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Global Perspectives 2023: Transition and Reflection Along the Camino Portugues

This past May, Dr. Odom and Chester facilitated an exploration of Portugal, culminating in a 62-mile walk along the Camino Portugues with 14 Caldwell Fellows.

An underlying current of servant leadership development within the Caldwell Fellows curriculum is the exploration and understanding of self. One of the practices that helps bring that process to life is exposure to and exploration of cultures different from our own. The Caldwell Fellows Program has a time-honored tradition of providing students with learning opportunities via travel. These experiences provide unique opportunities to experience different cultures, traditions, and perspectives firsthand, fostering a greater appreciation for diversity and global awareness. By immersing themselves in new environments, our students broaden their horizons, challenge their assumptions, and develop a more nuanced understanding of the world. Secondly, travel enhances experiential learning by providing practical, real-life situations where students can problem-solve in real-time as uncertainty and novel situations arise. Those challenges range from working through language barriers to navigating logistical challenges such as public transit. In these moments, students step out of their comfort zones, and bolster their self-confidence, and independence as global citizens.

This summer, Janice and Chester were joined by 14 students for a cultural exploration of Lisbon and Porto, Portugal. In each of these cities, subgroups of the students were charged with developing a guided itinerary and leading the entire group for a day. This exercise immediately connected students to a real need to understand the city, how to navigate it, and how to lead their peers through meaningful engagement. Time in the cities was then followed by a six-day traverse of the Camino Portugues from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The practice of walking in reflection is as old as time and one that is uniquely situated to support the growth and development of Caldwell Fellows. Kyle Denning ’24 states, “As a Caldwell Fellow, the program constantly reminds us of the importance of principled reflection and cross-cultural development. I don’t think my experience in Europe would’ve been nearly as fruitful without my learning experiences as a Caldwell Fellow. Having been in the program for a couple of years, I felt more comfortable in my ability to reflect along the Camino. I was aware of the things I’d been neglecting to reflect on in my personal life that may have been hindering growth. I also can guarantee that my experience as a Fellow has encouraged me to feel more comfortable exploring unfamiliar places and interacting with new people who I do not share much in common with. Overall, the program has allowed me to grow more confident when pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and ultimately expanding that comfort zone altogether.”

Kyle Denning (’24).

I don’t think my experience in Europe would’ve been nearly as fruitful without my learning experiences as a Caldwell Fellow.
~Kyle Denning

Time on the Camino is ripe for inner excavation – asking oneself the deeper questions of life that college students often avoid in the hustle and bustle of academic life. This unique approach to exploring the Spanish countryside provided students with rich opportunities for independent self-discovery, cross-cultural encounters, and deep reflection at a time of personal transition. Both of these experiences serve as powerful models of the benefits of time spent away from our digital lives, plugged into unfamiliar terrain. These experiences provide opportunities for students to clear out mental clutter and distractions, embrace novelty and uncertainty, and listen for answers to their own big questions as they journey through uncharted territory.

(Clockwise from left) Brodie Smith (’24), Nizhoni Henry (’23), Gayathri Ramanathan (’23), and Nicole Zwennes (’23).

When there were times I was feeling sluggish or not as enthusiastic as normal, people were there to lift me up.
~Brodie Smith

But, they didn’t have to undergo this process alone. Being in a traveling community of other Caldwell Fellows created a safe and supportive environment. Brodie Smith ’24 says of the experience, “One amazing thing about the Caldwell Fellows Program is that the people take care of each other like family. I was prepared for parts of this experience because I had a group of people with me that felt like family and even those that I did not get to know until the trip still looked after me like I was one of their own. When some were not at their finest, we all made sure they were taken care of. When there were times I was feeling sluggish or not as enthusiastic as normal, people were there to lift me up. These encounters are not something new to the program; I have seen these in Shack-A-Thon, SATELLITE, and even just on evenings spent studying in the office.”

As always, we extend our deepest gratitude to our generous donors who have made these transformative experiences possible for our Caldwell Fellows. Their support has allowed us to create opportunities for our students to explore and understand themselves, to immerse in diverse cultures, and to develop as global citizens – ready to heed the call to servant-leadership. The opportunity to explore Lisbon and Porto, Portugal, followed by the transformative journey on the Camino Portugues from Vigo to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, are shining examples of how these experiences shape our students’ lives. The financial support our students receive through the Caldwell Fellows Experiential Learning Grant allows them to experience personal growth and learning in a global context. We are truly grateful for your dedication to fostering servant leadership and enriching the lives of our Caldwell Fellows.

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