Discovering My Path Within a Changing World

Discovering My Path Within a Changing World

Alexandra Pyne

Fiji Diver’s Dream, 2015 | Caribbean Adrenaline, Costa Rica 2016

Ally is a student working towards a career in Social Ecology. | CFO of a 501(c)(3) non-profit that assists with financial support for international sustainable development. | Wilderness guide and conservation group leader.

All photos have been provided by Ally. Read her story below!

My Rustic Pathways Story

By Alexandra Pyne

In the spring of my freshman year of high school, my mom earnestly suggested that I look into Rustic Pathways programs.

When I heard her say this, I was floored…of course I’d heard of Rustic Pathways trips, but they had always remained distant, unattainable dreams in my mind. With this sense of awe still in mind, I selected a scuba diving program in Fiji to go on during the summer of 2015.

Ally Pyne - Rustic Pathways Alumni The adventures began on my first flight to LAX, where I transferred and then ultimately went off en route to Nadi International Airport.

The 6-hour flight from EWR to LAX was only prolonged by the fact that my TV’s language settings were permanently set to Mandarin, the screen was decorated with bright blue pixelated lines, and I had obtained the grand fortune of the middle seat.

Nevertheless, I attempted to use the beginner Mandarin I had been learning in school to make this situation slightly more bearable and pressed a few buttons in a sensible order. This caught the attention of the man sitting next to me and we struck up a conversation I still remember to this day.

He listened to me talk about the electrifying Fijian adventure I was about to embark on, how thrilled I was to learn how to scuba dive, and how it felt to be going to the other side of the globe by myself at 15 years-old.

He told me that he was flying to Los Angeles to meet his girlfriend who had just hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and that they had plans in the coming year to run a marathon on the Great Wall of China. His life sounded (and still sounds) absolutely amazing.

I remember leaving the flight with a little pep in my step, proud of the fact that I could share exciting aspects of my life with a stranger who felt oddly familiar.

Ally Pyne - Rustic Pathways Alumni

Fast-forward a few days (that were filled with my PADI Open-Water training), and I am on a small dive boat 200 miles off the coast of the Great Barrier Reef.

I was lost in the sapphire ocean waves crashing up against the side of the boat until the diving instructors told me that the time had come. I remember being absolutely petrified as I situated my clunky self on the edge of the boat, held my mask into place, and leaned backward into the abyss.

But, once submerged, my mindset changed. I was in a land I had never seen before, a land that wasn’t actually land at all. The fish swimming in and out of the miniature caverns within the reef reminded me of neighbors moving through a small, tropically-colored village. I don’t know exactly how else to describe my feelings when seeing the world while diving for the first time, other than to say that those moments felt like Christmas.

Needless to say, I was in love. In love with the ocean, in love with the fact that I was so far away from all I had ever known and still felt OK and in love with the fact that maybe I could feel all of this all over again. My trip to Fiji attuned me to my passion for the ocean and my inherent sense of wanderlust that I have never really understood before.

The following year, in the summer of 2016, I went on an adventure and white-water rafting trip to Costa Rica. The people I met on this trip (from the local rafting guides along the Pacuare River to my Rustic Pathways instructors) stand out to me as the most incredible element of my Costa Rican experience. I laughed wholeheartedly with people I had only just met, and I realized that these interpersonal relationships drive our world around and around.

I let these realizations percolate in my mind for a few years as I made my way through the rest of high school. Sadly, I spent my last two years of high school largely focused on the soccer recruiting process and the college admissions process and abandoned my exciting, existential realizations as I gave in to pressures in my existing suburban life.

A fit of confusion, exhaustion, complicated personal matters, and deep-seeded unhappiness came to a head in paralyzing inability to see myself entering college following my high school graduation in 2018. I spoke to my mom, asking a question I never thought I would, and inquired about taking a gap year.

To this day, I am so grateful to her for listening to me and letting me wander off the beaten path to come alive, again.

After deferring my acceptance to Georgetown University, I decided that I wanted to get back in touch with that Christmas feeling, which I knew from my Rustic experiences required me to be afraid and still move forward.

With this concept in mind, I began a three-month wilderness backpacking trip with seven other people in the Western US and Chilean Patagonia. I had never slept in a tent before, and on this trip I lived in the untouched wilderness of Southeastern Utah and the Chilean-Argentinian border for nearly months at a time.

The exposure I had to modern environmental movements emboldened me to form well-founded thoughts and opinions on the need for interventional conservationism.

And, the unbreakable bonds I formed with my fellow backpackers in shaky moments reinforced my faith that interpersonal relationships shape my understanding of the world.

Following my adventures in South America, I moved to the island of Mahé in the Seychelles, where I worked on marine conservation efforts by conducting dive. In those times, I found myself again…that Christmas feeling returned, with even more potency than I thought existed.

In those warm, buggy nights, nestled in a base within a rainforest near the ocean, I decided that what I was feeling in those moments would matter forever. After a blur of a few months in South Africa, reflecting on my adventures and finding new ones, I returned stateside and prepared to start college: this time, with an excitement and zest for life that we all deserve.

I found friends more easily than I thought I could have when starting at Georgetown, and I think that ease was a function of my opened mind and excitement for a new set of stories. I struggled, at times to determine what academic field of study could align with this new perception I had of myself.

Falling back into my previous plan, I spent my first semester in Biology and Chemistry lectures and labs, trekking along the track for a Biology student.

Ally Pyne - Rustic Pathways Alumni

But, I felt like I was playing a part. These academic settings and my peers in those classes did not align enough with my understanding of myself.

Discouraged and on a whim, I enrolled in an introductory Anthropology course. When I heard my high-spirited professor explain the importance of the social-role relationship and that nothing human is ever 100% biological, I felt understood in my conceptions of the world. I became inspired to marry this soulful, yet scientific interpretation of human culture with my love for the natural world by also studying Biology.

I’ve learned that the nexus of these academic interests of mine reveals the field of Social Ecology, where people study how different cultures interact with the natural environment.

Climate change, conservation, marine biology, epidemiology, and many more scientific fields merge into a social ecologist’s understanding of various peoples. I feel empowered by my experiences (from Rustic Pathways and beyond) to explore this field and work towards a career in Social Ecology.

I remain involved with my gap year adventures by being a founding board member and the Chief Financial Officer of a non-profit that provides funding for international projects that world towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and keeping the relationships I’ve made with people alive.

Rustic Pathways opened my mind up to all of my ensuing adventures. And together, all of these experiences have shown me that many ways to live a life exist but, if we want to be wholly fulfilled by our endeavors, we must actively seek out which life best suits our individuality within a changing world.

Ally Pyne - Rustic Pathways Alumni

Learn more about Rustic Pathways programs in Fiji and Costa Rica, or view more Alumni Stories here