As she concluded a presentation about her experiences along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, Irmarie Dolz-Maldonado shared a passage from a prayer she discovered along the way.
Although I may have traveled all the roads,
crossed mountains and valleys from East to West.
if I have not discovered the freedom to be myself,
I have arrived nowhere.
“I am so grateful to have had this experience with teachers who filled our itinerary impeccably, and to have shared this opportunity with students that I got to know more personally,” said Dolz-Maldonado a senior legal affairs major from Joplin who participated in the study abroad trip offered May 19 through June 1. “But also for the things I learned and the connections I made with something bigger than myself.”
Fifteen students and three faculty members made the pilgrimage earlier this summer – an interdisciplinary trip that found students experiencing things firsthand outside of the classroom, bonding over shared experiences, and even learning from one another.
Starting their journey in the town of St. Jean Pied du Port at the Spanish-French border, the group followed “The French Way” – one of the traditional pilgrimage paths leading to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the burying place of the apostle St. James.
The recent presentations by students focused on their experiences as they made the journey. While time necessitated traveling by bus for much of the nearly 500 miles, students also walked on the traditional path, sometimes more than 10 miles a day.
“I think for anyone who wants to go on a pilgrimage, exercise before you do it,” said Caleb Hatfield, a senior secondary education-social sciences major from Granby.
Hatfield’s presentation put an emphasis on the pilgrim culture, from the stamps travelers receive on their “passports” along the way, to the religious aspect of the journey.
“We visited a lot of cathedrals and churches,” he said. “When you walk in, you could hear music and the sound of footsteps on stone, and smell wax and incense. It was beautiful.”
Madelyn Enlow, a senior history major from Neosho, said she was excited to make architectural connections during their journey.
“A few semesters ago, I did an internship with Joplin Historical Neighborhoods, and got to do a lot of archiving work going on during the reconstruction of the Schifferdecker House,” she said. “One place that stood out in particular to me was Casa Botines, designed by (the architect) Antoni Gaudí in León, Spain.
“I wrote a lot in my journal comparing and contrasting the two structures, which were both built in the early 1890s. The tower is the focal point of the Schifferdecker House, but Gaudí’s towers were much smaller.”
Abigail Harrold, a senior fine arts major from Diamond, said traveling the Camino marked her first trip outside of the United States.
“I fell in love with the architecture and unique stories of each place we went,” she said. “We were surrounded by people from all over the world. Once we finally arrived at the cathedral in Santiago, you could see travelers crying, lighting candles and praying.”
The trip was offered as a joint venture between the History, Kinesiology and Spanish Departments.
“It was helpful for students to think about the pilgrimage not just from a historical perspective, but also its spiritual and physical impact,” said Dr. Rebecca Shriver, assistant professor of history.
“I think having this universal experience was valuable for our students, especially when thinking about the conditions and mental stress we all lived through during the last two years.”
Dr. Andrea Cullers, associate professor of kinesiology and department chair, said she enjoyed watching as students learned from one another.
“You’d have one of my students lead the entire group in stretching exercises, then have another student casually discussing the history of the area. There were a lot of informal conversations about what they had studied in class and applying it (to the trip).
“In the end, it didn’t matter what their major is. They were there as a group, learning from each other.”
Dr. Susana Liso, associate professor of Spanish, was the third faculty member joining students on the journey.
Many of the students embraced the spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage, leaving rocks or shells at certain symbolic points along the way.
“I left my most sentimental rock at the resting place of St. James, and a final rock for Finisterre, which is known as the ‘Edge of the World,’” said Dolz-Maldonado.
“It was a lightening of the load. I would leave rocks and send good wishes to family and friends, from my past, present and who will be in my future, and leaving behind the burdens of life.”