My Attempt to Change a Life Through Words

My Attempt to Change a Life Through Words

Addison Rhodes

Fiji | Highlands and Islands Service Immersion 2018

Tanzania | Culture and the Crater 2019

Addison is a high school student from Austin, Texas working towards a career in public relations or architecture.

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

I don’t know how to put this experience into words. I’ve been sitting here for an hour now just trying to figure it out, trying to find a way to structure my paragraphs and incorporate quotes and start with a hook as if I was submitting this for my English class. But I’ve decided I’m going to write this as if I was talking to you face-to-face.  This is the only way I know how to even slightly touch on the impact Rustic Pathways has had on my life these past few years.

I’ve been on two trips with Rustic, once to Fiji and once to Tanzania; both have been a mix of building infrastructure, teaching English and immersing myself in the local culture. My goal when deciding which program to sign up for was to find one where I’d get to play with children, get my hands dirty and stretch my comfort zone. I wanted to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

The Highlands and Islands Service Immersion program in Fiji was my first experience with Rustic. I had raised the money to send myself on the trip through selling shirts and at the ripe age of fourteen, I hopped on a plane to LAX where I’d sit for six hours with a hoodie covering my Rustic shirt so no one would talk to me as I waited to board a flight to the other side of the world.

Whenever I tell people I went on a service trip to Fiji they always get a little skeptical. They question what there was to help with in Fiji as it’s seen as a magical beach getaway where couples go on their honeymoon and stay in big, fancy resorts.

I never know how to respond, how to explain to them that if you stray away from those resorts you’ll find an undeveloped country full of people who live in what we consider poverty yet you would never know by the way they acted. Fijians are the happiest people I’ve ever met. They laugh like little kids, covering their mouths with both hands and throwing their heads back in pure joy; they greet everyone who walks through the door of the market with shouts of “bula” (hello) and grins that make you feel like you’ve known them forever; they dance barefooted through the streets, up in the villages and down on the beaches with a carefree sense that although they know they don’t have a lot, it doesn’t matter because they’re happy and alive and that’s more than enough.

There is often a conversation that talks about how money doesn’t buy happiness and I have to admit, I’m critical of the statement as I would be a lot happier if offered the opportunities that money can give you than if I was restricted by not having enough. But during those two weeks I could see how it applied to these people. It’s a cliché saying but there is a reason it’s been dubbed that.

These people were happier than anyone I’d ever met and it’s not because they owned a big house or fancy clothing, it was because they were able to look at what they had, their families, their villages, their culture, and see that as long as they could keep it all healthy, it was enough.

The next summer I went on the Culture and the Crater program in Tanzania. Although the main aspects of the program were the same as the one in Fiji, the experience was incredibly different.

To put it simply, it was a lot more hardcore physically and mentally. Physically, you didn’t get to shower for long periods of time and the dust buildup on your skin from even a couple hours outside was enough to make you forever grateful for running water. And the only way to use the restroom was to squat over a little hole that everyone used and let me tell you, that thing got clogged. A lot.

Mentally, the locals were more closed off which made it harder because you kind of felt like an unwanted outsider sometimes. But these challenges were what made this trip so life-altering. It has take me years to try to find the words for how much this trip changed my outlook on life; just know that the trips that present you with the most challenges—whether you like them or not—will be the ones that force you to grow and will continue to impact you and the people around you for the rest of your life.

This story doesn’t even begin to touch on the experiences and lessons I learned through my time with Rustic Pathways. In the four weeks that I have spent abroad with the program, I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me that I have in the past seventeen years. It’s truly something you have to experience for yourself. And then once you come home you’ll try to put your story into words and will wind up just like me, stuck trying to find out how to put so much life-changing weight into lines and squiggles on a piece of paper.

The only people who understand you will be those who experienced it with you, but because of that it will motivate you to try to change other’s lives using what you’ve learned. You will make an impact whether you realize it or not because the second you get on that plane wearing your Rustic shirt, you change. And that change spreads out in waves with every person you encounter once you get home.

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