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Advice from Parent Alumni
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Advice from Parent Alumni

With summer programs quickly approaching, anxiety about putting your child on a plane by themself might be building up. Did I make the right decision? Am I crazy sending my child to the other side of the world with complete strangers? Will my child be in good hands?

We recently wrote to some parents of Rustic alumni asking about their Rustic Pathways experience and the responses were truly humbling. We asked if we could share these responses and they graciously agreed, so that you could hear about Rustic Pathways programs from parents who have gone through the process and understand your hesitations. This is what they shared with us:

My son, Gavin was barely 15 when he begged us to travel to Tanzania. We were nervous to send him and tried to persuade him into a trip that would be closer, less “foreign” so to speak. Clearly he had never been out of the country by himself before and he had never experienced anything as remote as Tanzania. Additionally, we knew the trip he chose was truly “rustic” in nature. We were very reluctant but he persisted.

Our minds were put at ease the moment we arrived at the airport in New York. So many young, smiling faces. So many Rustic Pathways t-shirts. It was an instantaneously welcoming community that quickly embraced him. We were greeted by his friendly chaperone and we knew he would be fine. We also knew he was about to have the experience of a lifetime.

A year has passed since his trip. He has already signed up for this coming summer. He is returning to Tanzania but to a different program this time around. Throughout his entire life our son had stashed some birthday and Christmas money away. He had always dreamed of buying himself a car when the time came. This year he told us the money he had saved he’d like to use to travel back to Africa.

I know why he has made this change. A car is no longer important to him; service and travel is. After this once in a lifetime trip, his perspective has changed. His priorities have changed. His outlook on life has changed, his whole life has changed. His trip to Tanzania was not just a trip but an experience that gave his life depth and breadth, meaning and purpose. Every day since his trip he has worn a bracelet that says “Hakuna Matata.” He calls it his lucky bracelet and it reminds him that he has “no worries.”

I would assure any parent considering sending their child abroad (male or female) that it is the greatest gift they could ever give their child. Because it’s the gift of gratitude that, in essence, their child receives. Advice I would give would have nothing to do with what to pack, where to go, or any other details. My advice would be not to worry. My advice would be to simply trust and have faith that this will not be a trip but a journey. It’s not about the destination as much as it is about the human connection and service. It’s not about where they go on the outside but where they arrive on the inside.

Dee Dee Olsen, mother of Gavin (Tanzania, 2014)

Rustic Pathway opened up a new world to my son, Jake. It presented a safe, but adventurous way to see another part of the world, and to experience a new culture. Spending time with the children of the Dominican Republic gave him an appreciation for the luxuries in his own life, but also taught him about gratitude and living simply. We couldn’t be more pleased with the experiences that Rustic Pathways allowed Jake to have. From environmental science to the Spanish language to new customs, Jake came home with an enthusiasm and appreciation for learning and countless memories that he couldn’t wait to share.

Some advice for new Rustic parents would be to develop a relationship with your Rustic Pathways representative and trust in the program. I know the trusting is hard, but you are in good hands. Through emails, phone calls, and letters you can develop a lasting friendship with your consultant. They are eager to answer your questions and to make the program an unforgettable experience for your child… Although they are highly chaperoned and well scheduled, the programs are still adventurous and exciting. Rustic Pathways kept us informed, reassured and in the loop when our son was too busy having fun to communicate with us! My relationship with my Rustic Pathway representative, Michelle, is one that I will cherish for many years!

I would not hesitate to recommend Rustic Pathways to another parent whose child shows interest in traveling outside the country and experiencing new cultures…It isn’t easy to trust a stranger with your child, especially when you are considering traveling outside the U.S. I can only reassure you that Rustic Pathways is a dedicated and trustworthy organization, and that they helped create a travel experience that my son and I will never forget.

Heidi Pynn, mother of Jake (Dominican Republic, 2014)

Rustic Pathways was recommended by my son Joey’s school advisor, so my comfort level was pretty high from the start. Despite that, when I gathered with other families for a presentation by Rustic Pathways staff, my first question, (and the one on every parent’s mind) was, “Am I crazy to be sending my kid halfway around the world — without me, or anyone he knows?”

Though the program was for just a few weeks, the cumulative adventures and “firsts”— first plane ride alone, first trip with kids and staff he had never met, first extended stay in a foreign country— resulted in a big leap in independence and growth. When Joey returned, I was sure what he would talk about most would be the zip line or scuba diving for the first time, (another adventure not easy on a mom.) But instead, he talked about the Fijian people he had met whom he felt he had truly connected with. That hit home with me. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, more than anything else, those three years taught me to love another country other than my own. And Joey had that same experience.

My advice for any new parent would be, this is an experience of a lifetime. If the program is something your child brought up, absolutely go for it. If it is something you discovered and want your child to experience, make sure he or she really wants to do this, and it is about him or her, not you. For any new parent on the fence, I would say have your child connect with another child, and you do the same with another parent. Could it possibly be easier these days to connect? I am always open to other parents contacting me.

Amy Goehner, mother of Joey (Fiji, 2014)


We can’t tell you that everything will be perfect. Luggage is lost, students get stomach bugs, weather cancels plans. But we can tell you that we will do everything within our power to give your student a safe, unforgettable, and life-changing experience.

If you want to talk to more parents about their experience, please let us know and we will put you in touch. A big thank you to Amy, Heidi, and Dee Dee for sharing their stories!

About the Author

Katey Finnegan