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Student, Evironmental Scientist, Sourdough Lover, and …Wife?

Student, Evironmental Scientist, Sourdough Lover, and …Wife?

Photo taken in Baños, Ecuador

Who am I? A question for the ages. For most students, the answer is going to be fairly similar. You identify by the class year you are in, maybe you’ve decided on a major and maybe not, and you could even be a member of one club or another. For me, this answer is a little different and may even surprise you, it has definitely surprised some of my classmates! In the end, our identifiers shape who we are and how we interact with the world around us. That’s why my identity is so important to my study abroad journey.

This year, I am a senior Rambler at Loyola where I major in environmental science with IES and have a concentration in conservation and restoration ecology. I love to frequent the farmer’s market on Mondays, where I spend all my cash on sourdough and tamales, and I like to study by the lake on nice days. I have a name that professors find impossible to pronounce (by the way, it’s “ray-leen”) and I’ve even learned to recognize the face they all make when they get to me on the roster. I live in Rogers Park and have just begun riding my bike everywhere. This all sounds pretty familiar, right? Well, I’m also 25 years old and have been married to my husband, Andrew, for four and a half years. Are you surprised? Or did you read the title and completely ruin it?

Super cute right?

My story makes more sense once you know a little more about my past. I graduated from high school back in 2012 and completed my associate’s degree in 2014. Andrew and I just came back to college this past Fall after he completed his 5-year contract with the Marine Corps. We’ve made two major moves across the country between Northern Illinois and Southern California where we lived in a little desert town called Twentynine Palms. It was never my intention to take 4 years off from school, but life has a funny way of working out. While we lived in California, I worked as a vet tech. It was a job that I adored until I didn’t anymore. As it turns out, pet parents are really mean! I’ve always maintained my love of animals though.

Coming back to school is one of the most difficult adventures Andrew and I have embarked on and we’ve been through two deployments to the Middle East. There were 3 hours of commuting 5 days a week, depression, anxiety, financial issues, loss of adored pets, and even talks of divorce. This is what makes my journey a little more unique. I don’t have to only worry about classes, basketball games, and club meetings. I also have to worry about where our grocery money is going to come from, if all the bills for the month have been paid, or if Andrew and I are spending enough quality time together to maintain our marriage. That’s also why it was so hard to decide to study abroad.

After deployment #2

Now that I’ve given you way too much personal information, this brings me to where I’m at now. I chose to attend the GAIAS-Galápagos Extension Program through IES abroad where I am a part of their marine track. I am currently in Quito, Ecuador studying various aspects of marine ecology at Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and I will be leaving for the Galápagos Islands in just 18 more days. I am so happy and thankful to be here and while I did all the work to get to where I’m at in life right now, it’s not without help from so many others.

First off, I have an incredibly supportive husband and family. If it weren’t for their help and insistence that I study abroad, I wouldn’t even have considered it. This program also comes with a rather large bill that is almost completely covered by 3 grants, 2 government loans, and 3 scholarships.

I am so thankful to be in Ecuador studying something I love and wouldn’t have a chance to study at Loyola. I’ve been here for a month and some days, I wake up and still can’t believe I’m actually here. There are so many aspects of this program that are incredibly amazing! Tune in for the next episode to learn more!

Call me Scuba Steve.

– Rhealene

In Loving Memory of Maya Papaya and Sheldon Kitty

 

Begin Again

Begin Again

Rebuilding something after a shatter is quite the undertaking of a project. It can be a mess when trying to fit all the pieces back together as they once were before. After the shatter, some parts may be too small, like tiny, annoying crumbs within the fibers of a carpet, and other pieces just too big to match with any of the small ones. So what I have learned from my past and my recent spring break trip, is that rebuilding is not trying to put all the pieces back together exactly, in the same shape and same form as before, but it is simply more like starting over, starting again, and starting new with different pieces, different materials, and different approaches. It is never forgetting what once was, but realizing the magnificence of what is beginning again, and that is starting over.

