Scarlett Leigh Hayes is a sophomore nursing major.
We were two and a half weeks in and over 200 miles into our journey by foot across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago when my friend fell and sprained her ankle. Spraining your ankle on a backpacking trip is less than ideal, but we decided to keep our spirits high and get a ride into the next town to find a place to stay. We found an albergue, which is a very inexpensive (5-10 euro a night) hostel for those traveling by foot on the Camino. Once we secured our belongings we went to the closest clinic where my friend was treated after only a few minutes in the waiting room. They gave her stronger ibuprofen and a brace for her ankle free of charge. We stayed at the albergue for a few days so that she had some time to recuperate.
Although it is frowned upon to stay more than one night in an albergue, the owner of the place made an exception for us due to the injury. Over the course of our stay there we got to know the owner. On our third day he cooked us the specialty dish of the region, boiled octopus and potatoes. He told us to go buy the octopus at the store around the corner and that he would prepare the meal after. The shop was just one room and filled with people sitting at tables or waiting in line, all chattering away in Spanish. There were a few men taking orders and a few behind them pulling the octopus out of the boiling water and slicing the tentacles into round discs with amazing speed and accuracy. When we brought back our package of octopus, the owner of the albergue prepared the meal for us and we all enjoyed it in the warm summer Spanish sunlight.
I believe travel is important for everyone to experience. Even when something goes wrong during a trip, the most wonderful friendships and adventures can come from it. We got to learn so much more about Spanish culture during those few days. We experienced their healthcare system and how easy and fast it was. We got to see how the locals buy and prepare their meat. We even had the time to see the town and get to know the owner of the albergue.
When you travel outside of your comfort zone, you are forced to make yourself vulnerable to the surroundings. Most of the things you need throughout any given day in a foreign place are things you will need help with to acquire. This requires you to meet people along the way. Different countries have different routines for everything from toilet paper in public restrooms, to etiquette when entering someone’s home, to having your salad before or after your meal. When you learn how to get along in another place you can begin to understand the mindset of the people living there. From there, your understanding of the politics of the country, and the traditions of the people and the culture as a whole will all come together.
Experiencing other places is also important for self-development. We are all accustomed to our lives as they are and aren’t always as appreciative as we could be about how good we have it here in California. While there are many people living in poverty in California that we see everyday, to experience the conditions of a third world country truly changes your perspective. I remember a moment when I returned from my trip to Senegal where I went to take a shower to freshen up after the hours of travel. I remember looking out from the shower of my bathroom that is just big enough to comfortably fit the sink, toilet and bath, and realizing that it could have fit an entire bedroom or even hut in some of the towns we visited. I’ve had moments similar to this after returning home from most of the places I’ve traveled. This understanding of how fortunate I have been to grow up here in the Bay Area has been the cornerstone of my passion for becoming a nurse to help those with less.
As summer is approaching I urge you all to think about taking a trip somewhere. I know that the number one response to that will probably be “but it’s too expensive.” However, with cheaper airfare and new short-term housing rentals like Airbnb and Couchsurfing, the price of a trip abroad is becoming more and more affordable for the average person and even the average starving student. While I don’t think I’ll try boiled octopus again, the experiences I’ve had abroad are more than worth their bargain price.