in Christianity,” Ford said.

Prior to their trip, students met with Ford and learned about the pilgrimage, its history and significance and completed class projects, including reading about the pilgrimage, watching a film or documentary and writing about its history.

This was the first time Ford had led a group of students abroad.

“I go to Spain a lot. I enjoyed helping other people get to know the country,” Ford said. “I also had done the Camino 18 years ago, but hadn’t been back. So it was really interesting to return to something I had done when I was about their age, rediscovering and seeing how it had changed but also how it was the same.”

Students visited the Cathedral in Burgos, Spain.

Students visited the Cathedral in Burgos, Spain. The statue on this bench commemorates a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. (Photo by Katie Ford)

Ford said the students were fascinated that water was so expensive at a restaurant and how little the bathrooms and hotel rooms were. It was important for her to explain to the students how it’s different – not that it is better here or there – just different.

“I think it’s really good for them to remain open to how things are done differently,” Ford said. She said the adaptability one learns from that experience helps no matter what career you go into.

“Whenever a student goes for a job interview, it allows them to show the employer how they can adapt, that they have a story to tell and that they are more well-rounded individuals because of that experience,” Ford said.

Austin Allen, a senior biochemistry major and Honors College student from Asheboro, said he didn’t know a lot about the pilgrimage to Santiago beforehand but thought that getting to explore the community, get off the beaten path, and conduct self-reflection was an interesting prospect to him.

Although Allen had visited Paris in the sixth grade and traveled to Canada and the Bahamas, this was his first time studying abroad.

“It was cool to get to know all the people in the group – experiencing different people, different ideas, different foods. It was all such a positive experience,” Allen said. “The thing I enjoyed most was when we were out on the trail. They were long days but you had the opportunity for very meaningful discussion and it really helped me mature and gain a lot of insight.”

In addition to his study abroad course, Allen extended his stay in Europe so he could meet with a former ECU tennis teammate in Belgium and a few current teammates in Spain, Romania and London. While in Spain, Allen was able to tour a local zoo, and while in London, he and a teammate attended Wimbledon.

“Go for it, with no hesitations,” said Allen, who encourages others who may be wavering on the idea of studying abroad. “I am very much a routine kind of person. This was something I’d never done before and it was such a positive experience because I was pushed outside my normal limits, and now I feel like I am much better prepared for success here and also just more confident in everything I do.”

Austin Allen holds a bald eagle while touring a local zoo outside of a small town in Spain.

Austin Allen holds a bald eagle while touring a local zoo outside of a small town in Spain. (Photo by Austin Allen)