Over my spring break, I traveled to Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina and then I ended my trip in Hungary. Each of these three places taught me something new, but Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina specifically broke my heart, but would put it back together again and again with its people, faith, and culture. Sarajevo taught me what it means to have strength in love, and never fear. It taught me about what it means to rebuild a city, a community, a home, a faith, a heart, even while everything around you has been horrendously taken away. Before arriving to Bosnia-Herzegovina, I had little to no prior knowledge about the Yugoslav wars of the 1990’s. After learning through various museums, tours and personal stories from people who actually went through the war at the time that they were happening, I became increasingly aware of the extreme magnitude of trauma, pain, heartbreak, and violence these people have endured, and unfortunately still have to carry with them as a part of them everyday. The horrendous violence and genocide of the ‘90’s wars proves the extremely dangerous and inhumane rhetoric and acts around ‘ethnic cleansing’ and territorial revenge. The extremely difficult and traumatic stories of those who have survived are a testament to the need of educational awareness surrounding this war, and others so it never happens again.

Although the people of Sarajevo remember, honor, and commemorate their past frequently, they have show me what it looks like to remain strong and kind, even after the unimaginable. Their architecture is a beautiful mix of old and new with historical remnants of their tragically violent past. The food is their breadth of family and community, while their present faiths are a reminder of peace between peoples themselves, not simply their beliefs. The people, and culture, of Sarajevo are indicators of how the past will always be a part of you, but rebuilding the heart requires a will to move forward. It does not mean you move on, it simply means you start over with the knowledge that the broken old pieces will never be whole once more, but that the different new pieces can create something fully, completely, wondrously, beautiful.

Thank you Sarajevo for sharing your broken, and new, pieces with me…

Look Up Child

Look Up Child

These past two weeks have been filled with the giggly, smiley, laughing, overwhelming kind of love drizzled with a few tears and a whole lot of Pastéis de Nata. The weeks, and even the days themselves, I often feel have their own “W” with curvy lows, and reviving highs. In the grand scheme of the study abroad experience, spring break tends to be the middle high which is quickly approaching. Thankfully, my sister and brother in law visited Rome a couple of weekends ago that refreshed my heart and my attitude on the first big dip of the semester. With a blend of gratitude  and overwhelming uncertainty, I was feeling most unlike myself during that low, but seeing my sister was exactly what I needed. It pushed me to come back to why I am here in the first place. To grow. To get out of my comfort zone. My everyday realization is when you do not feel like yourself that is often when you are just discovering something in yourself you did know you had before. It is simply uncomfortable because you are growing. So just sit in it, feel it, and do the best you can. My sister, as well as my brother in law, and I roamed around the city, eating pizza, pasta, and gelato at every turn. We did a couple of walking tours with one hilarious tour guide who never minded to photobomb anyone’s picture, went to a market in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome, and visited my school campus. It was filled with memories I will never forget and collect in my heart for the rest of my life.

My friend has always wanted to travel to Portugal. I was neither here nor there about it. However, I found the trips that have no expectations around them with no clue what you are getting into end up being one of the best experiences filled with incredible memories, usually more than the planned ones. So we went for it. Lisbon, Portugal would be my first out of Italy tripe since I traveled from America, and it will probably be one of my favorite trips when I look back on study abroad. We stayed at a beautiful hostel in the heart of the city filled with eclectic mosaics and curvy bricked archways. Our first day, we walked around the steep cobblestone streets, ate some steamy garlic buttery shrimp, and found a circus themed sardine shop. We ate dinner at the hostel where a Portuguese chef cooked us a delicious meal filled with fish, potatoes, and a creamy mushroom dish as well as a bunch of vegetables. My friend and I mingled with others at the dinner, each person being from a different place. It was surreal to know that we were eating dinner with people from all over the world, and even though we may all come from somewhere else, we were all sharing similar conversations about our lives over a delicious meal. 

