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Working for Rustic | Thoughts from our Program Leaders
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Working for Rustic | Thoughts from our Program Leaders

This is not your average job. In fact, working as a program leader over the summer for Rustic is about as atypical as it gets when it comes to work. Your office might be a remote village in Thailand, the desert in Morocco, or the Sacred Valley in Peru. Clocking in at 9 and then out again at 5 is obsolete. Board meetings usually happen around bonfires with fellow co-leaders and about 20 students. It’s thrilling, exhausting, eye-opening, and challenging in the best ways possible.

It’s one thing for us to tell you working here is great, but we thought we would ask former and current program leaders about their experiences working for us during the summer. By no means a scientific survey, here are some of the answers submitted when we asked program leaders four simple questions:

Staff training in the Dominican Republic

What were the highlights?

“I could say that thanks to Rustic Pathways, I was able to learn more about my country, its people and culture. I was able to make a difference in my country along with the students through the services we did in the villages. They were small things for us [to do] but they meant a lot for the people in the villages. It is always good to draw a smile on people faces.” —Sara Mouhyeddine/ Morocco ’14

“My introduction of tomato baseball in Ghana, which has become a core activity on our programs.” —Nana Dankwa Michael/ Ghana ’12-’14

“The best part of working for Rustic was learning from my co-leaders. Each person I worked with at Rustic taught me something different about the type of leader–and person–that I wanted to be. The opportunity to grow, teach, and learn all at the same time made my summer with Rustic some of the most formative months of my life.” —Lauren Cohen Fisher/ Fiji ’14

“First off, working with Rustic is the perfect way to make travel meaningful. Whether you are on staff and get to mentor and contribute to the lives of awesome young people through your engagement and example, or are one of the young participants getting to hang out with new friends, see and experience wild scenery, diverse cultures, and serve through various projects…either scenario sets you up to be so much more than a tourist and actively make a difference. The highlight are many. From the small moments where the whole group is belting out tunes in the van (and I am being educated at what’s “hip” at the moment) to the larger ones where the village throws you a goodbye party for all of your efforts at laying the foundations for a new school, naming a honorary chief and queen from your group, hoisting them up on their shoulders, whooping, laughing, dancing, etc., magic abounds.” —Ada Ketchie/ Ghana ’14

What were the challenges?

“For me it’s always hard to say goodbye. You make very strong connections working for Rustic, both with students and with staff and having to say good bye always gives me a hard time. Being away from home for so long is also challenging, I spent 2 years away from my family before I could visit them. It was my choice to stay away, but I always miss them, especially if something happens and you’re not there.” —Alejandro Romero/ Costa Rica ’11, Australia ’12-’14

“Stomach bugs happen, you lose your favorite fleece, your iPod ends up in the laundry, you run out of underwear—these are the realities of traveling.” —Rachel Levin/ Costa Rica ’13, Peru ’14

“The most challenging part was keeping up my energy for the last few weeks. After you’ve rafted and zip lined ten times, it feels more tiring, but you need to keep your energy up because for that last group of students, this is the first time they’re doing it.” —Daniela Rossi/ Costa Rica ’14

“The most challenging part of my summer was getting some students to understand and enjoy the value of community service. Most students were excited and caring and worked hard, while others really struggled to connect to that kind of work. Community service ended up being some of my favorite times, so this was an extreme challenge to have some students who didn’t feel the same way.” —Megan McGrath/ Costa Rica ’14

“How little sleep we got. Going full throttle 24/7!” —Amanda Schwengel/ Costa Rica ‘12 and ‘13

Group shot during Costa Rica staff training in 2014.

What surprised you?

“What keeps blowing my mind in every trip I lead is how much the students can change, sometimes in very short periods of time. It’s incredible how through the activities and projects that we run the students find different inspirations and passions that literally change the course of their lives. I love that from my job!” —Alejandro Romero/ Costa Rica ’11, Australia ’12-’14

“Since I have worked with Rustic in multiple locations, the most surprising thing to me is how different each country and program is. It’s surprising how close you can get with a group of people in a matter of days…scary, really. I can’t wait to meet my new family this summer!” —Matt Hardy/ Costa Rica ’13, Fiji/New Zealand ’14

“I am constantly surprised by the students’ openness and willingness to connect with one another and locals. No matter how a student came to a Rustic program, my hope is that he or she leaves with an open mind and open heart.” —Rachel Levin/ Costa Rica ’13, Peru ’14

“The thing that surprised me the most was how close the local staff and Western staff became over the course of the summer. Saying goodbye to my Fijian co-leader at the end of the summer was devastating, and despite our cultural differences, he seemed to understand me better than some of my friends from home.” —Lauren Cohen Fisher/ Fiji ’14

“How little sleep I needed! How amazing it is to go full throttle 24/7! And also, how much I fell in love with surfing.” —Amanda Schwengel/ Costa Rica ’12 and ’13

If a friend wanted to apply to work for Rustic, what would you tell them?

“You never know what to expect when signing on for a summer’s worth of work with Rustic. The revolving cast of characters you will meet and work with will surprise you, challenge you and impress you. The long hours will stimulate you, build your character, and allow you to evaluate and develop your skills as a team player. You will inevitably experience growth on both a personal and professional level and when the whirlwind is over and you are back home recounting the details of your summer job you will look back and think ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did all of this!’” —Sarah Koon/ Thailand ’14

“‘Mate, if you want to have the best time ever apply for this job!’ That would be my first answer. I would also tell them that as cool as it sounds it demands a lot of responsibility, passion and love. This is definitely not a job for lazy, inpatient or irresponsible people. You have to be always at a 100% and give 200% if possible.” —Alejandro Romero/ Costa Rica ’11, Australia ’12-’14

“I would tell them to apply!!! There were just too many times where I looked around and said, ‘I can’t believe I am actually getting paid for this!’ If you enjoy travel, like working with students, and want to learn more about another culture, apply to Rustic Pathways!” —Megan Mcgrath/ Costa Rica ’14

“I would completely encourage anyone who has a curiosity for the world and a love of people to apply to work with Rustic. If you have the time in your schedule, do it! It’s an amazing community to be a part of with a great heart and mission. Exposing young people to the hardship, beauty and complexities of our world will make them better people and future leaders. Plus you’ll have heaps of fun.” —Ada Ketchie/ Ghana ’14

“If a friend was to apply for Rustic, I would tell them: Get ready to be exhausted, get ready to be uncomfortable, get ready to give up ‘me time,’ to play a lot of catch-phrase and campy games — and get ready to be changed. Expect to know yourself more fully by pushing your boundaries, redefining your limitations, and wiping your slate clean from all the build up that accumulates in regular routine. No one leaves a summer unchanged.” —Kaley Coffield/ USA ‘11, Costa Rica ‘12, SE Asia ‘13, Tanzania ‘14

We are still accepting applications for summer 2015 positions. Check out our employment page for opportunities. Happy travels!

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.