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Using Travel as a Tool to Explore Leadership
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Using Travel as a Tool to Explore Leadership

Schools with integrated education models point to Leadership as one of the skill sets necessary to develop well-rounded students. Opportunities to test students’ leadership can be built into school curriculum (team projects), sports and clubs (captains), culture (class president), and is embedded in The Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s 21st Century Skills Framework. Separating leadership development from the dynamics of school culture and community power structures can allow for students to see practical and organic applications of leadership in the real world, sometimes more clearly than in their own home contexts.

Community Leadership

Leveraging community leadership structure is one of our requirements of running a successful community partnership, and it is a great way to show students what voluntary leadership looks like. These examples can illustrate the fluidity of true leadership, the dynamics of age and gender in communities, the occasional conflict of goals or methods, and the resolution for the greater good of the community. Community organizing to mobilize towards a goal takes a lot of hand-shaking, paying respects to members across the social hierarchy, and assembly of resources, which is really an art more than a science. It requires a deep understanding of the social structure of the community and the unwritten rules that neighbors live by.

Active Leadership

Community-initiated projects, and partnerships with external organizations (like Rustic), take a level of organization and initiative. In collaborative partnerships, leaders work towards a common goal, prioritize which neighbors receive benefits, and develop consensus on how to partner external resources with community needs. Project ownership changes hands fluidly based on expertise, position in the community, ownership of local resources, and familiarity with the projects, which can a beautiful example of effective project management in communities who are practiced in their own development. It is also a very visible example of collaboration towards a tangible goal, which is a concept that is easy for students to parallel to their own lives. Students can see first-hand what can be accomplished when a community organizes and the hard work it takes to ensure everyone feels heard and respected.

Youth and Program Leadership

Program Leaders who are working in their home or adopted countries are responsible for building cross-cultural connections, for keeping students safe, for managing content and logistics, and many times for translating both words and cultural context for the travelers. Teams of Program Leaders use complementary skills and shift their language to the needs of the group (safety talks and reflective discussions). This implicit leadership of one’s role, age, and familiarity with a location or culture is another way that leadership manifests in travel, with students looking up to them for answers and guidance in moments of ambiguous discomfort. A good Program Leader anticipates students’ needs based on their experience, their understanding of students’ knowledge, and projecting the final program outcomes on the schedule or activities. This requires a combination of training, experience, and natural abilities, and is a great illustration of the qualities we look for in our team.

Social Leadership

This is one role that students take on themselves during travel, advocating for themselves and taking ownership of their experience and that of their peers. Students have the responsibility as travelers of adapting to local expectations, interacting appropriately with community members, being open to trying new foods and words, exploring their surroundings with open eyes, and being respectful ambassadors of their own home communities. They have the added responsibility of being role models for each other, encouraging peers to follow these rules of engagement and to stay positive, curious, and respectful.

Day-to-day leadership is a muscle students need to develop, and pulling students from their home bubbles and into the world is one way to test their skills in practice.

Traveling outside their home communities challenges students physically, emotionally, and mentally, and gives them an opportunity to explore familiar concepts in a different light. A new understanding of leadership that students develop while, for example, attending a Fijian kava ceremony with one of Fiji’s only female chiefs in a remote mountain community, could be the new understanding of leadership that will allow a student to reflect on their own leadership in their current lives or future careers.

About the Author

Lauren DeAngelis Alvarez

Director of School Partnerships

Lauren brings experience from across Rustic Pathways’ sales and operations, including as our Strategic Partnerships Manager and USA Country Director. She lives between two Caribbean cities—New Orleans and Santo Domingo—and spends time by the ocean in New England where she grew up. She is a Temple University alumnus and non-fiction reader. You can usually find her hosting unexpected parties, exploring cities, or hiking the bayous with her family.