Camino de Santiago – a global community on our doorstep

European Youth Insights is a platform provided by the European Youth Forum and the European Sting, to allow young people to air their views on issues that matter to them. The following entry is written by Jennifer Orlando, member of the European Youth Forum.

Jennifer Orlando, member of the European Youth Forum

Jennifer Orlando, member of the European Youth Forum

January is the Monday of the year and, as our 1/1 hangovers fizz out with that last dissolvable aspirin, we start to think about what the New Year could potentially unveil.

My advice to everyone this year is to walk and talk your heart out.

We sat down in an annexe to a modern church just outside Burgos in Northern Spain. There was freshly prepared lentil soup waiting for us in the dining room, and, still palpably un-showered, we came together, strangers from across the world, to eat.

‘A little bit of singing after, no?’ Elena, a young Ukrainian woman poked, enthusiastically. Armed with a guitar and some crunched up song-sheets, the spiritual and unspiritual, gathered in a musty library just outside the dining room.

We introduced ourselves: two beaming Koreans (they really loved the soup), the cheeky Spaniard (who turned up late and almost lost his dinner rights), an older Irish man (his last day on the Camino he quickly let us know), a polite Englishman, Elena and myself. How’s that for diversity?

One of the Korean men turned out to be a talented singer and classically trained guitarist. He crooned acoustic Korean pop while the rest of us clapped and gawped. ‘AMAZING! AGAIN!’ we gestured frantically.

We took it in turns to do or say something that we wanted to express – to add to the event. Some relied on a prayer, others played the guitar, others sung whatever came to their heads (classic 80s tunes?) and others just relayed a message of commitment to the gruelling but wonderful days ahead.

That was day one for me but that was just a snippet of all of the great evenings I shared on the Camino de Santiago.

The Camino de Santiago is a lot of that getting back to basics stuff we always talk about but never get round to. It consists, quite basically, of a hell of a lot of walking, unmissable yellow arrows, stunning scenery, friendship and real interaction. You walk, you talk to strangers who soon become lifelong friends and you eat tortilla (so, so much tortilla). More than that, you are constantly learning from all those around- the-world people you meet along the way, and in doing so, you discover new things about yourself. Every night you sit in basic rooms and eat basic, delicious, heart-warming food, you are told moving stories, you will inevitably tell your own stories, you will share secrets and tales from yonder, you will spend your extra pennies on foot care and that second ice-cream you day-dreamed about round about the 11th of your 25km walk that day. Sure, it got tough sometimes, but it was (and is) worth ever step.

What struck me most about the Camino is the interaction and encouragement on tap – young and old pushing each other, quite literally, to go that extra mile. You are never alone because you are always part of this community of individuals who are doing the same thing you are doing. And they are there for you. They will offer you their last plaster. They will give you one of their tangerines for the journey. And they will let you, a complete stranger, into their house to use their printer when you suddenly realise you’ve spilt wine all over your Ryanair boarding card.

It’s manageable and doable (and, relatively cheap). With the internet characteristically containing endless sources of Camino-wisdom and excellent guide books available providing a fool-proof map of the trail, all it takes is getting on that plane (or bus, or train, or bicycle) and starting it. And don’t worry, if you’re not Christian, or religious, nothing is forced on you… you can participate in the religious traditions or you can just be there to walk. Everyone was welcomed equally. It has nothing to do with religion (if you don’t want it to) and everything to do with togetherness.

How can European youth interact internationally in 2015? By venturing out to discover the ancient trails and special people coming together to scale our European backyards. Buen Camino!

About the Author

Twenty-five years old and hailing from the smallest country in the EU, Malta, I moved to London in 2008 to pursue a law degree at University College London. Having developed a keen interest in social justice and European Affairs during my undergraduate studies, I read for an MSc in Politics and Government in the EU at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Graduating top of my class, I subsequently undertook traineeships at the EU, UN-ICTY and worked at the LSE. I have very recently taken up a consultancy position. I spend as much time as I can travelling, meeting new people and developing a wider understanding of the world we live in. I also write poetry, read voraciously, am a keen volunteer, and often veg out at art museums.

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