Alumni Spotlight | Nicole, Maddie, and Lena
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Alumni Spotlight | Nicole, Maddie, and Lena

This month, we’re featuring awesome alumni Nicole, Maddie, and Lena. They shared stories about their Rustic experiences and how they stayed involved in service long after their programs ended.

Read below to hear about their adventures with Rustic, how their programs changed them, and advice they have for current and future Rustic students.

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

“I would tell them it’s a decision they will never regret! Going on a Rustic Pathways program was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

If you really want to learn about another culture and live like the locals then Rustic Pathways is the program for you. If you want to go on an adventure, make a difference, meet people with similar interests, and visit a new country, there are so many different programs and countries to choose from.

You will meet long lasting friends during your trip. Make sure to ask questions, learn about the culture, reach out to anyone new you might meet. Take pictures too! You’ll love looking back at them when you go back home.

Build good communication skills with your group because it’ll make group projects so much easier during programs. Have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things, like eating a bug or talking to a monk.”

What happened on your Rustic program that inspired you to stay involved through the RP Foundation?

“Once I was on my trip I knew that I didn’t want to be someone who left from an amazing program and didn’t give back. Throughout my trip I stayed in three villages and all of the Thai people from the villages tried their best to make us feel welcomed. They were so willing to give anything they could to us, despite the fact that they themselves didn’t have much.

I also realized how excited the students were to learn even though their classes were small and cramped. Once I saw some of their classrooms I realized how lucky I am to have access to my education system. Education is so important and after meeting the Thai students I felt like I had to help ensure that each citizen of the world could have access to learning and education.”

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

“Go visit the Rustic Pathways Foundation website! They have so many initiatives that benefit the local communities. Don’t just leave your trip behind. You can still give back and help others around the world.

If there’s a project you’re interested in starting in a town or village you visited, just contact to help figure out if your project is possible and what the next steps would be. Get your community, friends, and family involved in any fundraising you do too!”

“Out of all the volunteer work I’ve done so far, my absolute favorite initiatives have been working with children. In the summer of 2013, after being a summer camp counselor in Colebrook, CT for a month, I traveled with Rustic Pathways to the Hill Tribe Orphanage in Thailand and volunteered as an English teacher for students ages 5-15.

Although I anticipated this to be a challenge, the Thai children and teachers made me feel completely at home as soon as I walked in the door with their endless smiles and welcoming hugs. I came to find that no matter how different these countries are, kids are kids. They fill you with joy and are full of joy themselves, no matter where you may travel.

The fulfillment you receive when complete strangers acknowledge you for your service and kindness despite your differences is what makes it all worthwhile. Who would want to discontinue such an exchange of gratitude, when the possibilities of these amazing opportunities are endless!?”

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

“Service doesn’t stop when the summer does! Take advantage of any service opportunities sponsored by your school, or join the service club if there is one. If not, why not initiate one? Passion towards service can be very contagious, and what could be better than spreading the love bug?!

Serving your community doesn’t always require travel. There are opportunities around every corner to help someone out; and all you have to do is reach out!”

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

“Traveling overseas with new people can be nerve-racking, especially if you’ve never traveled before! I can assure you that with Rustic Pathways, you are in good hands – wherever your destination may be.

Both the Thai and American staff that accompanied me and my travel mates looked out for us and carefully made sure that every aspect of our trip was 100% safe. They were incredibly friendly and reliable as well, and I look up to every single one of them to this very day.

A trip like this brings about fast friendships, as it is an extremely unique adventure that you will only experience once with a specific group of people. I volunteered in Thailand for only a week, and am still in touch with many of my travel mates today.These will be your friends for life!”

“In 2008 I went on the Service and Safari trip in Tanzania. I actually met one of my best friends there! The following summer I did Come With Nothing, Go Home Rich in Thailand. By far the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I thought about going back to Thailand to teach after graduating from college, but ended up accepting a job offer in Chicago. I still want to take a year (or more!) off and live abroad.

Rustic absolutely changed my life and outlook on the world. I encouraged a lot of my friends from high school and younger brother to travel with Rustic and of course everyone loved it! I’m so excited about the idea of getting involved with Rustic as an alumni now!

I realized that RP was what initially gave me the confidence to leave the East Coast for college, go to an “unconventional” city to study abroad (Sevilla, Spain), and move to a new city after graduating from college.

I never thought high school summers would have such a lasting impact on me, but I now realize how interconnected all these experiences are and how they were all rooted in my service trips with Rustic Pathways. I probably wouldn’t have become such an adventurous and passionate traveler if not for Rustic.”

If you’re an alum with a story to share, contact us! We’ll be back next month with more Alumni Spotlights, but in the meantime, check out some of our past features.

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.