Preparing for College & Careers: How Rustic Programs Help Students After High School
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Preparing for College & Careers: How Rustic Programs Help Students After High School

Like other students, Victoria Tadewald tried to use what experiences she had in high school to answer the age-old question of what she wanted to do with her life. She thought she would go to college close to home and study sports medicine. As an athlete, sports was all she knew.

But then things changed. Tadewald says her interests shifted after her three trips with Rustic to Costa Rica, Australia and Peru. She became focused on global studies and other cultures and decided to attend college in another state and then another country.

Australia -Victoria Tadewald

Victoria Tadewald in Australia

“Driven by my passions for world travel, I majored in International Affairs and Anthropology,” Tadewald said. “Rustic both prepared me for college and also gave me the tools that I needed to continue my international education through studying abroad.”

After completing these programs, Tadewald went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies. She aims to utilize these degrees and interests by pursuing a career in environmental tourism.

Along the way, her passion for travel has continued, and she has visited every continent. Other alumni have followed similar paths by continuing their newfound love of travel and choosing majors based on their experiences.

Picking a Major

Taylor Badt is among those who found direction after taking international trips. She pursued a degree in International Affairs after traveling to Thailand and Myanmar on Rustic’s Mystery Trip program and then Morocco in the Moroccan Wanderer program. She says interacting with other cultures “profoundly altered” her future.

Linnea Martin followed a similar path after her journeys. She pursued a degree in International Affairs and Education at the University of Colorado Boulder after traveling to Fiji and Peru. She says the trips enabled her to start college on the right foot.

Photo: Linnea Martin

“I figured that if I could successfully hold the attention of and teach a lesson to a class of a dozen kindergarteners in Fiji, climb the 1,600 steps up to Machu Picchu, or form meaningful and lasting friendships over the course of a week with people that were previously complete strangers to me, I could probably figure out college,” Martin said.

A Diversity of Careers

Majors like International Affairs and Environmental Studies are commonly chosen after travel experiences. They are by no means, though, the only majors that students decide to pursue after a travel program. Many alumni found their experiences sparked interest in other careers focused on helping others.

These career choices centered on giving back are not surprising when considering the learning outcomes of travel programs. Rustic’s learning objectives range from an openness to new ideas to humility, empathy, and grit.

In 2019, Rustic found that 97.6% of Rustic students experienced growth in at least one learning outcome area after participating in a Rustic travel program.

Stories shared by Rustic alumni like Mary Horton showcase how this growth shapes students’ future. She says she is amazed how just one day on her trip to Costa Rica made a huge difference in her life. She realized there that even with a language barrier, she was able to communicate with students through signals and games.

Mary Horton with local children in Costa Rica

“This was the day that stood out to me and impacted my future the most because it was when I realized I wanted to not only be an elementary school teacher, but I wanted to teach abroad,” Horton said. “This was one day out of the nine that I was there that changed everything for me.”

Similar interactions have led other students to pursue careers ranging from journalism to law to medicine. Alumna Kristen Gadbois is among the students whose interests are centered on healthcare. She hopes to work for Doctors Without Borders one day after her experiences traveling with Rustic to Thailand and Fiji. Her encounters with local residents at a children’s home, refugee camp, and local villages ignited her passion to help others.

“The spark created almost six years ago continues to inspire me daily as I pursue a career in healthcare,” Gadbois said. “My goal is to one day provide healthcare to marginalized populations who need and deserve it most.”

Photo: Kristen Gadbois

The Most Important Lessons

Regardless of the courses or careers chosen, many traits that the travel experience foster are important factors as students move to college and beyond. Alumna Hannah Gutenstein says her trips to Morocco and southeast Asia increased her independence, confidence and cultural awareness – and that was crucial after she graduated from high school.

“These are incredibly useful skills that I brought with me into college, my internships and other independent travel I have done since my time with Rustic. I truly cannot imagine my life without these adventures,” Gutenstein said.

Aside from these character-building opportunities, alumna Gabrielle Antolovic also says another important part of travel that has helped her after high school are the connections she has made. During her four trips with Rustic she made lifelong friends and that has already helped shape her future as she pursues her law degree.

Photo: Gabrielle Antolovic

“I will forever be grateful to Rustic Pathways for countless lessons, gifts, spiritual renewal, and instruction of my worldview, but most importantly, the unsuspecting network that followed and that has so wonderfully enriched my life,” Antolovic said.

For another alumna – Charlotte Maracina –  connections helped her before she even graduated from high school. Her program in Fiji inspired her to work with the Rustic Pathways Foundation for her Girl Scout Gold Award.

She spent months creating, developing and raising money for a nonprofit smoothie cafe called Sun, Sand, and Smoothies, located on the Eco-Lodge property in Fiji. From there the sky was the limit as she went to college to major in Public Relations. Her goal is to one day volunteer for the Peace Corps.

“My short two weeks in Fiji has been resulting in a domino effect like no other,” Maracina said. “The ability to have conversations on serious topics and understand different perspectives is something no classroom can teach you to do.”

To view more alumni stories to see how travel makes a difference, view our alumni stories page. For more information on programs available for 2022, please visit our program page. Options there can be filtered by program and service type to help a student find a trip that will allow a  pursuit of certain career interests or service goals.

About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Content Writer

Mary is a Content Writer at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.