Our second day was filled with exciting, beautiful, on top of the world moments. We traveled to an abandoned restaurant from the 1960’s that has over the years been the site of creative art through graffiti. It has not only become a beautiful building, but it also has a wide view of the city. It was one of the first moments realizing how incredibly beautiful Lisbon is and how it is truly one of a kind. We then headed more towards Sintra, a city about forty five minutes away from Lisbon. We stopped at Quinta Da Regaleira, an elaborate estate built in the early twentieth century. It was a medieval-like playground filled with underground, pitch black tunnels, mossy ponds, greener than green gardens, windy wells and staircases, and enchanting buildings. Yet again, I was overwhelmed with the imaginative beauty that we saw there. Our tour continued on to the most beautiful beach my eyes have ever seen. Yes, I love a relaxing lake Michigan day, but this Portuguese beach was something else. There were large rocks that framed the crashing waves that perfectly washed upon the shore. My friend and I ran up and down the beach, catching, and splashing the water, getting a little more wet than we expected, but it just made it all the more fun. There was a Dad and his two daughters playing a game of running to not touch the water when it came up to shore. They were giggling, laughing, and smiling as their Dad would count down to the next time they should run. He would scoop them up and spin them around. It may be the sentimentalist in me, but it reminded of how often love can be found anywhere and everywhere you go. In the sun, in the sand between your toes, in the laughing, in the special family moments, it is all love. After the beach, we stopped for lunch and then we headed to two different outlooks to see the sunset. One was right off a cliff and the other was at a sanctuary, but both were equally breathtakingly beautiful. As I sat, and I felt the sun hit my face, hit the rocks, hit the water, hit the view of Lisbon, I thought about how I grateful I am to be in the exact spot I am in. Two years ago, my family and I were in an extremely rocky place, and I was not sure we would get out of that dark hole. Right then, right there in Lisbon, it reminded me of the hope in a new day. The hope that things can always change if you are willing to let it, and the acceptance that it may need to. Thank you Lisbon for the beautiful views, the delicious food, and the hope of a new day rising always. More often than not, it is simply just a matter of looking up.

Over the Hills and Far Away

Over the Hills and Far Away

After a long, and ongoing, battle with jet lag, my third day in Edinburgh began with a quick change and a brisk walk to Arthur’s Seat. It caught my attention the minute we saw it’s green and brown-capped peaks towering over the city as we drove in. I love hiking at home, and often feel nature-deprived in Chicago, and I knew I would end the semester knowing every nook and cranny of Arthur’s Seat. We were told by our tour leader and many other locals that the hike was no longer than 30 minutes, which I thought would be impossible with the height of the mountain from the ground.

The top of Arthur’s Seat was breathtaking, and I almost don’t want to describe it, for fear of ruining prospective hiker’s fantasies. The 360-degree view of Edinburgh and the North Sea are broken up by rolling green hills within the mountain itself, (there is probably a pretty Gaelic word for them that I have yet to learn), and multiple mini-peaks of jagged brown rock. Lord of the Rings fans may compare it to the land of Rohan, and foot trails leading over the edged of the green grasses make it feel like the Rohirrim is about to scoop you up and ride away with you.

My second hike to Arthur’s Seat, a much clearer day, was just as beautiful, minus having to dodge tourists that scattered the mountain (I am trying to separate myself from the tourists although most would consider me one as well). The Americans on the mountain are obvious, talking loudly, many groups of teenagers hungover from Saturday night’s first overage freedom. Although I listen to music while I hike, I often turn my volume down when I walk past people, and I am amazed at how many different languages and accents I hear.

Today’s most exciting encounter included the college’s cat, who hang out near my dorm, and a real-life wild pheasant! It reminded me of my chickens at home, another twinge of homesickness.

A Bittersweet Reunion

A Bittersweet Reunion

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of touring my parents, who flew 4,813 miles from Wisconsin, around Rome. Our time together in Rome couldn’t have come at a better time. It was exactly halfway through the semester, right when homesickness was rearing its head. Seeing them brought me comfort and being able to share my new home with them was more special than I could have ever imagined.

From strolling to Piazza de Spagna to Piazza Navona, I made sure to pack in all of the touristy stops along the way. We sampled the local cuisine at my favorite restaurants: Ristorante Edy, Old Bear, and even Osteria Dell’Anima (the Loyola famous “Pear Pasta” spot). We tossed coins into the Trevi Fountain and sipped authentic cappuccinos at Tazza D’Oro. My parents even joined my on-site Roman Catholicism class, and were welcomed with open arms by Father Rudolf as we toured the Lateran. Then, at the end of the week, we packed our bags and set out for Venice.

Venice was exactly what I imagined it to be; a sinking time machine. As expected, being in Venice was unlike any other Italian city I have traveled to, and it took a second to process that there are zero cars on the lagoon, and transportation is dominated by water. Taking a water taxi and gondola ride were experiences I will never forget, and will forever give props to the expert gondoliers that navigate the choppy waters. We had a great time wandering over bridge after bridge and watching St. Mark’s Basilica slowly start sinking underwater.

Parting with my parents wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be since there are only five weeks left in the semester. I am already getting emotional thinking about having to leave Rome, but seeing them again definitely reminded me of all of the love that is waiting for me back in the states, and that in itself, is bittersweet.

