Final Reflections: Pilgrimage, Free Travel, Asturias, and what’s to come


June 23

Luke, Laura, Ben, Jacob, Kate

24 hours from the time of writing, our group will be scattering: some of us will be camping out for a night in the airport before connecting flights, some will already be exploring other countries or continuing to explore Madrid, and some will be unloading our baggage into the EMU parking lot or our houses. Regardless of the physical location, all of us will be readjusting—to our recent adventures settling into memories, to bonding across states instead of across tables, to the doubts from our “real lives” shifting abruptly from procrastinated to present. Here are our final reflections.

As our time in Valencia came to an end, six of us decided to head up north to San Sebastián for a few days of free travel. A 9-hour train ride took us from 90s and humid to 70s and beautiful (though the 80° water temp in Valencia was preferred). 

We spent our time getting sunburnt on the beach, eating burgers from Bar Pepe, climbing to the Sagrado Corazón, and drinking some of the best-looking cocktails you’ve ever seen. We wrapped up the trip by watching “Top Gun: Maverick” (thankfully in English), and even though the time was short, it was great to be able to share it with some awesome people.

-Luke Short

After splitting up for free travel, it was wonderful to meet up again as one big group. We were hosted by Bruce and Merly Bundy in a lovely house where we could cook and play games together. In our place near Villaviciosa, we were in the countryside, which was refreshing for many of us after living in a city for a while. We had cars to get around, allowing us to have a variety of adventures. Two days we hiked parts of the Camino de Santiago, with people stopping whenever they got tired. Another day we went to a nearby beach, where some of us rented surfboards and taught ourselves how to surf (a few people had watched YouTube videos before, and that’s all you really need for most activities—right?) Another day we toured a sidrería (cidery), which is a large industry in Asturias since it is the apple capital of Spain. …For this reason it was also fitting that we sang Johnny Appleseed before a lot of our meals… 

All the activities we did were great, but what made this part of the cross-cultural special was the group we were with. Due to COVID forcing a lot of other cross-culturals to be canceled, a good chunk of our group are seniors. As the trip is coming to a close, we seniors are feeling the sadness of knowing we are moving on from college, and moving across the country from friends. During the days in Asturias, everyone gave a final presentation on various aspects of the cross-cultural. It was obvious in the topics chosen and responses to others’ presentations that the friendships formed on this trip and throughout college are something special, and saying goodbye and heading separate ways from people will be hard for a lot of us. Asturias gave us the space to gather again as a group and share tears, laughter, late nights, stories, meals, affirmations, and love on each other a little more before the cross-cultural comes to a close.

-Laura Troyer

This past week in Asturias has been a great way to conclude our six-week journey in Spain; it was awesome to be in a large house together after being separated by free travel. During our time at Asturias, one of our nightly activities was personal reflections. This was a space for each student to share and reflect on their time in Spain. Throughout the four nights of reflection, there were many happy and tearful moments reminiscing on memories from the past six weeks and our shared college experiences. 

A common theme for many of these reflections was questions about our future. With our group having a majority of recently graduated seniors, the question of “what’s next?” was a common reoccurrence. Many of us are unsure about our future after Spain. While this can be an uneasy and scary feeling, it is reassuring to know we have a group of people that will support each other in our different walks of life. 

Similar to others, I am also unsure about my future after Spain. While clarity about my future would be helpful, I have learned that it is sometimes okay to not have a set plan. Currently, I am seeking peace and contentment in not knowing answers about my future. I hope to reflect and see how my experiences on this trip affect my future life and career.

-Ben Greenleaf

Throughout this trip I have taken a lot of time to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. From trying exotic foods like octopus and raw squid to even just exploring the cities by myself, I feel as though I have definitely achieved that goal that I had set for myself. One specific example that sticks out to me is when a group of us decided to surf at the Beach of Rodilles. Although it was harsher conditions and the waves were quite powerful, I found the courage to put on a wetsuit and try to tame the ocean with my rented surfboard. While I fell almost every single time I tried to stand during the first hour, I still persevered and had some great encouragement from my friends on the trip. For the last hour of surfing I felt much more confident and was able to consistently catch a wave and then stand up for at least a few seconds. While I will not be attending any competitions soon, I certainly feel as though surfing could be something I would enjoy doing from time to time when I have the chance to. If anything, this trip has taught me the importance of trying new things even when at first they might seem to be too overwhelming.

-Jacob Durren

A Senior Farewell

As we come to a close on the journey through Spain, the group was asked to reflect on their time and experiences. Compared to a semester-long cross-cultural, six weeks seems like a blip in time but, holy cow, there was so much that happened in those six weeks. One of the unique things about this trip was the number of graduated seniors who attended. A pretty obvious question we asked ourselves on this trip was: what’s next? Some of us knew, others had an idea, a few left it to the gods, and some (myself included) came in with a plan but found it totally unraveled during the trip. It’s funny how people who are in a similar group and time of their life walk such different paths. Despite the differences in our walks of life, there is always one constant that we take for granted until it’s time to leave and that is our community. Community celebrates with us in our good times and supports us in our not-so-good times. The past four years, we have been building this community person by person, but now it is time to part ways. The best part is, it isn’t goodbye; just because we are parting physically doesn’t mean the support stops—we just have to be more intentional. So while Spain was a time to learn about a new culture, it also gave an opportunity for each of us who are parting ways to say, “I can’t wait to see you again.”

– Kate Zuercher

(Leader’s note:  We are so full of gratitude for this group of 24 students who wholeheartedly lived into their 6 weeks of intercultural learning.  We saw a lot of Spain, learned new Spanish words, ate some incredible food and shared stories together.  As we wrapped up it was clear that, for many, the relationships nurtured and deepened during our time together is much of what will be celebrated as we move into our individual and scattered lives.  One of our goals was to help everyone become better travelers.  There is no question we are all better travelers and better humans for having shared these experiences.)

Jackson playing with his host family