Reflecting on the Big Blog Exchange
As part of the Big Blog Exchange project, I was asked to put together a Manifesto of my experiences. So I thought that a nice way to piece together this article would be to do a bit of a reflection and recounting of my Exchange period. I was sent to Spain as an exchange with Sara Rodriguez from MindfulTravelBySara.com.
In reflecting over the past few weeks, it is somewhat difficult for me to make a simple summation of all my experiences. In reality, so many things have happened in the last few months that nothing overly simple comes to mind. Recently though, since June 7th I have had a tremendous opportunity thanks to Urbany Hostel, or REAJ, the Spanish branch of Hostelling International. They pieced together a fantastic itinerary for me and I have been exposed to a multitude of things. I have had the opportunity to stay in hostels ranging from a castle in Toledo to others with community partnerships. I’ve been fortunate to meet wonderful people from Spain, and I have been shown the utmost hospitality from them. Not to mention that I have seen some incredibly beautiful places as well. Below you’ll find a recollection of my thoughts on the Big Blog Exchange.
When I found out that I was going to Spain, I decided that I would take a different approach to this trip. Instead of planning out some things or trying to fit everything into my time in each new city, I decided that I would just allow things to be. I would meet whoever crossed my path, and I would experience whatever I encountered along the way. Taking this approach to this Exchange actually enabled me to see and experience some things that I may not have been able to if I had planned out everything. For example, I wouldn’t have really gotten to engage with the people of Spain on such a personal level if I had been focused on seeing every monument, church, or ‘things to do’
Right now is an interesting time to be traveling in Spain. Due to the unfortunate downturn in the economic situation of Europe, several nations particularly Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy, and others have been hit especially hard. It is difficult times for the people of Spain, most specifically the youth which are being hit the hardest. In spite of this though the Spanish people have attempted to adjust in whatever ways they can and support each other. There are some who go to the point of protests and others who have lost everything. I will say that unlike other places that I have been when the economy was bad, the Spanish people still know how to enjoy life. That is one principle that I will take with me from this Exchange.
There are two more main principles that I will forever remember this Exchange for, and they are two that coincide with one another directly. The first is as travelers, we are extremely fortunate to get to experience the world first-hand. We get to see incredible things, meet incredible people, and get to personally experience both the good and the bad that the world has to offer. This opportunity for me is one that I will never forget. I realize that as a percentage, the amount of people who have the opportunity to travel is quite low in comparison to the ones who cannot for either financial, economic, or even political reasons. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to see Spain up close and personal.
One of the major purposes of this Exchange was in teaching how cultural exchanges can change people’s lives. That is a principle that I strongly believe in. The great thing about traveling is that it is an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, which is probably one of the greatest gifts that you can receive because you will never look at life the same again.
The journey does not end with just saying that we as travelers are fortunate; it goes further than that. By being granted the opportunity to travel and gain new experiences, lessons, and knowledge, we are obligated to share those things and carry them with us or all is done in vain. What is the purpose of knowledge if it sits on a shelf collecting dust, that benefits no one in society. Travelers have a sincere duty to the experiences that they receive, and that is a principle that has been re-branded in my mind permanently.
It is nearly impossible to sum up an experience with images, but if I were asked I’d choose these three:
A close runner-up would be this one:
As I make my way towards some conclusion of my thoughts on the Big Blog Exchange, I’d like to say that I also learned about another side of hostels and the organization of Hostelling International that you might not always see if you are just traveling through somewhere. The REAJ branch of HI here in Spain as well as Albergues Inturjoven, the branch for Andalusia, are doing some really great things for the community. Even in spite of a down economy, many of the hostel locations still have community programs such as the one that I mentioned in my article of Madrid. Others such as the one that I mentioned in Córdoba, have had to discontinue programs that benefit the community because of the economic situation or el crisis. Regardless, it is an organization definitely in a partnership for the betterment of the community. For people who stay with their hostels, “They are more than just hostels. They are about discovering new places, learning about new cultures and making lifelong friendships,” as one employee put it.
In summation, looking back over my trip and time with this Big Blog Exchange, I can say that I have had an incredible experience and have had the opportunity to see and do things that I may never have had it not been for my participation in this project. On that note, I bid you farewell with a special thanks to Hostelling International for organizing this project! Now, I have to catch the festivities of Día de San Juan.