Lunden MacDonald wants her students to be better people.
Not that she thinks there’s anything WRONG with her students, she just wants them to be the best people they can be in the world. And that means allowing them to actually experience the world, according to MacDonald, director of MSU Denver’s First Year Success Program.
“I believe that experiencing life outside of our own cultural comfort zone is the key to developing a global mindset and an empathetic world view. And that makes for better people,” said MacDonald, who is also an associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages.
This conviction – and support from MSU Denver’s Office of International Studies and the Council on International Educational Exchange – led MacDonald to develop the five-week study abroad course, “Place, Space, and the Creation of Identity: Understanding Self and Europe through the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage.”
The six-credit, multi-disciplinary course, which is taught in English, takes students to Alicante, Spain, where they explore the history, art, architecture, food and culture around the Camino de Santiago, the most foundational pilgrimage experience in Europe. Students spend three weeks in class and two weeks walking the 60-mile pilgrimage route. They take various field trips as well, including visits to the Hogueras Museum and the Santa Bárbara Castle, and even a fish auction in Campello, Spain. But the Camino de Santiago is at the heart of it all.
“Walking the Camino allows students to be in a different country and experience a different culture, but it is also a microcosm of culture itself,” said MacDonald, who took seven students on the trip last summer. “When you walk, you organically group with other ‘pilgrims’ on the way and you build a community. You help each other, celebrate together and achieve a common goal. It’s a life-changing experience every time you do it.”
Senior Jolene Kramb, a business management major, went on last year’s trip with MacDonald and can attest to its transformational effect. “I learned how to handle myself in other countries, how other cultures work and how to adapt to my surroundings,” said Kramb, who had never been overseas prior to the trip.
“I’m extremely glad that I went. It added a lot to my college experience,” she continued. “It was definitely a leap of faith, because I didn’t know much Spanish, but it was nice to jump into the world and figure it out.”
While MacDonald stresses that getting outside of your own culture doesn’t require a trip to Europe – a visit to a different neighborhood or reading about other parts of the world will do – there is something about studying abroad that has profound and lasting effects on students.
“Study abroad is known to directly contribute to student retention and improved graduation rates,” she said. “Students learn and grow in ways that are different and broader than in a regular classroom, and it has a measurable impact on the rest of their lives.”
“Place, Space, and the Creation of Identity: Understanding Self and Europe through the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage” is a six-credit, five-week course that runs June 7-July 9, 2016. Space is limited. A deposit of $300 is due on Friday, Feb. 12 to secure a spot on this year’s trip. For complete information, contact Lunden MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-556-4985.</p