 

A Dreamy Paris Weekend (don’t mind my reminiscing)

A Dreamy Paris Weekend (don’t mind my reminiscing)

Bonjour,

There’s a certain weight to the way Paris sounds when you say it, even audibly, it’s luxurious.

I booked a Friday plane ride to Paris the Wednesday before I went, and I’ve been itching to write about it.

May I present: Paris in the fall

My trip to Paris began with me dragging my suitcase down Champs-Élysées in hopes to greet the Eiffel Tower with an insanely wide grin. My stroll across the city, paired with a ham and butter baguette, reminded me that I was walking in a city that was nothing less than a masterpiece. I sat under the eiffel tower drinking the richest hot chocolate I’ve had in my life, feeding pigeons french fries while naming them.

Paris in the fall, what a sight. I stayed in an airbnb that was neighbors to the Picasso Museum (I can’t believe I’m living a real life right now). It was a cozy studio nestled in an amazingly charming neighborhood not too far from Rue de Rivoli (I would recommend the 3rd arrondissement to anyone, although every Paris niche has it’s own charm).

What to do during a weekend in Paris, you ask?

  1. Parks Parks Parks

Jardin du Luxembourg is gorgeous all year round, but in the autumn, it’s a haven. I sat in the grass of the garden surrounded by champagne toasts, children floating mini sailboats in the fountain, and a small crepe stand in the middle of a warm hue of fall leaves. While this park is a show stopper no doubt, there are a plethora of Paris parks that reside in the city– find them, frolic in them, drink champagne, write a future pulitzer novel. The park is your oyster.

 

2.  Free museums

FREE museums. Yeah. The Louvre is free Friday nights for anyone under 26, so you bet your bottom dollar I danced throughout the ancient art and statues (and said hey to the Mona Lisa) on a beautiful Friday night in Paris. There are loopholes to getting into a multitude of museums for free (certain days of the month, certain times, package deals, etc), and if you do your research you’re bound to find something that suits your interests.

 

3. F-o-o-d

Parisian culture is smoking vogue cigarettes and drinking an aperol spritz at an outdoor cafe, but when you’re in the mood for a bite, here’s some dishes it would be a shame to miss:

  • Moules Frites – usually consist of a huge steaming pot of mussels cooked with butter, white wine, shallots, and herbs. They’re delicious and you’ll probably eat them all in like 2 minutes, but with a basket of fries to dip in the leftover cooking liquid, you have every component for a perfect meal.
  • Streak Frites – steak and fries, what could go wrong? A perfectly cooked, thin steak paired with fries is mouth watering and as french as it get. (Ask for pepper sauce if you can!)
  • Bread – croissants. Baguettes. Get them in the morning when they’re warm. They will undoubtedly change your life.
  • Cafe Noisettes  – a perfect couple of sips of coffee with a hazelnut dollop of cream. An absolute delight.

 

Looking for a specific spot to go?

  1. Café de Flore (Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement)

A corner cafe covered in flowers– how can you beat that? Café de Flore is famous for having famous writers and philosophers as it’s regulars. It’s really Paris, really charming, and really overpriced. I would recommend stopping for coffee, not a meal.

 

I stumbled across so many amazing things in Paris, I can’t even count them. Spend your days in the city of love walking around it aimlessly, you’ll venture to a million picturesque places.

Merci pour la lecture!

October 2nd Update: Seville, Cadíz, Gibraltar, Algeciras

October 2nd Update: Seville, Cadíz, Gibraltar, Algeciras

To say that the past couple of weeks have flown by is an understatement.

Almost a month ago, I completed orientation and arrived at my host house in Sevilla, Spain. My roommate and I were greeted by our host mother, and soon developed a friendship with her as she helps us improve our Spanish every day.

As far as traveling goes, my friends and I planned a weekend trip to Algeciras, where we enjoyed the beautiful beach and took a 30 minute taxi to visit Gibraltar, a British territory, where we hiked to the top of the rock and saw the only natural community of monkeys in all of Europe. The views at the top of the rock were spectacular, and the monkeys were very social with many of the tourists.

This past weekend, my study abroad program coordinated a day trip to Cadíz. On the way, we stopped in Santa Maria for a brief winery tour and tasting. Upon arrival in Cadiz, we went on a historical walking tour of the main city and enjoyed exploring the beaches and open-air markets.

Aside from my travels to Cadiz and Algeciras, I have really been enjoying getting to know Sevilla! This past weekend, a nations fair opened and my friends and I had a lot of fun trying the food and dessert from other countries. I look forward to going to; France, Morocco, and Austria, however am trying to plan as many trips as possible while I am in Europe!

