Be a foreigner and grow from the experience

It’s you standing in the way of learning something great and you have to get out of your own way. My family is currently hiking El Camino de Santiago and we’re learning life lessons we wouldn’t capture in other ways. This picture was taken two days ago. It is my husband’s and my shadow as we set out for our hike. Shadows hold barriers and fear and it’s best if you get out of your own way and embrace the experience.

Be a foreigner

We’ve been foreigners before, but not like this. People look at us like we’re some thing from a foreign place. There’s no doubt about that. We are from another place. Some have figured out why we are here, and wish us “buen camino”. Others barely glance our way as their steps hasten and they quickly move to the other side of the sidewalk. Interestingly, on this Sunday morning men and women in their Sunday best, presumably having just left church seem scared or intimidated, or something I can’t put into words as they are horrified by us. We are a family of four sitting on a bench, consuming a loaf of bread and Iberico Jamon. My husband sips una cervaza and the girls enjoy Kas, which is like carbonated Sunkist. Occasionally we smell their fear and they fear us. (Or, maybe since we’ve been on the road a while, they smell us and fear…)

Gender stereotypes

Men are confident or put on their best poker face. They are strong, courageous, undaunted. As soldiers going into battle they will not give away this frontier. It is theirs and no one will take it from them, least of all a foreigner. Their gate is undaunted, strong and even. Their face emotionless, as they walk the middle of the sidewalk. This is their country and they won’t let a small group of foreigners change their course.

Women are softened, and their whole countenance changes. They don’t know what to think of us and they don’t like the uncomfortability of us being here. They avert their eyes down and to the right. Their pace quickens and their feet shuffle. They want to get past this place as quickly as possible, to a place they are more secure. Rip off the band-aid quickly, rush through this part. It might hurt a tiny bit, but it will be over. And, over is good.

Feel homelessness

Nicole Akers’ picture

We feel homeless. Notwithstanding, but including physical location. If you know us in other places you know that the few physical belongings we have are in a storage unit. The apartment lease ended not long ago, as we undertook this adventure. We have no physical address.

I’ve been shivering in my core since early last night. For the first time today I feel the warmth as the sun warms me from the outside in. Sitting on this park bench while the girls play and our packs are at our feet I catch myself doing the head bob from the warm hug of the sun lulling my mind and body to sleep.

We’re sitting on a bench and people can’t determine if we’re pilgrims or homeless. It’s apparent one kind of person doesn’t look different from the other. Unless a person is willing to step out to scratch beneath the surface both smell unclean.

Do you do the same thing?

It calls my attention to my actions toward others. Have I treated others this way without realizing it? I can remember times where I undoubtedly have done the same thing. I have seen others conversing, looking different, and shied away because I didn’t understand or know how to communicate. Have you done the same thing?

One sweet lady wants to practice her English and engages us in conversation. She quickly realizes we’re friendly saps and others look surprised to see her courage and see that we are humans too. We are aliens and the scales the green creatures have must also be on us. Passersby taste fear from our presence and they want to scrape the nastiness off their tongues. The weight of their insecurity bares down heavily and we move on.

We move a few blocks up the street where the feel is both the same and different. Here we are not treated as diseased lepers. People look at us with sideways glances, but not with the same fear as before. These people might shake our hand if the opportunity arises. Our kids are playing with their kids on the same playground. Parents don’t appear to feel the need to shelter their kids from us as though we are rabid dogs.

Children who don’t speak the same language are sharing experiences and playing in the same space. Kids don’t have the same preconceived notions adults have. They use their best-broken vocabulary to build bridges and conversation with one another. Parents are not afraid of our presence here, or at least they are not wearing the fear on their outer shells.

Nicole Akers’ picture

The children gather, bring toys, and cook meals, taking turns serving each other food. Sometimes they serve adults too. Connections happen in ways that promote growth and possibilities. Well-being is positive and the air smells different. It’s not fresh air, exactly, but it’s an air of possibility and growth that promotes a healthier experience. We know we are off the Camino path, but it’s not a dungeon prison, it’s more like an unruly paved path where the overgrowth reaches out to greet you. Reach out and touch someone because it will touch you as you pass. It could use some trimming, but it’s not too bad.

What does your playground look like? Is it open and inviting or encumbered by fear?

Nicole Akers’ picture

Call to Action

Are you a foreigner or have you ever been one? Do you go out of your way to embrace others who are different? Have you walked a foreign land that has changed your life? Tell your story in the comments.

If you’re enjoying this site, thank Nicole. She’s the creative mind behind She’s also the community-building guru who can help you build your own thriving communities online; check out her resources at If you’re more into health and wellness, Nicole can help there too! Find a wealth of health at
If you’re enjoying this site, thank Nicole. She’s the creative mind behind She’s also the community-building guru who can help you build your own thriving communities online; check out her resources at If you’re more into health and wellness, Nicole can help there too! Find a wealth of health at

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