A Global Perspective: A journey on the El Camino de Santiago

Imagine a place where the only sounds are the crunch of gravel beneath your feet and birdsong filling the mountain air. The road in front of you rises and turns through verdant hills. The usual worries about schedules and obligations are left behind, and the only thing to consider is the next step ahead.

The road is known as El Camino de Santiago, a meandering trail that stretches roughly 480 miles through 100 quaint towns and villages of northern Spain. A group of students from the Ron & Laura Strain Honors College were among a large group from the University of Indianapolis who took on the challenge of walking the historical journey, spending 21 days on their feet for hours at a time. The trip is one of many international opportunities available through the Strain Honors College, which provided financial support to students.

El Camino de Santiago attracts 250,000 pilgrims annually who aim to reach the tomb and Cathedral of St. James. For the students, who started the trail at Astorga to walk 165 miles along a portion of the Camino Francais, it was a time for self-reflection as they retraced the footsteps of Christians who have been making the pilgrimage for 1,200 years.

“I loved all the people and their spirit of hospitality. Everybody’s so welcoming and understanding that you are a pilgrim,” said Bekah Edmonds, a junior and Honors College student majoring in English education.

img_4093The trip was the brainchild of University Chaplain Jeremiah Gibbs, who was primarily responsible for the planning. The goal is “to help all the students realize, ‘I’m going on this trip because I want something to change in my life,’” Gibbs explained.

Taylor Zell, a junior and Honors College student majoring in human biology and pre-physical therapy, said she found peace in the natural setting of the mountains, even as she struggled with her commitment not to talk to her family back home during the pilgrimage.

“That was really hard because I missed my parents, my boyfriend and all of my friends. I knew by doing that I would end up being closer to them because it made me think of how much they really mean to me and how much I care about them,” Zell said.

Along with Gibbs, who also provided ecumenical support, the trip was led by Jim Williams, associate professor of history and executive director of the Honors College; Frank Bates, assistant professor in the Krannert School of Physical Therapy; and Kelly Miller, director of the Student Counseling Center.

Both Gibbs and Williams said the journey can be a life-changing walk through Spanish history, language and culture, an aspect emphasized to the students.

“To think that pilgrims like them had been stopping at these little churches and sometimes cathedrals for centuries before them, I think that’s a very humbling experience. It’s not the same as when you read it in the book,” Williams said.

This story has been corrected from the original version published in the Sept. 8, 2017 edition of Portico.