One of the many monkeys we saw in Gibraltar. It was amazing how used to humans they are. We made sure not to feed any, but were told that they bother guests for a snack! Here, you can also see the view of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean sea from the top of the rock.

This picture was taken at an outdoor flower shop in Cadiz

One of the many things I love about being in Sevilla is having access to many vibrant and unique stores and restaurants. This is a local tea shop

 

Ciao, Roma!

Ciao, Roma!

It has been a little over a week since I arrived at the John Felice Rome Center, and I still can’t stop pinching myself. From the aroma of oven-fired pizza on every cobblestone street to the blooming olive groves lining Via Massimi, I am starting to see why they say living in Italy is la dolce vita. 

This past week of Orientation has been planned minute by minute by our trusted Student Life Assistants to give us a crash course in Roman life. We’ve toured the Colosseum, splurged on a gelateria crawl, navigated public transportation, relaxed on the beach, and consumed bottles and bottles of wine (thanks Loyola) to toast the beginning of the semester. This weekend we had the opportunity to tour the Italian region of Umbria, and became aquatinted with the whimsical towns of Narni, Spoleto, Foglino, and Citta di Pieve. Sometime during lunch overlooking Castiglione del Lago, or wine tasting at a countryside vineyard, or even reenacting a Roman battle we grew from classmates to friends as we learned about the ancient history of these fairytale-esque Umbrian escapes.

With the commencement of Orientation on Wednesday upon the Mass of the Holy Spirit, I do have to admit that I’m excited to explore Rome on my own terms, and learn more about exactly what is la dolce vita (with the help of gelato, of course).

Orientation in Madrid

Orientation in Madrid

Hola a todas!
Tonight concludes our very hectic two-day stay in Madrid as part of API’s orientation for Sevilla students. Yesterday when I arrived, I met other API students and the director at the airport. From there, they loaded us into a bus and when we arrived at our hotel I got to meet my roommate for this semester! I definitely appreciated how they gave us the opportunity to room with our future roommates before we even arrive in Sevilla. This allowed us to get to know each other better all while experiencing new and exciting things. After an informational meeting we all went out for a group dinner, where we were able to socialize with more students.
This morning, we got an early start as we walked from our hotel to The Palacio Real where we toured the palace. It was amazing to take the time to appreciate such a beautiful place. We had a short break for lunch and after lunch we walked to the art museum- Museo del Prado where we were able to learn about the works of Goya. Tomorrow we will embark on yet another journey to Toledo, where we will stay for a night.

Major takeaways:

– There is a certain shared sense of vulnerability amongst the students in my program- entering a new country with a different primary language. Because of this, it has been easy to make new friends. My advice is to talk to other students, even those you would not typically strike up a conversation with. A lot of times you will find that sharing your experiences abroad thus far-even some of the more embarrassing ones- will help you form connections with other students.
-People will make their intentions/goals while studying abroad very clear within the first day or so. It’s more than okay to make friends with people who have different intentions than you, but I have found that hanging around those who have similar travel goals as you makes you feel much more comfortable when exploring and makes for less awkward situations in the future. If your #1 priority abroad is to immerse yourself in the culture, you might regret limiting yourself to going out to American clubs every night because that is what the majority of your group wants.

 

Taken while walking to the heart of Madrid. I loved admiring the architecture

 

One of the many magnificent ceilings in the royal palace

 

Buen Camino

Buen Camino

During Semana Santa (which was essentially my Spring Break) I walked 165 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I walked for 8 days, with my only goal being to each day get closer to Santiago. There are many different routes, but I walked along the French Way, which is the oldest route and one of the most common for pilgrims nowadays to take. I began my camino in O Cebreiro, which is the first pueblo on the French way in Galicia, a northern region of Spain. Walking the camino has been a dream of mine since I began to learn Spanish, and I know that I couldn’t spend a semester in Spain and not do this.

My program ends May 18th but I don’t fly back to Chicago until June 1st, so my original plan was to walk the camino in my final week of being in Spain. A few weeks before Semana Santa I realized that if I were to swap trips around and do my camino then, I would have 10 days to walk rather than 5, so that is what I did. What that meant though, is that I had to prepare for this 165 km (approx. 100 miles) journey in just a few weeks. I have always loved the outdoors but I had never gone on a hiking excursion like this before, meaning that I had no idea what in the world I was getting myself into. I began to do what I do best– aggressively research and make so many lists to feel somewhat in control of this situation in which I couldn’t even fathom what to expect.

