How Rustic Shaped My Being

How Rustic Shaped My Being

André Mershad

Tanzania 2014 | Morocco 2015 | Fiji and Australia 2016 | Australia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam 2017

Headshot André MershadAndré is pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies at the University of Southern California. They plan to dedicate their career to environmental education and sustainable agriculture, and hope to work for Rustic Pathways someday very soon.

All photos have been provided by André. Read their story below.

I remember trembling on the way to the airport, about to travel to Tanzania on my first ever Rustic Pathways trip–I had no idea how rapidly my life would be altered.

As soon as I met the Rustic staff and the group I’d be sharing this experience with, all nervousness subsided, and it truly never returned when it came to me traveling with Rustic.

Lioness Tanzania-André Mershad

Lioness, Tanzania

I played it “safe” on my first ever Rustic trip, only leaving home for a week, but returning a completely changed human.

My fondest memories of Tanzania were sailing across the glittering blue sea around Zanzibar, and learning about native medicinal plants from locals.

For the next three years, until I graduated high school, I would look forward every single day to what transformative experiences I would have on my next Rustic Pathways trips.

The next summer, I traveled to Morocco, and it was two weeks of pure bliss. I learned greetings in Arabic, ate a wealth of tajine, and bonded deeply with my group and the local Rustic Pathways staff members. I will never forget falling asleep on top of the Saharan sand dunes, listening to John Mayer, and watching infinite shooting stars fly across the sky.

Sahara Morocco-André Mershad

Sahara, Morocco

I was hooked– the next summer I traveled to Australia and spent two weeks in the Outback- here I met a lifelong friend.

Clea is very eccentric, and she brought out expressive sides of me I had never seen before. We supported each other throughout the entire trip, and made daily cooking, long drives and strenuous hikes extremely amusing.

The Outback is a stunning place, and it is full of culture. Getting to meet and learn from indigenous people was valuable, and learning a piece of their culture still drives me today to study indigenous cultures and human rights.

I connected my two-week Outback trip to a week-long trip in Fiji. There, I went skydiving, and scuba dived for the first time, which has since become a passion.

Dwarf Minke Whales Australia-André Mershad

Dwarf Minke Whales, Australia

Diving in Fiji inspired my Rustic Pathways trip to The Great Barrier Reef the following summer. Here, I earned my SCUBA certification, lived on a boat for a week in total, and dove multiple times a day collecting data on dwarf minke whales.

I became mesmerized by the threatened, yet breathtaking reefs– My life had changed once again, this time from the inquisitive and magical creatures that surrounded me. This trip solidified my passion for the environment and sustainability.

Since this was my last summer in high school, I decided to do one last Rustic trip later that summer, exploring the backroads of Southeast Asia.

Beautiful Hike Laos - André Mershad

Beautiful Hike, Laos

Gong and I Vietnam-André MershadWow, was this trip something. The natural beauty of Laos was unlike anything I had seen before– I wouldn’t have been surprised to wake up and realize the lush mountains were only a dream.

In Myanmar, I experienced a hilarious friendship with Soe Than, one of our local leaders whom I still think of often. We took two boat rides and a long hike in deep mud to reach his village, where his people greeted us with open arms and a delicious meal. I still crave the peanut and tomato salad to this day, and still cringe when I think of stinky beans.

In Vietnam, we did a homestay, and I became friends with a child named Gong. We could not communicate through words, though through our other forms of communication he had convinced me and a couple members of our group to run down to the river with him and his peers– We all jumped in and floated for a while. I remember being surrounded by children in pure amusement, and I felt like a bubble of gold.

Also in Vietnam, I worked harder one day than I ever had before. Cultivating corn fields in mid summer– I remember feeling so eager to contribute, and putting my entire being into these fields. This strenuous day sparked my interest in agriculture.

Cava Ceremony Fiji-André Mershad

My experiences with Rustic Pathways have followed me in every direction of life. I truly wish I had the words, and enough of them, to speak to the genuine capacity in which these trips have shaped my being.

Rustic inspired me to care deeply— about animals, plants, the environment, rich cultures that exist globally, and most importantly about myself. Rustic Pathways taught me the secrets of traveling well, and I have since been on many life changing trips solo.

Years later, I have been able to reconnect with some of my leaders, in person and through social media. Some, I haven’t spoken to, but they continue to inspire me. A handful of my fellow group members have followed me to the same university, or know my other friends in different places.

The cornfields in Vietnam still inspire me to garden at home, and one of my dreams is to provide more people with local and sustainable foods. I am also the trip coordinator for SCUBA trips at the University of Southern California, where I am finishing up my last semester in Environmental Studies, thanks to The Great Barrier Reef. Afterwards, I’m planning to work with Clea at her family’s business in Nantucket, which I owe to the Outback of Australia.

Where would I be without Rustic Pathways? I have absolutely no clue, and I prefer not to think about that reality.

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