The most significant learning experience for me was traveling alone during el puente, the ten days off before finals exams and departure. I looked towards this as a different kind of final test. I wasn’t being asked to regurgitate numerous facts that somebody else had thought of already or detail my opinion on a certain act that somebody else had already committed. No. I was testing myself against the world. Myself against myself. Individual. Single. Separate. Alone. I was going to the north of Spain and was planning on traveling from Santiago de Compostela to Santander, a stretch of land 947 kilometers across. All I had were two plane tickets (one to fly in an one to fly out), a vague sense of buying bus tickets, an idea of some places to stay and my mochila with a bocadillo from my señora and a change of clothes. I had traveled before with friends and family, but in the back of your mind there is always that knowledge that there is another person. That you can lean on each other. You can survive together. I wanted to take off the training wheels as it were. What had I learned about myself and how I cope these last five months? I was dropped in a culture where I had limited knowledge and a language that I was learning in a country where I was merely the visitor. Yes I had been here for five months and yes I was much more proficient then the “just get by” attitude that had got me here all those weeks ago, but this is the final test. I would do this alone. That was my thought, being alone. Like taking that final exam at the end of term it’s just you an the paper sitting in front of you on the desk.
First comes the stress and worrying about what you will do and all the logistics. The adrenaline rush. Will you pick the right answer? The test begins with the T/F section. Simple right or wrong questions. “You get on the plane.” “You travel alone.” You stop and think but the answer is clearly True for both. You move on. Now is the multiple choice. Things are starting to get a bit more complex. You have a few more options. You look at your list of potential places to stay that you wrote down for the first night. “Where should you go?” You decide to look at option A. No. B? No. C looks good. You stop. There’s no room. The answer must be D. Perfect. You have lodging. So far so good. You continue through your exam. You come to the short answer. A little more open ended. “What are you going to see today? El museo? La catedral? La playa? Why?” You think about it. Perhaps the cathedral. You’re in a city famous for it’s pilgrims, you explain. It’s important to capture this aspect of the city and the culture to understand what the people are like here. You’ve reasoned yourself into this because of a sense of security in following the paths of the tourists. There will be lots to see. You will learn a lot. Perfect place to start. You continue like this through a few of the short answer. Then finally comes the essay question. “Describe the three most important things you’ve learned from this city. How did they affect you?” You talk about the cathedral and the museum and the beach. How the people are interconnected to it all. You are certain that this is the correct answer. Now, in a real test situation you would turn your test in walk out the door and that would be the end of it, waiting for the results, forgetting about everything, but life doesn’t work that way. The adrenaline rush of fear and anxiety returns. What are you going to do?
You wander. You explore. You’ve walked up a hill. Why? Only your feet and subconcious could tell you that. You stop. The view is incredible. It swallows you. There is silence. You have folded your very being into your surroundings and have peace within yourself. Finally the realization comes. There is no test merely life and you will grow and learn with it. There is no clock but your own. You make the decisions. You make the choices. Left or right. Fast or slow. Up or down. You travel the world as you want not as a compromise with another person or animal or what have you. You travel from town to town, hostel to hostel, grocery store to grocery store. You may move from place to place without another being but you are not alone. People are people everywhere you go. Yes you are an individual, but one of the world. You know that you can be taken anywhere in the world but you will not be alone. You have found out how you cope with your surroundings whether you speak the language or not. Exhausted or wide awake. Happy or sad. I learned that I am a traveler. I am an individual of the world and I will be just fine.
– Sarah McCauley, Sevilla, Spain