I have often said that traveling abroad with students is very much like child birth – very painful in the moment, but then you come home with the baby and forget the pain.

I have returned home with my baby babies, and already, less than 48 hours after arriving, the painful moments are slipping from my memory.  The exciting moments were documented on the College’s blog role, so as to keep students’ families apprised of our doings.  (Click here, here, here, here and here.)

In fact, my students are no longer babies.  They may have been closer to that state before we traveled, but they were forced into independence, into solving problems in Spanish, into choosing what to eat and figuring out what is was that they were eating, into facing physical pain and injury without the guidance and advice of a mom or dad figure who knows their entire medical history.  For most students, this was a first jaunt into foreign lands without those parental figures taking control and providing a framework.

The first day we walked the Camino, the students were a bit stunned to find I had set out before them.  They were confused by this, not thinking that I go to bed before them and wake up before them, or that I had to get to the next stopping point to make sure arrangements were right and class for the evening was prepared.  But they pulled together as a group, organized themselves, and set out for the day.  They knew what to expect, and they all found their way to our hotel 25 kilometers later.

Traveling in a group is always challenging.  There are those who like to make decisions, or those who prefer another to make the decisions.  There are the quick packers and the slow packers.  There are the picky eaters and the adventurous I’ll-try-anything eaters.  Some respond to homesickness by getting snippy, while others may resort to tears.

We were fortunate that this course was about walking the Camino de Santiago.  One fundamental understanding on the Camino is that each pilgrim is walking a different road.  We all bring unique and complex life experiences to the task, and for that reason, we cannot judge other pilgrims.  It would be easy to look at those around you and say “You didn’t walk as far as I did”, or “You didn’t walk as fast as I did”, or “You only spoke English the other day”.  When it comes down to it, however, we can never fully comprehend another pilgrim’s journey.

Now we are home, back in our creature comforts, with foods we know and a language we use without having to think.  Back in our known world, we can now unpack our dirty laundry, and the sensations, smells and learning that happened while we were away.

What a cute baby!

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. Congratulations on surviving that responsibility relatively unscathed! And- WOW- What a great eye-opening, life-changing experience these students have had. GREAT JOB! Kudos to you!

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      Paul, I am hopeful that the experience will eventually be significant for all the students. It is like Grandma’s red sauce – needs to simmer on the back burner for the flavors to really come together!

  2. What an amazing experience to give your students! I have a lot of high school students who work for me and I always think, as I’m reminding them that its THEIR responsibility to find out when they work and THEIR responsibility to cover their shifts, I wonder how they’ll fare in college. Hopefully they’ll have professors like you who keep pushing them to discover their strengths and give them their independence as you adults.

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