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Gap Year Program Leader Highlight: Allison Kuney
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Gap Year Program Leader Highlight: Allison Kuney

Allison Kuney has been a Program Leader for Rustic Pathways since 2014. She has led programs throughout Fiji and the South Pacific and is currently leading gap year students on the South Pacific Service and Ocean Skills Semester. Read on to learn more about Allison!

Tell us how you became a Rustic Pathways Gap Year leader.

After my first summer leading Rustic Pathways’ high school programs, I knew I had found the next step in community service and adventure guiding. I worked with Outward Bound in the Everglades and at therapeutic boarding school before signing on with the Rustic Pathways Gap Year team. Previously I was a guide for a wilderness therapy company and a field director for four years. I also spent three terms in AmeriCorps as a team leader in New Orleans. With Rustic, I am able to balance outdoor experience with mentoring and guiding young adults.

Why do you think students should take a gap year?

Gap years are so important because we live in a world that puts so much pressure on young people to know themselves and make huge life decisions when they are just figuring out who they are as people, separating their identities from their families and friend’s. Gap year is a space to explore who you are in a world that is challenging and confronting but also magical and affirming. Come open and willing, and all are welcome.

What is one of the biggest lessons you see your students learn?

I think I see kids learn about privilege, budgeting, and their choices as well as consequences. As a member of a group, you have to be be patient and give instead of always taking. There is a social accountability that is hugely impactful for our students. They learn about what kind of self care they need to be healthy and happy during long term travel. They also learn simple things like cooking, budgeting, laundry and to always be flexible.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned as a leader?

As a leader I have learned so much! This current gap group is the most engaged and inspiring gap group I’ve ever had and they push me to provide more well rounded programming and debriefing. Their engagement is so exciting. Having a group for three months can be the best or the hardest depending on their attitude, sometimes I have to let things go and not be tied to an outcome. Just being able to provide a learning opportunity is all I can ask for. Since my current group is so fun, I get out of bed excited every day because I get to travel and experience amazing things with young peers who will change the world and inspire others to do the same!

What is your favorite part of working in the South Pacific?

My favorite part of the South Pacific is the diversity of ecosystems we get to experience. From the tropics and jungles of Fiji to the lush canopy and massive mountains and glaciers and fiords of New Zealand to hard core beaches and the Great Barrier Reef?! What’s not to love? We have an amazing balance of service work and adventure travel which makes for a rowdy but wholesome three months! We get to be autonomous in New Zealand and Australia, we drive ourselves and our students learn to cook and manage budgets for big groups and that’s such a cool life skill to teach!

What’s your favorite travel story?

I have a host family in Nasivikoso Fiji who I’ve spent a few years having kava with and there’s a little girl named Bao who I’ve gotten to watch grow up. We meet in that cool place of human bonds formed through genuine interaction and care, it’s so easy to just be with her and her family and feel connected even though I’m 3,000 miles from what I’ve previously thought was “home”. It’s these kinds of pure connection that we can find anywhere in the world that lets us know we are in this together.

What did your gap group do today?

Today we spent a whole day rock climbing outdoors in stunning Wanaka, New Zealand. Tomorrow we will do 6.5 mile hike called the Rob Roy Glacier Track and eat lunch at the base of a giant glacier in a valley surrounded by snow, trees, and clear blue water. It’s one of my favorite places in the world because I feel so small compared to the huge world around me; for once my size is totally in perspective.

Fun facts about Allison:

I can cook a mean…. guacamole
Activity a the top of my bucket list: seeing whale migration
I have been to… 9 countries
Favorite saying: don’t pet the sweaty things and don’t sweat the petty things
Favorite international custom: I love that Maori men grab each other’s necks and touch noses when they meet, it’s such a genuine way to show brotherhood and respect
Three must-haves in my backpack: kindle, coffee, and flannel
My favorite thing about my hometown (or where I am currently living): My favorite thing about living on the road is constantly pushing myself to live simply and pack lightly.

About the Author

Katey Finnegan