Student Spotlight: Cassidy McGinn

Cassidy McGinn

Cassidy McGinn

Cassidy McGinn originally started at Columbia College in marketing with an emphasis on advertising.

“But after one semester, I transferred to College of DuPage to save money,” she said. “I was worried about the stigma of being at a community college, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in my college career.”

It was through COD that she also enjoyed one of the greatest experiences of her life. With a goal to be fluent in Spanish, McGinn knew traveling to a Spanish-speaking country and immersing herself in the culture would be invaluable. So she secured a semester abroad opportunity in Spain at the International College of Seville, which was offered through COD’s Field and Experiential Learning/Study Abroad/Global Education office.

McGinn took two courses studying the Spanish language and three additional classes in English – international business, international relations and Spanish culture. She also enjoyed several trips with classmates, including visits to Grenada and Morocco.

After finishing the program, McGinn planned to stay in Europe for two additional weeks in order to travel to Italy and Greece. However, she also had been thinking about the famed El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which crosses northern Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which, according to legend, is the location for the remains of St. James, one of Jesus’ apostles. Translated into English as “The Way of St. James,” El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage has attracted travelers for more than 1,000 years. During the Middle Ages, the route was one of the three most important Christian pilgrimages to be completed, which also include Jerusalem and Rome.

McGinn originally heard about El Camino de Santiago during high school when taking a Spanish class. Before traveling to Spain, she watched a movie called “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez about a man making the pilgrimage after his son dies while doing so.

“I kept obsessing about the Camino. Midway through the semester, I checked to see if I could change my flight, but it cost too much,” she said. “The next day, my host brother came over and started talking about walking the Camino. When he reached the cathedral, he cried and decided to start over with his life, and I was on the verge of tears as he told this to me. After he left, I called the airline again, and I was able to extend my stay for only $200 more. My host mom thought I was crazy. She suggested I should do the walk in parts because I was alone and too young to do the whole thing. But I had heard it was best to do it alone.”

Although El Camino de Santiago was originally a religious pilgrimage, people now make the trek for religious, spiritual or personal reasons or simply for enjoyment. McGinn decided for herself it was for spiritual and personal reasons. Because the pilgrimage has many starting points, she chose to begin at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France. The route then travels 480 miles through the Pyrenees and the major Spanish cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León.

“On the first day, I crossed the Pyrenees, and it was breathtaking. I immediately had this sense of community with the other pilgrims, and people would say as we passed ‘Buen Camino,’ which literally translates into ‘Good way.’ By the second day I was walking with someone. One of my teachers had told me that if I go alone, I won’t walk alone. And during the entire pilgrimage, I only walked alone two or three times.”  

McGinn said she was one of the youngest people on the pilgrimage. And after a little more than four weeks, she reached the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

“When I first looked at a map and saw where I would start and where I would end, I said to myself, ‘There’s no way I can make this distance.’ The task seemed impossible,” she said. “But once you reach the Cathedral and realize you did it, it’s an almost surreal moment of accomplishment. People were celebrating, hugging and congratulating each other. We passed street performers and people playing bagpipes. 

“El Camino de Santiago was eye-opening. My host brother said I will be making decisions based upon the impact from this spiritual journey.”

He was right. After returning home, McGinn transferred to Loyola University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a minor in Spanish. She also started to volunteer teaching English at a nonprofit called Pan-African Association, which helps refugees, asylees and immigrants from African and around the world adjust to their new lives in the U.S.

Her next journey will be with the Peace Corps. McGinn will depart in February 2018 for Panama for two years and work as an English co-teacher and Life Skills Facilitator, helping teachers and students better their language skills.

“I want my life to be about having experiences, and I want a career that is impactful, such as working with a nonprofit. And I’d do anything to relive the Camino. When you’re in the middle of it, you’re physically and mentally struggling. But I would walk it again in a heartbeat, and I know I’ll end up on that trail once more.”

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