Rehydration Expertise, And Other Reasons To Be A Program Leader
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Rehydration Expertise, And Other Reasons To Be A Program Leader

Our application for 2016 Program Leaders will be closing on February 10! We could give you a hundred reasons why working with us this summer would be an incredible experience, but we figured you might want to hear it from an actual program leader—someone who guided programs last summer and is coming back for round two. Emily will be working in Laos this year and has some insight into what it takes to be a program leader. Spoiler alert: there are some not-so-glamorous aspects of the job. If Emily’s experience gets you pumped up to work with students, apply now to be a program leader before the application period ends. 

I am really good at dealing with diarrhea. Really, really good. If at any point, I spontaneously feel the need to sprint to the bathroom and pray to God or the Divine Goddess of Double Ply for abundant and free toilet paper, I’m not panicking. In the same way, if a student was to approach me with that look of fear in their eyes that can only be caused by an impending GI situation, I would calmly escort them to the bathroom and proceed with the diarrhea protocol: rice and rehydration packets, emotional support, and at least two full Nalgenes.

There are about a million reasons why working as a Rustic Pathways program leader is the greatest job in the world, and learning to be adept at dealing with a variety of personal and student bowel-crises is undoubtedly on the top of that list. The fact is, if you’re going to travel thousands of miles to some of the most beautiful, remote, diverse places in the world, your large intestine isn’t always going to be on the same page as your heart and brain.

As a Rustic program leader, I’ve also learned to be really, really good at sharing meals–even if that means broadening my typical tasting comfort zone. There’s something undeniably special about sitting on the floor and sharing a dish with a community you thought—at first glance—was nothing like your own. Being able to sit, smile, share, laugh, and help students do the same not only accomplishes the essential goal of providing the students with essential nutrients to survive, but also creates memories and fellowship between everyone involved. We might not all speak the same language, but “Mmmm!” seems to get the job done around the world.

Finally, as a Rustic leader, I’ve learned that people are humans. While this seems like a rather elementary fact that most would have learned around the same time they were learning to spell their names, recognizing people’s “humanness” is not necessarily the same as recognizing their humanity. I understand, completely, the basic body functions that unite all humans; but humanity—that morphing, tenuous term—was what I ended up grappling with my first summer as a program leader.

Being a program leader is not always an easy job. There are times when you’re tired, or hungry, and the food is taking a lot longer than you want, and the sleeping pad is above the pig sty and everything is different than you expected. But there are also times when helping a student through diarrhea with compassion, humor, and medical knowledge can be the most rewarding task in the world. Whether you’re in Ghana or Peru, Thailand or Australia, by being a program leader, you have the amazing opportunity of helping students see the humanity in the world, even if it starts at a roadside squat toilet.

Still on the fence? This is what other program leaders had to say about their experience.

About the author: Emily first experienced Rustic in 2009 as a student in Costa Rica. She fell in love with the experience, and started working as a program leader in Thailand the first chance she could, six years later. In between, she earned a degree in Creative Writing from Rhodes College, with a double minor in gender studies and religious studies. When she’s not running programs for Rustic, she works as a teacher in Madaba, Jordan, and travels as often as possible.

Emily (third from the left) with some of her students in Thailand

About the Author

Kelly Moynihan

Peru Country Director

More than a decade of program leader experience, fluency in Spanish, and commitment to community service make Kelly a natural fit to direct our Peru operations. Previously, Kelly worked in Costa Rica with indigenous communities and turtle conservation efforts after joining Rustic in 2008. Originally from New Jersey, Kelly earned a degree in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.