Texas A&M study abroad students walk over 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago
On June 23, a group of Aggie students walked into Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. They completed a feat that few people will ever achieve in their lifetime — they walked over 500 miles across Spain completing the Camino de Santiago.
The Camino de Santiago is a series of pilgrimage routes beginning from various locations throughout Europe and ending at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. About 350,000 people reach Santiago annually, and only 10% are from the U.S. The study abroad group traversed it via the French way, starting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France.
On May 13, Taylor Bell and 11 other Texas A&M students set off on the 800-kilometer Camino de Santiago for a human resource development study abroad. Bell was especially eager to participate because she had been interested in the Camino since middle school Spanish class, where she first learned about it.
“When Dr. Mark brought this opportunity to me in the fall, my interest was immediately piqued,” Bell said. “Not only would I be able to complete something that had been on my heart since eighth grade, but I would also be afforded the opportunity to interview numerous businesses along the Camino and meet people from all over the world.”
Dr. Christine Mark, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, led the students.
Mark and her husband walked the Camino in 2017 and again in 2018. On those trips she realized the Camino could serve as an impactful learning experience for her human resource development students.
“I met many students during my two walks (several Aggies) and they all gained so much from this experience,” Mark said. “This is a truly life changing experience where it is possible to meet people from all over the world, become immersed in a different culture and have time to reflect on one’s life.”
Typical study abroad programs can cost several hundreds of dollars per day and last only 10 to 14 days. Each student on Mark’s trip was awarded a $2,000 scholarship from the college, bringing the total cost to only $1,800 for seven weeks plus necessary gear costs. The trip is also cost effective because the group slept in albergues, or hostels designed specifically for pilgrims.
She structured the study abroad so that students could interview local businesses along the way.
“We studied the impact of culture on human resource practices in small businesses along the Camino,” Mark said. “Before leaving for the Camino, students interviewed local businesses in College Station to gather information about the businesses and challenges these owners face in running their businesses.”
She said the students went beyond their assignment by interviewing fellow Camino pilgrims along the trail. They even met some individuals who hold positions in human resources.
“The students were able to talk to them about what HR practices and HR jobs are like in different countries,” Mark said. “I did not anticipate this happening and it added so much richness to the discussion of the impact of different cultures on the HR function.”
Bell said the trip vastly expanded her human resources knowledge, as well as challenged her Spanish language skills.
“By the end of the trip, I was comfortable making reservations in Spanish, ordering food, supporting the group as unique situations arose along the way and having intermediate level conversations with native speakers,” Bell said.
Mark said what stood out to her on the trip was the reputation the students had on the Camino.
“I had many people approach me and tell they had walked with one or more of my students and how wonderful they were,” Mark said. “These students represented Texas A&M University, the State of Texas, and the United States of America in a way that we all should be proud of.”
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