How did you first go about getting a global perspective?
I’ve been traveling back and forth between the Dominican Republic and United States since I was six months old. Living in between the two spaces sparked an interest in travel from a young age. I have the fortune of having two perspectives on everything; the Dominican perspective and the U.S perspective. This has instilled a value in seeing other opinions and seeing what we can accomplish by looking at things from a global perspective rather than our bubble perspective.
Why do you view travel as an essential part of every education?
In a world that’s ever more connected, the ability to communicate with those of different cultures, languages, politics, etc., will be essential. Travel is a vehicle to that goal. When done in a sustainable way travel can be a great mode to augment any education. The grit required to navigate other environments is one that every student should possess if they are to be successful in a society where all business is done on a global scale.
What makes Rustic Pathways’ programs different from other programs in the Dominican Republic?
We don’t parachute in and out of locations. In the Dominican Republic we have an established presence in the communities we work with, which grants us a seat at the table. Communities and community members trust us because they see us present in their communities’ day in day out. We attend community events and make ourselves part of the community. Our programming offers students a window into these communities and allows them to work hand in hand with them. This gives the students a sense of community that is impossible to replicate.
What does a typical day look like for a Rustic Pathways program participant in The Dominican Republic?
Participants should ready themselves for a structured day. Breakfast followed by a morning of service, about three hours. Then a break for lunch, typically two hours. In the afternoon participants might continue service work or participate in another activity such as hike to a waterfall, visit to an NGO partner, zip lining tour or many other activities. The time before and/or after dinner is reserved for some time to decompress and group discussions to dive into what we’re seeing and what we can learn from it.
What makes The Dominican Republic the perfect place for international volunteering?
The Dominican Republic is a country that many people are all familiar with. They may have even been there before. This makes the destination something they are more comfortable with and willing to explore a bit deeper. That sense of familiarity allows us to take participants just a little bit further in their comfort zone, which inevitably leads to more learning.
What is some of your best advice for incoming participants?
Participants should come with an open mind. We will push you to the edge of your comfort zone because that’s where learning happens, but we will never push you past that comfort zone. Participants should come ready to experience something different from the normal though. If you wanted it to be the same as home, then you’d stay home right? I also encourage participants to disconnect a bit and engage with the programming. This means putting social media down a bit, enjoying the experience, and posting about it later.
Part of the “ethos” of Rustic Pathways is to start meaningful dialogues and create real interactions with the local communities. How do you ensure your programs abroad include these immersive aspects?
We create real interactions for students by having real relationships with communities. Our partner communities and organizations are an extension of our operation. We assure that the projects that we take on are community centric and have community involvement. The community drives the work, we simply help them do it. Student work side by side with community members working toward a common goal.