Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Sammi Fuller

Sun, Sand, and International Service, Fiji 2015 | Sacred Valley Service, Peru 2016

Sammi is pursuing a Masters Degree in Applied Infectious Disease Epidemiology | University of Georgia 2020 Graduate

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

Sammi Fuller - Rustic AlumniWhere did you go to school? Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?

I graduated from the University of Georgia in May 2020 with a B.S. in health promotion and behavior and a minor in global health. On campus, I worked as an undergraduate researcher in a substance abuse prevention lab.

Within the community, I served as the youth group director for a local Jewish synagogue and volunteered with a horse therapy program for children.

What Rustic trips did you go on? 

I went on my first Rustic trip to Fiji in 2015 and participated in the Sun, Sand, and Service program. I didn’t know anybody going on the trip but quickly met some amazing people who I still keep in touch with. In fact, one of my friends who I met in Fiji came with me to Peru in 2016 on the Sacred Valley Service program!

Did your Rustic experience play a role in bringing you to where you are now? 

About 10 days after I returned from my first Rustic trip in Fiji, I was admitted to the emergency room in the middle of the night.

Unknown to me at the time, I had somehow contracted a staph infection while back in the U.S.. What started as a dime-sized rash on my calf had spread all over my lower leg. I was in excruciating pain but remember hearing the E.R. physician tell my mom that if they didn’t operate in the next 30 minutes, they would have to amputate my lower leg.

I laid in a hospital bed for days after surgery, and one thought kept running through my mind—a disease I had absolutely no control over almost took a major part of me.

Fortunately, emergency surgery performed by a team of doctors and nurses saved my leg. I made a full recovery because I had the financial and medical resources to treat an infection that could have been debilitating. But while my body was recovering in the hospital, my mind was still in Fiji.

I kept thinking about Bavu village, where several days a week, my group had mixed and poured cement to construct outhouses to improve sanitation. What would happen if one of the children I met in Bavu village had contracted an infection like this? And how many people in developing countries were exposed to diseases that they had absolutely no means to treat?

My experience in Fiji allowed me to see, firsthand, that people around the world are still fighting for basic needs that impact their health.

It took me years to realize it, but that medical emergency happening right after I had spent weeks volunteering in Fiji is really what made me want to pursue a career in infectious disease epidemiology.

In the fall, I will be moving to London to pursue a Master’s of Science in applied infectious disease epidemiology. I hope to use my degrees to design, implement, and evaluate health promotion programs aimed at reducing the burden of infectious diseases around the world.

Sammi Fuller - Rustic Alumni

Have you encountered any particular challenges that were more easily addressed by your past experiences?

I spent the last semester of college interning with the National Institute for Medical Research in rural Tanzania. There, I was implementing a nutrition and physical activity intervention to reduce risk factors associated with noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Only a few of the employees spoke English, and I knew just a few basic words in Swahili, but I was able to use a ton of non-verbal communication strategies that I learned while in Fiji and Peru. Also having the skills like adaptability, open-mindedness, and sensitivity that I practiced while on Rustic trips allowed me to experience so much more of the culture in Tanzania.

Is there a particular moment or memory from any of your trips that stands out for you?

I remember standing in front of a class of fifth graders in Fiji, about to teach a self-planned English lesson. I felt so confident as we walked into the classroom, but I was immediately smothered by a vibrant language, the lingering aroma of spicy Fijian snacks, and the stifling heat inside the room. Everything had felt so foreign to me in that moment.

Despite my shaky hands and trembling voice, I began reading The Little Engine That Could, and for the next hour, my peers and I helped students write a short English paragraph about a time that they, like the little engine, struggled.

They wrote about difficulties helping on the sugarcane farms and fights while playing rugby with older village kids. I remember sitting down next to one student who described her struggle to make friends at this new school. Her words were so refreshing to me. For the most part, I didn’t face the same challenges as many of these students, but I have been in positions where I was launched into a new environment and had to make friends.

Everyone in that classroom, regardless of language, color, gender, religion, or appearance, had experienced a time when they faced challenges. In that moment, I felt like I had really connected to the reason I pursued a Rustic trip in the first place—to appreciate diversity while also searching for some piece of meaningful common ground.

Sammi Fuller - Rustic Alumni

What is your advice for incoming participants or anyone considering traveling with Rustic Pathways?

My advice to anyone considering traveling with Rustic is this: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Whether it’s navigating through an airport you’ve never been to, struggling to overcome a language barrier, learning about the lifestyles of people from different cultures, trying new and exotic foods, or even sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Sacred Valley—be okay with being uncomfortable.

Our experiences with things that are uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and even sometimes awkward are often the same experiences that afford us the most growth. So if traveling with Rustic to a new place with new people and new cultures makes you a little bit uncomfortable, that’s exactly the reason to do it.

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