Friends that Became Family, Places that Became Home

Friends that Became Family, Places that Became Home

Freja Tellefsen

Thai Elephant Conservation Project, 2018 | Highlands and Islands Service Immersion, 2019  | Sun, Sand, and International Service, Fiji 2019

My name is Freja Tellefsen, I’m Danish but currently living in Switzerland where I graduated from the Inter-Community School of Zurich as part of the Class of 2021. Before going to Loughborough University in England to study Geography I will be taking a gap year to work and pursue my passion of travelling. I play soccer and any chance I get. I’m out and about, travelling, volunteering, meeting new people and exploring new places.


All images provided by Freja. Read her story and watch her video below!

My name is Freja. I am originally from Denmark but moved to Zurich, Switzerland in 2009 where I have been attending an international school ever since.

My family has always been a big travel family and at 18 I have been to 34 different countries. Each of my travels has aided in shaping me into the person I am today and I truly believe that the best education one can receive is from seeing the world.

My passion for volunteering started in the spring of 2018 when my family and I traveled to South Africa to work at an animal sanctuary, caring for cheetahs, monkeys, and thousands of bird species.

The feeling that came from spending my vacation doing something that was beneficial to others was amazing and it sparked a passion for volunteering that has not disappeared since.

The following summer I went on my first Rustic trip to Thailand where I worked at an elephant sanctuary. A friend of mine had pitched the idea to me, and I went along, expecting Rustic Pathways to be like any other travel company and this like any other trip.

I could not have been more wrong. Despite having been to Thailand before, I was able to get a close-up experience like no other of the lives of mahouts and their elephant livelihoods.

The trip opened a door to exciting opportunities with Rustic Pathways and I was eternally grateful that my friend had convinced me to go.

Between that summer and the following summer, I traveled to Sri Lanka to teach at a school and work at a turtle shelter, my first ever volunteer trip working with humans. I didn’t think it was possible but my passion for volunteering grew, and I itched, every hour of every day to be traveling. Abroad, helping other people was where I felt happiest.

At the end of Sophomore year, my school runs a program called Personal Development Month (PDM) where students must spend a month in an environment which they feel will mentally or physically challenge them and prepare them for the future.

Whilst most of my peers stayed local and completed internships I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to independently travel and pursue my passion to the fullest extent.

Naturally, I turned to Rustic Pathways on a mission to find the perfect program. The options seemed endless and choosing a program seemed impossible. Finally, I decided on a program in the Fiji Islands.

I had no idea at that time how much that decision would change my life. I met some of my best friends in the entire world on the Sun, Sand and International Service program. With each day we became closer and closer and I dreaded the day the two weeks would be over and they would all leave Fiji.

About halfway through the program I remember sitting in the van on the way home from service that day, driving through the beautiful Fijian landscape and I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing.

I pushed the crazy thought out of my mind and shamed myself for feeling anything but immense gratitude for this incredible opportunity, to be across the world, 16,637 km away from home but doing what I love.

I then realized that was just it. I was given this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience and I needed to make the absolute most of it.

Upon arrival back at the base, I marched myself up to the office and asked if they had space on another program for the remainder of my time in Fiji, seemingly a quite rare request, but I simply could not bear the thought of returning home and not feeling like I made the most of being here.

As the list of programs slowly came to an end, none with available space, my hope faltered. It just wasn’t meant to be.

I was just about to thank them and leave when a woman popped her head around the corner letting me know there was one space remaining on Highlands and Islands. With no idea what this program entailed I agreed, gave her a massive hug, and ran out of the office.

I was fortunate enough in those last two weeks to be on a program with the most amazing group of people I have ever met. I had the opportunity to do a homestay with a Fijian family, build and work with children every day.

It truly felt like a dream and I was so grateful to the openness of Fjjians and their culture who allowed me to see the “real” Fiji.

As I left Fiji I knew that although I was returning home, my journey with Rustic was far from over. Over the next couple months I became an ambassador for Rustic Pathways, working to spread the love of travel and giving back through the Rustic Pathways fellowship program both at my school, local community and on social media.

My Rustic pathways experience remains a significant pillar in my life to this day. I write this essay on a train to Paris, with friends I met in Fiji two years ago. We reunited in Greece and are now travelling around Europe over the next couple of weeks.

I truly would not be where I am today, surrounded by friends who became family, without Rustic.

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