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Erik Schoon's Employee Profile

Gap Year Operations Manager

Erik Schoon - Gap Year Operations Manager for Rustic Pathways

What have your own international travels entailed?

My family is from Norway and as a kid, we would travel from Michigan (where I grew up) to Norway to spend time with the rest of the family, so traveling was something that I associated good things with from a very young age.

Once I was in my teenage years, I was encouraged to use the money I had saved to “venture out” with a backpack and seek interesting people and places. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was something I wanted to pursue much more than every once in a while. I had a plan to backpack Europe for 6 months and after saving up a small chunk of money, I found myself in Scotland having the time of my life, with other travelers, mostly a bit older than I was, who were “traveling and working” which I had never heard or thought of.

After a month of rubbing shoulders, learning and becoming very good friends with these savvy travelers from across the globe, I was running out of money! So I had two choices, go home and get a job, or try my hand at what my traveling friends were doing. This was one of the easiest choices I have ever made. “Stay on the road!”  I found a number of different jobs and continued to meet incredible people that told me their own stories, shared experiences they’d had during their own travels, life in their countries, about interesting places, cultures and delicious food. At this point I was totally hooked. I spent the next 12 years traveling and working between Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.

How did you get involved with Rustic Pathways?

Back in 2009, I was living and working in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka when I met and became friends with a member of the Rustic Pathways team. He told me about the amazing company he worked for and that he thought might be a good fit for me. I was absolutely interested and arranged for an interview for a potential summer position in Thailand, which I was lucky enough to get!

Working that summer alongside the incredible local and international staff and eager students, everything felt right. I was once again hooked and as fate had it, the gap year programs were in need of leaders which I eagerly applied for and was again lucky enough to find a spot on the roster. I loved it, every second, every day and every month of it, which turned into one year, then two, three, four, five and then somewhere in my fifth or sixth year of leading gap semesters during the spring and fall and working our summer programs in Southeast Asia, I found myself easing into an administrative role in the gap year department which I have happily continued working directly with the people I had been supported by, became good friends with and learned so much from during all of my time as a program leader.

Why do you view travel as an essential part of every education?

Once you step away from your home turf, you find yourself in unfamiliar places, which at first can feel strange, a bit uncomfortable and sometimes a little scary. This is pretty normal and everyone that really gets out there to seek and explore the world away from home, feels this at one time or another.

After a couple of days of being “in this new place”, the things you might have been worried about, (this is a little different for everyone) you find aren’t quite as big of a deal as you might have thought and that other people have felt that way as well. Then something, typically small, like a tasty local meal, a kind hearted local interaction or a small positive experience, eases the nerves and opens the door to feeling comfortable in a setting that just a few days ago, didn’t. This, somehow, usually happens very quickly and at this point you are all of a sudden absorbing everything, curious and hungry for more. Much more. More of what?

For me it was interacting, working alongside of, discussing, listening, watching, asking questions, eating, laughing and ultimately learning about the importance of perspective, culture, values, reasons and the list goes on and on forever. When you are out in the world with an open heart and mind, you are absorbing information through all of your senses whether you realize it or not. This, over time will shape how you think, how you perceive the world, how you interact with people and who you are as a person. Just writing this makes me want to go get back out there!