I am a planner. I plan down to the detail because planning,  for me, takes away the a bit of the anxiety about the unknown. I made an excel document detailing which place I would end up in that night, and which albergue would be the “best” to sleep in, but after day one, I ended up disregarding my carefully detailed work. Regardless of how much I wanted to plan, this was a time where I needed to give up control and just exist. Now, that sounds like a lovely thought, and now it is, but I figured this out because the first day I was on the top of a mountain in a middle of a snowstorm. I arrived in O Cebreiro the night before to find a pueblo covered in snow (it felt like a whole different world than Salamanca, which, that same day, was 60 and sunny). I was told by the woman working at the albergue that the following day we would be unable to walk on the pilgrimage trail, but rather we would have to follow the highway until a pueblo named Triacastela. I immediately asked myself what I had gotten myself into, and in that moment I felt entirely underprepared. I hadn’t planned on arriving in Triacastela until my second night, but that first day I hiked there along the highway and through a snowstorm.I arrived to the public albergue freezing cold and soaked to the bone, but I had arrived. Despite the wretched weather, you are always greeted by other peregrin@s with the greeting buen camino. All along the camino you hear this being spoken between pilgrims, as words of encouragement, solidarity, and community.

    

That first day, I began to develop my camino routine. Each night (minus the ones in Santiago) I stayed at the public albergue in the pueblo. The region Galicia has a network of public albergues solely for peregrin@s, meaning that you needed the pilgrim’s credential in order to stay there. Each morning we had to be out of the albergue at 8 am, which meanta 7:30 alarm so I could throw on clothes, brush my teeth, and pack up my bag. Most mornings I got breakfast in whichever pueblo I slept in, and then I walked until I reached the next place I would be sleeping, arriving anywhere between 1 and 5 pm.

Most of the time, I had no idea where I was. Along the camino there are yellow arrows marking the way, so you never had to think too hard about where you were going. A man I walked with for part of a day said to me, “out here, there are only two names for towns: the next and the last.”When you’re walking, pueblos come and go as you walk through, and time doesn’t really seem to exist because your day consists of walking and sleeping. This disconnect from reality brought me a lot of peace– I didn’t have to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the next town.

     

I walked the camino sola, by myself. Before leaving, both my real parents and host parents were worried about me going out into the mountains by myself for ten days, but doing so allowed for me to have one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I began my camino with the intention of using it as a time of reflection and to spend time being connected to God through prayer and nature. I left everything happening in my life back in O Cebreiro, so I was able to focus my energy on being with God. The first day of walking I listened to the playlist I had created beforehand, but the more I walked in silence the more comfortable the silence became and the more out of place the music felt. There were times when I walked with others, but most of my time was spent by myself, in silence, surrounded by incredible beauty. When I did run into other peregrin@s, though, I was welcomed with open arms– there is a wonderful community of support between peregrin@s along the camino.

After about a week of walking, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. My last day was about a 20 km walk, and it poured the entire way. I arrived at the cathedral the same way I arrived to my albergue the first day: soaked to the bone and freezing cold. But this time, it was the end of a journey rather than the beginning. The cathedral was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I returned to the cathedral more than once so that I could really take in everything. After my first visit, I went to the oficina de peregrinación, so that I could “officially” complete my camino by receiving the Compostela stamp in my credential passport. The reality that I had arrived didn’t start to set in until the next morning, when I didn’t have to wake up at 7 to walk more. I spent the next day and a half exploring Santiago, visiting the Cathedral, and reflecting on the experience I had just had.

     

After that week, I felt closer to God than I had thus far while living in Spain. I had intended to use my camino to be in conversation with God and to strengthen my relationship with Her. I was on a Jesus high, and as always, I didn’t want that feeling to leave. Going back to Salamanca, I felt at peace. My entire body hurt, but my soul was calm. I was utterly exhausted, but recharged at the same time. There were points on my camino where I felt a jealous of my friends who were spending the week traveling to places like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Budapest, whereas I was in the mountains, walking until my body couldn’t take anymore. Ultimately though, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Since coming home from Santiago, I have begun to notice the indicators for the camino wherever I go, and each time I see one I feel at peace again.

Seen in Cádiz, Salamanca, and Brussels!