Alumni Spotlight | Dan, Sasha, and Molly
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Alumni Spotlight | Dan, Sasha, and Molly

It’s no surprise that Rustic Pathways students care about the world around them. This month, we’re highlighting three alumni who their passions for human rights, service, and travel on their Rustic program, and continued pursuing them during college and after graduation.

Read on for some great advice from Dan, Sasha, and Molly about how to go after what you really care about while having a positive impact.

After graduating from college, Dan spent a year living in Nicaragua as the staff photographer and digital media coordinator for Amped for Education, an organization focused on expanding educational opportunities for students in developing countries.

What are your recommendations for students who want to stay engaged in service after their Rustic program?

“There are countless opportunities to stay engaged with a social cause or service project. What I recommend is taking some time to reflect on how you can be an asset to a team. Service work gets done because a team of people work together to conquer tasks.

Align yourself with an organization or social cause you care about then figure out how your skill set, passion, and enthusiasm can be an asset. Maybe you are really good at speaking in front of groups and can help spread the word. Perhaps you know how to build websites and can provide your knowledge and skill by redesigning an old site.

In my case, I offered my photography and filmmaking skills to an organization working to expand educational opportunities for children in developing countries, something I greatly believe in.”

What would you tell someone going on a Rustic Pathways program for the first time?

“Rustic Pathways provides an opportunity to break out of your comfort zone and have authentic and adventurous experiences. It can be overwhelming and a little scary to travel far from home to places wildly different from what you are used to, but when you overcome those feelings you’ll find new courage and confidence within yourself that you didn’t know you had.

You’ll make new friends from all areas of the world and you’ll wonder how you became so close in just a few short weeks. You’ll learn new skills and overcome obstacles. You’ll share stories and experience about new cultures. Rustic Pathways will give you a new perspective of the world and your place within it.

Remember, it’s not just about the destination but the journey along the way. Enjoy your travels!”

Sasha traveled to Cambodia and India in 2010 and 2011 with Rustic Pathways and she says it without a doubt changed her life.

“One day in Siem Reap, Cambodia we visited the Landmine Museum, a museum and NGO dedicated to deactivating landmines in the country as well as help people who have been affected by the weapons. That visit impacted me so much that I went back to my high school, started a club to support the organization and raise awareness.

Now five years later I’m preparing to intern at the organization in Cambodia, conduct research on the landmine issue, and write my college thesis on it. All thanks to the trip I made with Rustic Pathways!”

“A year after that Cambodia trip, I traveled to India with Rustic on the Service in the Clouds program. I was so moved by the Tibet issue that two years ago I actually interned at Students For a Free Tibet in New York City, returned to Dharamsala, India twice (visiting my host family both times), and am now planning a trip to Tibet for next month.”

Through her Rustic Pathways trips Sasha says she also realized her passion for travel and experiential learning, which led her to choosing LIU Global, a university based out of New York that sends students abroad for their entire undergraduate education.

“The college has centers all over the world, so each year, students will go to a new place while majoring in Global Studies. I spent my freshman year in Costa Rica, my sophomore year traveling through Taiwan, Thailand, India and Turkey while studying religion and culture, and my junior year in China.”

Now, for her fall semester senior year, Sasha is conducting independent research in Cambodia. She’ll return to New York for the spring semester to intern in the city and write her final thesis.

“My whole life.. everything I stand for.. everything I care about, was realized during my trips with Rustic. I found passion and life and a love for travel.”

After traveling to the Dominican Republic in 2013 on our Dolphin Conservation program (now Marine Life and Coastal Restoration) Molly returned to the DR in 2015 to intern with Fundemar, one of our service partners.

What happened on your Rustic program that inspired you to stay involved in Fundemar’s initiatives?

“When I first started to get involved with Rustic Pathways, I went on the Elephants and Amazing Thailand trip with one of my closest friends. I had to beg my parents to let me go and I am so glad they did because it was an amazing trip.

Originally, I was not going to do a second trip the year after but the deal was just too good and I have always been really interested in marine life and conservation so my parents told me to look at the Dolphin Conservation trip in the Dominican Republic. I signed up and went.

Working with Fundemar as a Rustic student was eye-opening, it gave us a glimpse of how hard working those are who work for NGOs, and how by just doing one simple thing such as picking up trash on the beach, can make a difference for the environment.

One event during the trip that really impacted me was when my group saw two tiger sharks getting slaughtered right in front of us. Rita, the director of Fundemar, was appalled at this, and we too were in shock.

It was then, when I realized that I had to come back here and volunteer with Fundemar. They do an amazing job with marine conservation in the Dominican Republic where it often gets overlooked. The passion for the environment that Rita and the volunteers had at Fundemar during my trip inspired me to come back and volunteer with them long term.”

What are your recommendations for students who want to stay engaged in service after their Rustic program?

“In my opinion, if students want to stay engaged with service after their Rustic program then they should really follow up on the organization they worked with. After my trip ended I liked Fundemar on Facebook, got on their mailing list, and researched how I could become a long term volunteer.

I waited two years after my trip until I could volunteer for Fundemar. Like the organization on Facebook, Instagram, get on their mailing list, etc, and just keep up with the organization.”

What was something surprising that you learned about yourself when traveling with Rustic?

“While traveling with Rustic, I learned so much about myself, about how I interact with people, and the most important aspect I learned was that I can travel anywhere in the world with confidence.”

Want to get involved with one of our service partners but can’t find them online? Many of the organizations we work with are small community-based groups that don’t have the resources to maintain a presence online. Email and we’ll get you in touch with the organization’s leaders so you can find out about future opportunities!

About the Author

Lauren Anderson

Program Staffing and Training Director

Lauren joined Rustic Pathways in 2008 after graduating from Emory University. She spent her first six years in Costa Rica overseeing our operations and seasonal staff. Lauren then formed our Alumni Association where she developed programs for continuing student involvement. She now uses her extensive skill set to continue to improve the hiring and training of all program leaders across the globe. Lauren lives in Chicago, travels often, and enjoys maintaining her Spanish fluency.