The year was 1995. During a free period at his Chicago high school, 15-year-old Christopher Regan sat in the audience during a Rustic Pathways presentation. He was immediately hooked.
CR: They gave a quick schpiel and showed a video. It looked really, really fun. I was immediately interested, so I went home that evening and I talked to my parents, probably gave the best pitch of my life—since they signed off on it—and then that following summer I went to Australia, to Sydney, and then we just road-tripped all over the country—and I had a blast.
I remember it was six weeks long and we flew out of Cairns and it was a truly life-changing experience.
Did you travel when you were younger? How did your program emphasize your passion for travel?
CR: I traveled when I was younger to Central America, Canada, and Mexico with my parents, but this was my first trip on my own and my first trip to basically another continent. I understand Central and South america is considered a different continent, but it still feels like the same thing to me. But going to Australia… It was a long flight from Chicago to LAX and an even longer flight from LAX to Sydney and I was on my own. It fundamentally changed the way I view things from that point forward. I was actually going out and seeing things on my own. I still think about the trip and occasionally it comes up in conversation. It’s such an unusual experience for a young person to have, and I remember in college, going back and remembering the things I’ve seen there. It is an experience that most people don’t ever get in their whole life, and I was fortunate enough to get it at 15.
What memories from your program still stand out to you to this day?
CR: Katherine Gorge definitely stands out. It was an incredible experience because it’s just this enormous grand canyon and we did a helicopter tour over the tops and then later that day and the next day we hiked into several of the canyons. One of my favorite memories is when we were camping at a site and we found two waterfalls, each about 40 feet tall, and they dropped into pools in this granite canyon.
How were you feeling when you got back home after the program ended?
CR: Sadness, because I didn’t want it to stop. I felt different. This is going to sound corny, but I felt enriched. It made me think about a lot of different things that are not in the normal course of life. That trip was unusual and it opened me up to adventure and to be like, “Let’s go see what’s next. What’s around the corner? I’ve never been there; let’s go do that.”
How did the program shape your future?
CR: Not that I was ever very scared, but it gave me the confidence to move forward in the things that I didn’t know, or that I knew were going to be challenging. I ended up being a Navy SEAL for 10 years after that. I look back and I’ve grown from experiences from there, and it makes sense why I was able to make that choice and see it through. I was 15 years old, traveling away from my parents for the first time out of the country. I had so much fun that I hadn’t really thought about my parents.
How often do you look back on your experience and what values are still with you today?
CR: I probably think about it once a month. Something will come up, and I’ll either share an experience, like an anecdote or a cool story, and the values I don’t have to think about because they’re instilled.
What advice do you have for students who are going or have gone on a program?
CR: Putting this type of experience into words on your college applications speaks volumes. Let’s say you have a 4.0… You can say, “I have a 4.0, and I also traveled overseas on my own and did these great things.” It will set you apart. As a personal matter, you will grow in ways you didn’t expect and it will be with you the rest of your life. Remember how much you enjoyed it. Make plans and goals for the future so you can do it again.
The following summer, Christopher went on a program with Rustic Pathways to build schools in Fiji. His older sister followed in his footsteps and participated in the same service learning program the year after. He still stays in contact with some of his fellow travelers and he currently resides in San Diego, California.
Whether you’re an alum from three or 30 years ago, we want to hear from you! Email email@example.com and share your Rustic story with us!
Emily is a Phoenix-area native with a journalism and photography degree from Northern Arizona University. Prior to joining Rustic Pathways in 2015, Emily lived in Tel Aviv as a journalist for Time Out Israel magazine. Her passion for creative writing and travel drives the editorial content she produces for the creative team. During her spare time, you will find her hiking camera-in-hand, eating Mexican food, exploring San Francisco, and writing for Time Out San Francisco online.