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How We Train Our Program Leaders and Why It Matters
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How We Train Our Program Leaders and Why It Matters

64-80 hours. That’s how long the average Rustic Pathways Program Leader spends training for their role leading service trips for high school students after being hired.

Know what else you can do in 80 hours?

Rack up enough flight time to qualify for your private pilot’s license. Twice! Or you could earn more than $1,100 working a minimum wage job in San Francisco. Instead, the most talented leaders in experiential education dedicate that time to honing their skills and preparing for the job of a lifetime—changing the lives of teens through transformational travel experiences.

In recent years, we’ve doubled down on our investment in Program Leader training after figuring out the hiring and evaluation process. We’ve invested in an online learning management system, hired curriculum experts, and created an industry-leading training program that focuses on developing expertise through real-life scenarios and roleplays. By the end of their training (64-80 hours depending on the country), our Program Leaders have developed essential competencies in:

• Rustic Pathways’ mission, vision, and values
• Delivering great customer service
• Working across cultures
• Orienting students to a new place
• Effective communication
• Controlling group dynamics
• Games, icebreakers, and group activities
• Program safety
• Responding to incidents
• Strategies for inclusivity and bullying prevention
• Managing students emotional, physical, and mental well-being
• Managing behavioral issues
• Leading discussions and reflections
• Educational theory
• Managing community service projects
• Monitoring and evaluation of community impact
• The food, culture, geography, and history of the country where they’ll lead programs

And if that wasn’t enough, Rustic’s Program Leaders receive additional specialized training in their program’s itinerary, risk management plan, logistics, transportation, accommodations, and service projects.

Many of our Program Leaders are required to attend an additional 80 hours of wilderness medicine training, where they learn how to handle incidents and emergencies in a remote environment.

Simply put, you cannot lead Rustic Pathways programs without a demonstrated ability to successfully facilitate safe and engaging community service opportunities for high school students. Our Program Leader training is interactive, hands-on, and exhausting. Yet the majority of our program leaders describe it as the best part of their job.

Before 2017 summer programs began this past June, nearly 200 Program Leaders completed a survey about their training. Nearly 99 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: By the end of my in-country training, I was excited and confident in my ability to run safe, successful programs.

It’s that type of satisfaction with training that helps improve our retention rates. More than half of all Program Leaders who worked for Rustic in 2016 returned this past summer—making them the most experienced group we’ve ever had.

It’s no surprise then that our students are reporting significant growth after participating in Rustic programs. We’re proud of the investment we’ve made to train the most talented and experienced Program Leaders who ensure the success of your teen’s summer travel program.


Do you want to work for Rustic? Review open positions by visiting our Careers page

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.