Ten years after traveling with Rustic Pathways, we caught up with Rustic alum Heather Lyon to find out how traveling as a teenager forever changed the trajectory of her life.  

In 2006, Heather traveled to India and participated in two programs with Rustic Pathways. She enrolled in two more programs the next summer in Peru, including Sacred Valley Service. When Heather graduated from high school, she deferred her acceptance from The University of Chicago to take a gap year, where she volunteered at a boarding school at the base of the Himalayas and then traveled to Cambodia, Laos, and China. 

After a few years of post-college work experience in Vermont and California, Heather accepted a Peace Corps assignment in Nepal that starts in March 2017. Keep reading to find out how she became the person she is today through travel.  

My Rustic experience gave me perspective 

“Traveling with Rustic as a teenager allowed me to place myself in the context of the larger world, which was really, really powerful. This allowed me to see myself in my true sense. After my experiences in Peru and India with Rustic, I began attaching myself to the idea that I was going to be a citizen of the world. I had a fire to connect with people and places that were different from me. I wanted to do it in a thoughtful and ethical way, all while considering my privilege and unique perspective. This all remains true to me today. It has looked different at various chapters in my life, but my purpose to be a true citizen to this world that was established through Rustic has never wavered.” 

My Rustic experience taught me to reflect 

“Through travel and talking about my Rustic experience, I developed skills in reflection and self-knowledge. After traveling with Rustic in high school, I was and still am so turned on by travel. I left wanting more, and I wanted to do it in a deeper and more drawn out way. Because of these skills in reflection, I knew a gap year was the right choice for me.  

“Travel opened up possibilities that I hadn’t realized were there before. In terms of thoughts and careers and making practical choices. I knew I wanted to be involved in an international space that valued cross-cultural types of work. Through travel, I met people who were actually doing this.  

“I wanted to travel, I wanted to do service, and I knew that college would be there. I deferred my acceptance to The University of Chicago, which the administration supported. I wanted more time and space to explore what I would study.” 

My Rustic experience taught me to apply my skills 

“When I finished my gap year, I was excited and ready to bring my skills to an academic setting. I took classes on theory, and it all clicked. I had hands-on experiences from traveling that I could apply to these theories. It all felt very grounding. I dove into classes that had an international focus. I applied my global self, and everything I learned held emotional resonance based on my travel experiences.  

“I decided to study anthropology. It has everything to do with trying to understand cultures in a respected and thoughtful way. I wanted to understand how we work and what makes us similar. Through travel, I experienced this every day. I developed practical skills that allowed me to approach my studies in a way that felt really good to me.” 

My Rustic experience opened my eyes 

“Spending time in the developing world sparked my interest in agriculture and food production. The first time I saw food being produced locally to support the community was in India. This interest is taking me to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer starting in March. Tracing it back, it all stems from my experience with Rustic in India, where the seed was planted and my view broadened. 

“As someone who has loved to travel since my early teenage years, joining the Peace Corps has remained in the back of my mind, but I had not found the right time. I wanted to wait until I was better prepared with hands-on skills that I could bring to the table.” 

My Rustic experience taught me to think critically 

“I know that going to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer is the right decision for me because I have an itch to continue to find ways to serve communities, and help folks improve their livelihood. Yes, I’ve questioned my decision to go to a community that isn’t mine. I’ve held onto this critique and tried to be really thoughtful about it. I am going to learn and grow as much as I am there to offer and serve. I have more to gain than to give. My responsibility as a temporary community member is to focus my work on what the community finds important and the strengths that they have. 

“My position in Nepal will begin at the end of March. I will be working in food security and agricultural to develop a system that provides nutritious food for women and children.” 

My Rustic experience taught me to define my own path 

“I stay attentive to the idea that society presents a picture of success that is one particular kind of success, that truly does make some people happy. Every single person is going to have a different avenue to success. To me, success means going through everyday with the intention of taking care of those around me, and caring for the people and the planet.” 

My Rustic experience taught me to have confidence 

“If I could says something to my 16-year-old self, it would be to relax. To have confidence that the world is good and is going to provide options and provide pathways that will make you happy. Don’t stress out about impressing any particular social norms. Go with the flow. This continues to lead me in different directions.” 


What did your Rustic trip teach you? Whether you traveled last year, or thirty years ago, we want to hear from you. Please email Rachel at alumni@rusticpathways.com to share your story.

About the Author

Rachel Levin

Marketing Associate - Community Engagement

With over four years of experience leading programs for Rustic Pathways, Rachel’s commitment to our students’ experiences is top notch. She has led programs in Costa Rica, Peru, Tanzania, and Ghana and has extensive knowledge of our programs and operations. A graduate of University of Vermont with degrees in sociology and Spanish, Rachel now focuses her love for travel, writing, and her unquenchable curiosity of our natural world as Marketing Associate in Community Engagement. Rachel is a talented ceramicist and lover of the outdoors based out of Jackson, WY.