Mark Scaglione’s travel group was given a particularly challenging task in Costa Rica. They were asked to build a concrete road on a La Fortuna hillside to help families who lived near the top. As a 14-year-old, Mark embraced the challenge of moving buckets of cement up and down a steep gravel passageway.
“I liked the intensity of rolling up my sleeves and doing the nitty gritty,” Mark said.
It helped that local residents cheered on the students as they also worked on the project. Leading them was a local man who was missing part of his hand. His tenacity during that project still resonates with Mark today – many years after his 2015 experience.
“It was cool to see his strength, which I think came from the necessity of this project and also because Rustic Pathways was there so they had the resources to get this done,” Mark said. “To see this man both leading the charge and also doing the work was really inspiring.”
Having the chance to meet people like this was a key reason Mark wanted to travel. It’s also what eventually led him into the field of journalism. Mark majored in journalism at Ithaca College after going on Rustic Pathways programs in Costa Rica and India.
“I’ve always been super curious, and that led me to travel and also led me to journalism. I think the two go hand in hand,” Mark said. “I’m interested in exploring new places and meeting new people. I love pitching stories and telling the stories of different people and places.”
After graduating from college, Mark landed a job working at NBC News Now in New York as a production assistant. He hopes to eventually work in the field as a producer.
Aside from telling stories about people, Mark is also interested in pursuing news pieces on animal conservation. That was partially sparked by his time in India in 2016.
Mark’s mother picked the Costa Rica program first because she wanted him closer to home and the trip was a good introduction to international travel with a mixture of service, adventure and cultural immersion.
“It was a perfect blend of literally everything that the area had to offer,” Mark said.
But when it came time to pick a second program, Mark wanted to journey farther. A program focused on animals seemed like the perfect choice.
Rescuing Animals & Helping Their Caregivers in India
In India, Rustic Pathways students in 2016 worked with an organization called Wildlife SOS. They did their service work at a sloth bear rescue facility and an elephant sanctuary outside of Agra.
The sloth bear has traditionally been used as a source of income for the Kalandar people who train them to dance in shows. Wildlife SOS cares for rescued animals and also works with the community to develop alternative income sources. Likewise they work to save elephants that are injured while working in the entertainment industry.
“What I love about the program is they don’t only help animals, they also help people by rehabilitating their actions. They really try to transform the people’s lives as well and build up the community,” Mark said.
Similar to Rustic’s land animal programs in Thailand and Australia, the students did tasks like cleaning pens, preparing food and monitoring behavior. The students also explored the region, including a visit to the Taj Mahal. But the time with the animals was the highlight for Mark.
“These animals had gone through so much abuse for upwards of 50 years, and being able to care for them and see their routine was most memorable,” Mark said.
Outside the sanctuary, the students also got an unexpected lesson about the importance of following the rules when it comes to wildlife. The program leaders emphasized that the students had to close the door when they left the house where they were staying. But one day a student forgot.
“A monkey got in and ate all of our food… It made a whole mess,” Mark said “The monkey opened the fridge and left it open, so one kid’s medicine got spoiled. Our group leader had to call the U.S. Embassy and get new medication. It was a whole to-do. But it was kind of comical that this monkey invaded our house.”
These kinds of experiences would stick with Mark as he began working in the news.
Using Travel Lessons in the Work World
One of the key challenges in journalism is finding stories worth telling. Mark has been inspired by his travel experiences to pitch ideas related to animal conservation and behavior.
He says he’s working on a story about the wild mustang population in the United States and wants to create a piece about wildlife crossings in Los Angeles. It would focus on how the city is trying to provide a space for animals in urban settings.
He’s also always searching for inspiration from the people he meets. That’s a lesson he picked up while on the road.
“That’s the golden rule of journalism. You want to find a good character. And I found I met a lot of great people on my trips,” Mark said.
In both his programs, Mark saw he could learn a lot about the people he met by paying attention to the little things. He remembers how the children in Costa Rica got dressed up for school and how an elephant handler that once abused animals now treated them with care.
Mark also found many of his connections with people came during small moments. He really got to know his fellow travelers during downtime. That helped him overcome any anxiety he had about traveling on a Rustic Pathways program.
“I think the most nerve racking part was meeting people and spending nine days with strangers,” Mark said. “We ended up playing games and stuff like that. Those are the moments that I recall – simple things like playing card games at the airport or in the lodge. It gave me a chance to really learn about them and see why you all came to one space together.”
The friendships he developed during his first program in Costa Rica made it easier to travel farther from home for the second. He says some family members were leery about him traveling by himself on a long plane ride across the globe. But now he has no hesitation when it comes to travel.
“I would just say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna do it.’ That’s what traveling is all about. Why are you ever going to think twice?” Mark said.
That enthusiasm helped Mark both while he was traveling and as he launched his career. With time, he has come to appreciate the role his travel experiences have played in his professional life.
“It was great to be able to do programs like this and immerse yourself in the community. And Rustic Pathways is the best at that in the industry,” Mark said. “It’s a way to find your passion, and it helped lead me down the path to know what I wanted to do.”