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Walking the Camino de Santiago as a metaphor for life

Posted on Nov 15, 2012
Following an ancient route, a UW-Superior student learns about culture and language of Spain.
click to enlarge
Pilgrims cross a bridge on the Camino de Santiago.

© 2012 Kim Kelly

Pilgrims cross a bridge on the Camino de Santiago.

Ask Alyssa Gostonczik about her priorities and she'll most likely tell you that studying away during her college years was a priority, a necessity, and most definitely, not a luxury.

After spending a semester in Scotland during her sophomore year, Gostonczik knew she wanted to go abroad again before graduation.

As spring semester of her junior year rolled around, she was delighted to learn of an opportunity to complete the last three credits in her Spanish minor by joining "Camino de Santiago: Culture of Pilgrimage," a short-term program developed by Spanish professor Jeanette Pucheu.

Together the students travelled to Spain for three weeks, during which they experienced the language and culture first-hand while walking through Galicia in northwestern Spain and staying in pilgrim hostels each night.

The 2010 film "The Way" starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez popularized this ancient route which thousands of pilgrims have walked through the ages. Legend says the remains of the apostle St. James rest in the main cathedral in Santiago.

A scallop shell symbol marks the route which meanders through villages, farms, low mountains and valleys. Although the route was originally considered a penance for sins, today's pilgrims seek it more as a retreat. It represents a metaphor for the challenges of daily life. The route was named one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Gostonczik describes her experience of walking and studying on the Camino as much different than she had expected, but notes: "It was definitely worth it. I really enjoyed practicing my Spanish with natives and trying to communicate with others who didn't always know English; there was a lot of make-shift sign language and pointing happening.

"Spanish cuisine was a new experience, too. We tried Galician pulpo (octopus), paella (rice dish) and chorizo (spicy sausage), to name a few.

"During the course of the three weeks I was away, I interviewed several pilgrims on the topic of religion and the Camino. I wanted to find out if religious pilgrims were a dying breed and if the tourist pilgrims were taking over.

"Along the way our group met a man by the name of Antonio Zorzona; he was so influential on my trip and paper that the experience wouldn't have been the same if I had not met him. He taught me that no matter what your motivation was for walking the Camino, all pilgrims are religious because it takes physical and emotional strength to keep walking and not give up.

"I found this to be very true. Walking 12-plus miles per day carrying a 20-plus-pound backpack is not an easy task, especially when your body is not accustomed to such strenuous activity. There were some days I didn't even want to take my socks off to assess the damage, but finally arriving in Santiago was such a rewarding feeling.

"There were thousands of pilgrims everywhere who had all spent the past 2-plus weeks walking the Camino and experiencing some of the same difficulties. It was great to be a part of something that has been going on for hundreds of years. I would definitely do it again if I had the chance, perhaps by bike or horseback though to try something new."

The Camino will again be offered to UW-Superior students in 2013 with a travel writing component added. For more information, contact Jeanette Pucheu or Yvonne Rutford.

¡Buen camino!

News Contact: Cherie Sawinski | 715-394-8020 | csawinsk{atuws}
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