Every month, we highlight awesome alumni that have made an impact in their community since their program, shared their favorite #sorustic memories with us, or have great advice to pass along.
This month, our Alumni Spotlights is shining on Eric Mathewson, a Service Scholarship recipient who filmed his adventures in the Dominican Republic this past summer to give an inside look on what it’s like to do service and have fun in a tropical paradise. Our other Spotlight, Besart Copa, was an Ambassador Scholarship recipient, and shared some thoughts from his time in Southeast Asia. Both guys shared their program highlights with us, as well as some advice for future Rustic students.
“I would tell someone going on a Rustic Pathways trip for the first time to ‘be open!’ Leave everything you know and worry about behind you. This trip that you will go on is a snapshot that is only found on postcards and stories. Be open to every little thing from the food to your company. You will never have the same chance again as you do on this trip. Rustic opens up so many doors for you to meet new and exciting people and to go to amazing places. In the group I was in we had a saying, ‘Don’t knock it till you try it!’ After living with that mindset for 2 weeks, I found myself living that same philosophy now and I do not regret trying a single thing. I feel that I am a better person for it.”
Eric received a Service Scholarship to travel with us in 2015 and documented his time on his Marine Life and Coastal Restoration program—everywhere from navigating the international airport, to cleaning up trash underwater with beautiful ocean views, to playing games with the local children. Watch his video below:
“What I loved most about the DR was how relaxing it was. Going into my senior year in high school with the looming challenges of SATs, college, job, car, parents, and grades—when I went to the DR, I forgot about it all. Everything seemed so incredibly peaceful and calm, like I fell out of the world and washed up on the shore in the Garden of Eden—not having to worry about anything expect for my mask, fins, and snorkel, or if I have enough water. My group was rigged; we had the best staff and students that Rustic could offer. My DR program let me see the whole island and have some terrific adventures with friends along the way. My counselors and friends have changed my life forever and I am already making plans to see my new life-long friends soon.”
Besart was granted an Ambassador Scholarship for his Southeast Asia adventures in 2015. He is originally from Albania, but attending school in Switzerland.
What was your most memorable moment from Come With Nothing?
“We were two weeks in the program, and we had all gotten very close with each other. The service work took place in a tiny rural village named Sop Ban, where we went by boat. It was after one of the service days when we all decided to go and shower in the Mekong River, like the water buffalos. It was magical. We were swimming and playing with the village kids in a natural rocky ‘water park’ by the Mekong shore, in the start of the forest. Quiet deep talks and loud laughters were blend together by the river’s muddy stream. Our big worries about the present and future, such as the college applications (hah!), were released to flow away with the Mekong flow. Above our heads, the clouds gathered to join our talks, and the sky started dripping. The tropical forest started trembling, as the wind fluidly stabbed the air with coco tree leafs and branches. The nature was screaming, but we all stayed there… embracing the event as an epiphany, as a moment of complete carefree and selfless state. That was a moment I will remember forever.”
Was it different participating as an international student? How was your experience traveling with mostly American students?
“Being an international, or ‘the international,’ was great! The people in my group came from every corner of US. My ‘foreignness’ was celebrated, and discovered with eager curiosity from my trip mates. They loved the fact that I came from a ‘dragon-hunting mystical pagan country’ such as my dear Albania. Ethan, one of my closest buddies in the trip from Texas, would not hesitate to tag everything I did as ‘so European, so foreign, I like it!’ Apart from getting extra sympathy points because of my ‘cool accent’, nothing was different for me in the unforgettable experience of the Mekong Expedition.”
What advice would you give someone that is thinking about going on a Rustic program?
“Memories can be forgotten, what really stays with you are the feelings and the change they have engraved to your soul—so embrace every moment of the trip from being there, selflessly and enthusiastically. Leave the artificial Western environment for a while and explore the mystical world of the exotic destination you are visiting next.”
Have stories to share? What’s your favorite #sorustic moment? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured on our blog and social media!
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.