Humanities professor Linda Yakle three times has walked El Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route in Spain. This summer, she taught her online humanities class as she made the 500-mile trek, bringing the experience directly to her students.
Here, she shares some of her experience and why she thinks such projects are important to expose SPC students to the greater world.
In Her Own Words: Linda Yakle
I first traveled the Way of St. James, or the Camino as it is called, in the year 2000. If you have seen the film The Way, this is the pilgrimage route portrayed in that 2011 film. The route began as a sacred journey in the Middle Ages and continues to be popular today for travelers from across the globe.
First Camino pilgrimage
Distance: 300 miles
I had been talking about it in my humanities courses for years and thought it was about time that I saw it firsthand. I also wanted to do something special for the turn of the millennium, and I could think of nothing better than walking across Spain. In 2000, I traveled with a friend and started in Burgos, Spain, giving me a 300-mile walk. The experience transformed me, and I vowed to return again every 10 years.
Second Camino pilgrimage
Date: May 2011
Distance: 500 miles
So, in 2011, I made my second pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the final destination on the Camino. This time it was to celebrate a landmark birthday. I traveled with Robin Jensen, one of our SPC speech faculty, and my best friend from graduate school, Casey Blanton, who also teaches humanities at Daytona State College. We started in Roncevalles, a traditional beginning point in the Pyrenees. Robin and Casey had obligations which required that they leave the Camino near Burgos, but I walked on alone for the remaining 300 miles, covering 500 miles in about six weeks.
An opportunity to bring the Camino to the classroom
When we returned home, Robin Jensen and I learned of a teaching grant sponsored by SPC’s Faculty Governance Organization. We applied with a proposal to bring the Camino to our courses by traveling it in summer 2013 while we taught. We won! Later Robin had to drop out, but my professor friend from Daytona joined me.
Third Camino Pilgrimage
Date: May-June 2013
Distance: 500 miles
We departed from Burgos on May 14. It would take us over three weeks to go from Burgos to Santiago.
Pilgrims set out on this journey for various reasons: religious, more broadly spiritual, psychological, cultural, physical. In the cafes and the hostels, other pilgrims will ask why you are traveling the Camino. I always struggle with the answer.
I started my first pilgrimage as a humanities teacher who wanted to see all the sites of the Middle Ages and who wanted to walk in the footsteps of pilgrims a thousand years ago. But after walking 11 to 14 miles for 30 days, every day, carrying a 20-pound pack on your back, it’s nearly impossible not to be touched by the experience in other profound ways.
And now that I am older, I find that I also do it as a sort of physical challenge, like so many baby boomers, to try to deny the inevitable aging and prove that I can keep going with the best of them.
My immediate goal was to bring all those experiences as best I could to the SPC students enrolled in my online Western Humanities I course. I know from my classroom experience that the idea of the Camino is very engaging to students. I hoped to transfer my own enthusiasm for the Camino to the learning process by sharing the cultural and personal experience of the Camino through online photographs, blogs, videos, discussions and chats.
It wasn’t always easy, particularly working with the technology from a backpack in rural settings. But in the end, I think both the students and I had a wonderful experience, as we witnessed cultural history together on the ground in its original settings rather than through texts.
I also wanted to spark an interest in international travel for our students and encourage them to travel, maybe even with one of our international education programs. To that end, I personalized the course quite a bit, sharing not just humanities-related material but my personal experiences as well, sharing everything from photos of my food to videos of us walking down the actual pathways.
The enthusiastic reaction to the actual travel experience far exceeded my expectations. I learned that our students long to leave the classroom, to explore the world, to experience learning firsthand.
This summer, Dr. Law, who has been a pilgrim on the Camino himself, made possible a highlight of the trip for both me and the students. At the top of one of the mountain passes, Cruz de Fero, pilgrims leave a small stone or other object of personal significance in thanks and in tribute, as travelers have done at this site since ancient times. Today, the number of stones has created a small hill topped by an iron cross. Before I left, Dr. Law sent me a small SPC pin, which I left at the top of the hill on behalf of myself and my students.
There are many ways to do the Camino. As pilgrims say daily, “Everyone walks his own Camino.” I choose to carry everything I will need in a backpack, walk between 11 and 14 miles a day and stay most nights in hostels for pilgrims called albergues. Many pilgrims walk much more than this daily, closer to 18 miles a day. Some pilgrims book pensions and hotels along the way rather than staying in hostels. Some have their packs shipped ahead. It’s the journey and not the process that counts.
This won’t be my last Camino. I am already thinking of my next route. Maybe one day, my students will be able to make the journey, too.