Travel often seems to spark the biggest changes in students during seemingly small moments. It could happen because of a simple conversation or a time when a stunning landscape triggers deep reflection. It’s hard to capture these moments in an immediate social media post, but a number of Rustic Pathways alumni have taken the time to share their experiences in words they’ve penned after returning from their trips.
After years of gathering these stories, here are seven captivating moments that showcase how student travel can change perspectives and create lifelong memories:
1.) Finding Common Ground in an Unlikely Place
Taylor Badt was surprised when her Rustic Pathways program leaders said they were going to visit a Burmese refugee camp on the Myanmar/Thailand border. The Mae La camp had about forty-eight thousand people living in small bamboo shacks.
Badt said she was overwhelmed and unsure how to interact with people she had little in common with. Then she was asked to sit down with a group of young adults to help them practice English. Badt said that is when it changed. “From the minute I sat down, our interaction was like one between my friends and me. We talked about their futures and laughed about one boy’s new haircut. They showed me the proper way to break open a mangosteen fruit and I taught them about my home state of Louisiana. But, as we kept talking (and they became accustomed to my fast speech) our conversation deepened. They asked me questions I could not answer– What are my dreams? Who did I want to be? When I asked them in turn, their answers were immediate– they wanted to be doctors or teachers or translators. They yearned to return to their native villages and better them. My job of giving these students hope was unnecessary, they had done it for themselves.”
2.) An Unexpected Friendship
As soon as Zach Gross arrived in the town of Markuray in Peru, a young boy tugged on his arm and asked him if he wanted to play soccer. The boy named Ishmael, who looked like he was about ten, beamed with pride as he showed Gross around his village, including his deteriorating mud brick house.
Ishmael’s unbridled enthusiasm for Gross’ visit continued throughout the time when the Rustic Pathways students, including Gross, and local villagers completed a water tank project.
“The first drop fell and cheers erupted,” Gross wrote. “We bent down as three young children walked by and sprinkled yellow confetti on our heads in gratitude. The entire village stood across from us admiring the massive, colorfully decorated water tank that would change their lives forever. Ishmael, tearing up, ran over and jumped into my arms telling me that he never wanted me to leave. Our week’s worth of hard work had come to an end in the best way possible. For the first time ever, the villagers had access to clean and drinkable water.”
3.) Pausing to See the Splendor
Emma Reid traveled to Thailand and Laos a few years ago with Rustic Pathways. After her trip, she shared details about a time during her program when she was suddenly struck by the scenery around her.
“There was a moment when we were in Laos in a river, and I looked around and saw the mountains and land and began to cry. It was then that I realized that I need to live my life with gratitude and that I will always remember the times I’ve shared with Rustic.”
4.) Rebuilding What Was Lost
Reese Peters and her fellow students were given the task of heading deep into a mangrove forest in the Dominican Republic to plant as many mangroves as they could. She said the task seemed futile in the beginning.
“At first it seemed a bit ridiculous because how much of an impact would 13 teenagers have on an entire forest? Once we got there, the crowded terrain it once was had turned into a muddy swamp. But the older mangroves that had been there for years were absolutely beautiful. Our guide had such passion for these forests since this was his home and was torn at the fact that these plants were dying. Their community thrived off of this land and it hurt the people to see it slowly diminishing.
Our group hopped off the boat, ready to get to work. Our legs sunk into the mud all the way up to our knees, but our end goal didn’t involve being clean.
We walked around and planted as many mangroves as we could, each leaving a couple feet around these new plants so they could grow as big as the others. We felt relieved as we looked back seeing this muddy landscape knowing it would one day return to its former glory. Our guide was as grateful as could be knowing people our age still cared about these wonders of the world.”
5.) Seeing the World in a Different Way
Alexandra Pyne travelled to Fiji and Costa Rica where she took advantage of all the adventure options available. In her first trip when she was diving about 200 miles off the coast of the Great Barrier reef, she marvelled about how much the ocean and travel experiences inspired her.
“I remember being absolutely petrified as I situated my clunky self on the edge of the boat, held my mask into place, and leaned backward into the abyss. But, once submerged, my mindset changed…
The fish swimming in and out of the miniature caverns within the reef reminded me of neighbors moving through a small, tropically-colored village. I don’t know exactly how else to describe my feelings when seeing the world while diving for the first time, other than to say that those moments felt like Christmas.
Needless to say, I was in love – in love with the ocean, in love with the fact that I was so far away from all I had ever known and still felt okay and in love with the fact that maybe I could feel all of this all over again. My trip to Fiji attuned me to my passion for the ocean and my inherent sense of wanderlust that I had never really understood before.”
6.) Appreciating Education
Megan Kahrs made five trips with Rustic Pathways, including journeys to the Dominican Republic, Laos and Tanzania. While in the African nation, she stayed in a tent in an area with people who lived hours from a town. She said the trip humbled her and gave her a new perspective on the value of education.
“Many of the school kids would spend up to 5 hours walking, round trip, to get to school and back home and didn’t have access to a shower or clean clothes. That was their daily routine and it quickly became ours too. From this, I learned so much that made me respect their culture. Education was so important to the families of Hayedesh that they would send their young, unsupervised children walking for hours in the dark, on dirt roads just to get to school and learn.”
7.) Witnessing Pure Joy
Addison Rhodes also took a couple of trips with Rustic Pathways. Like other alumni she was struck by the level of happiness she found among the villagers in Fiji that she encountered.
“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.”
For details on travel experiences like these, visit Rustic Pathways’ program page.