I am a walker. I walk the streets of my upstate New York hometown, my college town, and countless cities around the world. Walking allows me to observe, to reflect, and to temporarily escape reality.
A few years ago I took walking to a new level when I decided to backpack the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route dating back to the early thirteenth century, ending in the northern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. People choose to tackle this expedition for different reasons: religious, personal, academic, athletic. Initially, I walked for academic reasons, using my time on the Camino to explore bilingualism, language, and education. I was on a quest to find bilingual people and to discover international perspectives surrounding foreign language education. But what began as an academic adventure quickly transformed into a personal journey, sprinkled with linguistic and educational research.
With every step along the route I watched the clouds disperse to unveil a blue sky; I saw the wind dry beads of sweat on my skin and cause trees to sway. I witnessed the rain turn the red soil beneath my feet into rivers of clay. I listened to the birds’ sweet songs and to my interviewees’ perceptions of linguistics and pedagogy. I heard vehicles disrupt the quiet thoughts in my mind, and I eavesdropped as other backpackers eagerly highlighted their favorite parts of the day and boasted about their blisters. I smelled the cows’ presence, even if they were nowhere to be seen. I tasted the seafood paellas and the salty jamón Ibéricos on my tongue as I walked past storefronts and tiny family-owned markets. I felt the warmth of my tears streaming down my face. I sensed the tenderness of my hip and tendons as they screamed, objecting to the physical stress I put them through. Each sense writhed with excitement, discomfort, and exhaustion.
After 32 days, 580 miles, and one kilo of Vaseline, I completed my research. I unearthed a little about what it means to be bilingual and how to encourage elementary schools to implement foreign language learning programs. I accomplished my goal… or so I thought. My long hours of walking helped me realize my real, honest reason for walking the Camino de Santiago. Hours of self-reflection led me to understand how I used my research as an excuse to take on this escapade; how my research only clouded the true reason for why I had initially embarked on this sojourn.
I needed time to learn about myself without input from family, friends, my native language, and my culture. I needed, for once, to rebel. I needed to be free. For the first time, I felt autonomous. For the first time, I asserted my independence internationally.
This experience freed me as I spent time exploring unknown territory among the company of strangers, rather than personal acquaintances. Yet at the same time, I was trapped by my mind. My subconscious prejudices and unjustified fears dictated my journey: with whom I would speak, where I would sleep, what I would eat; whether or not I would listen to music, which buildings I would enter.
Every decision and mistake I made reflected my personality, my individuality, and my values. My actions reflected my culture, my family, and me. I questioned whether I was happy with the person my parents had raised me to be, if I was pleased with the person I was becoming. I took time to grow and explore myself on a necessary adventure of self-discovery; an opportunity I can only hope every young soul gets to experience.
Kalindi Naslund is a multi-local Spanish teacher, traveler, home chef, reader, and freelance writer. She currently lives in Catalonia, Spain where she teaches students English and takes Catalan classes. While she’s not busy in the classroom teaching or learning, she explores the Catalonian region, makes frequent visits to Barcelona, and travels around Europe.