UConn Magazine: All Roads Lead Home

A storied Spanish hiking trail delivers a full-circle moment for ’90s alum Alex Chang and some lucky current students. “On the Camino, everyone writes their own story,” says Chang

Photo of Sidney Taffe and Alex Chang in Spain.

Sidney Taffe ’24 (CLAS), left, and Alex Chang ’94 (BUS), right. (Contributed photo)

Last summer Ngozi Taffe ’97 (BUS), ’02 MBA, ’20 Ph.D. stepped onto Spain’s storied Camino de Santiago trail with her daughter Sidney ’24 (CLAS), a political science major. They laced up their boots in the small town of Sarria in Galicia and, over the course of 10 days, walked 70 miles to the medieval cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Along the way they passed through ancient oak and chestnut forests, working farms, and cobblestoned villages that have sheltered pilgrims since the time of the Crusades.

“At first I thought, this is crazy,” says Sidney. “Walking 100 kilometers? I wasn’t sure I could do it. But you get out there and you meet other people and you hear their stories, why they’re walking, the things they’re dealing with, and it becomes this intense bonding experience. When you reach the cathedral in Santiago, it’s very emotional. There’s such a huge sense of accomplishment. People are hugging and crying, and you feel so connected because you’ve all walked the same path.”

Falling in with different people is a big part of the Camino experience, says Alex Chang ’94 (BUS). Chang is the founder and owner of Fresco Tours, which led Ngozi and Sidney’s trek. “On the trail, people wish each other, ‘Buen Camino,’” he says. “‘Good walk.’ You bump into a man from Belgium or a woman from Japan and you learn a little bit about their lives.”

Chang first went to Spain while still an undergrad, spending the summer after his junior year studying Spanish art and culture in Madrid. At the time, the classes seemed a bit outside the scope of his marketing major, but decades later he points to them as a critical piece of his education. “Living in Spain, exploring the culture I was immersed in, it really affected me.”

So much so that Chang returned after graduation to work in the Madrid office of a global market research company. He had no intention of staying beyond a year or two while he figured out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. But an answer began to emerge on his first Camino de Santiago trek — ironically, he’d gifted himself 18 days hiking the fabled network of pilgrimage routes that arc across Europe as a way of saying goodbye to Spain before heading back to the States.

Months later, the Camino was still with him, and he had Spain on the brain often while trying to settle back into corporate America. What had really fired him up, Chang realized, was sharing his passion for different cultures. He connected the dots back to UConn, where one of his favorite activities had been giving tours to prospective students as a Husky Ambassador. It was a way of letting people in on the magic.

“It’s part of my personality, I guess,” he says. “It just feels right.”

Read on for more.