The Camino has provided in more ways than I could ever imagine, and it keeps providing in the months after my return home. The executive director at my workplace was curious about my Camino as he and his wife have some friends who recently walked the Portuguese coastal route. They also lived in Greece and Germany so were somewhat familiar with the Camino. He surprised me by asking me to give a presentation about my Camino at an all-staff meeting. I was unsure at first because this was a personal journey and I have tried to keep my private life and work separate.
My closest colleagues were familiar with the Camino from hearing me talk about it and seeing me train during lunchtime hikes. I was spotted with all my Camino gear when I walked to work three days in a row. But I was not sure if I could explain the Camino to people who have never heard of it, let alone share my personal experiences in front of a room full of people, many of whom I did not know. Was I ready to come out of the Camino closet?
I thought about how the director asked me to present the Camino before I left for Portugal when I had brushed it off as an odd request. There hasn’t been a guest speaker at a staff meeting in all the years I’ve worked at International House. Then he asked again on my first day back in the office when I had that post-Camino euphoric glow as I made my rounds doling out Portuguese chocolates to staff. This time I realized he was serious about his request. I used to be the shyest girl in school and disliked doing presentations in college and after that. However, his asking invited me to step out of my comfort zone, share my passion about the Camino, and maybe inspire a few people.
To prepare, I pulled together my best photos, stories, and a historical background about the Camino, and I framed it all in a twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation. I rehearsed it with two work friends who want to do the Camino someday, and they gave me great advice—less history and more personal experience. I revamped it and rehearsed it again with my husband, who gave me more valuable tips.
The staff meeting took place at 10am on a Monday—everyone’s least favorite time for a meeting. Oh, and did I mention it was mandatory for all staff to attend? No pressure! I got there early, did a tech rehearsal with the projector to make sure everything worked. The director did his announcements for about a half-hour as I waited to be introduced. I was surprisingly calm because I knew I was prepared as I would ever be. Moreover, it excites me to talk about the Camino! So when he announced me as the guest speaker, I rose to the challenge and delivered my presentation to about sixty employees.
I started by pointing out the similarities between the Camino and the International House experiences. I memorized these points so this intro was not on the big screen—I just spoke from the heart.
- Thank you. I was as surprised as anyone when Hans asked me to present about my experience walking the Camino de Santiago.
- He has friends who have walked it, and knows it’s an intercultural experience.
- I walked and I talked, I did laundry, ate, and drank with people from all around the world. Sound familiar?
- Indeed it was very close to the I-House experience.
- I worried about bedbugs, slept in bunk beds, I even wore earplugs!
- The difference is, I did this over the course of a week, while walking 100 miles from Portugal to Spain.
- I am happy to share my experience with you today.
I wanted to connect with them in the first few minutes. It worked, and I even got a few laughs with the earplug reference. The presentation that followed had a brief Camino 101 history, animations of the different routes, pilgrim stats, and motivations for doing the pilgrimage. Then I moved on to my short Camino Portugués with photos of the pilgrim lifestyle and beautiful scenery. The most fun for the audience were the stories of some of the pilgrims I met: Diana, the Polish doctor; Andrea, the Brazilian journalist; Karin, the German atheist; Victor, the Portuguese Robert DeNiro; Yvonne, my German Doppelgänger; and Miguel, the Peruvian professor. Talking about the people shows both the Camino’s international appeal and that I’m not the only person crazy enough to embark on such a challenging endeavor! It also proved that walking the Camino is very much an intercultural experience, just like living at International House with all the students from around the world.
Following are a few quotes supporting that correlation.
“Living in International House was like living in the United Nations without the bureaucracy. Every single day led to new friendships with engaging students and scholars from all over the world.”
– Jan Egeland Notable International House alum 1983
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
“We continue on and throughout the day meet a virtual traveling United Nations. We meet people from South Korea, Poland, Australia, England, Ireland, and more.”
– Gabriel Schirm, author of Sunrises to Santiago: Searching for Purpose on the Camino de Santiago
When my presentation was over, the director thanked me for sharing, and everyone started clapping. Whew, I nailed it! After a five-minute Q&A followed with a few people asking good questions, it was a wrap. At the end of the meeting, I shared some Camino show-and-tell objects: my stamped credential, Compostela certificate, guidebooks, postcards, and my Camino shell. And of course I had some tasty treats from Spain and Portugal. I love to share a good thing! I decided against opening the bottle of Port I snuck in. After all, it was a Monday morning. 😉
The response was favorable. I received some emails saying they enjoyed my presentation. Some employees stopped me in the hallway and told me I inspired them. The director even wrote me an email saying, “Many thanks to you for crafting and delivering such a great presentation yesterday on your walk on the Camino in Portugal and Spain. I perceived that you captured everyone’s attention and offered up a challenge to your colleagues to become more physically fit and spiritually aware. That was and is a great service to your collected colleagues for which I am most grateful.”
I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to share my experience. Now that I have come out of the Camino closet at work, it won’t be so hard to explain when I take time off in the spring and the following year for my next two Caminos.
This presentation was the first step that led me to be even more brave at work. In the coming months, I will write about my experience teaching yoga to staff and becoming a UC Berkeley Wellness Ambassador. One thing is for sure: the Camino provided me with the courage to lead and inspire, and I am truly grateful for that.
Peace and love to all during this season of gratitude.