What have your own international travels entailed?
I have had the privilege of traveling to 59 countries over the years. I have traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe, and have lived in Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the Czech Republic. However, I have yet to even step foot in South America or Antarctica and have only been to a few places in Africa, so there is so much more to see!
How did you get involved with Rustic Pathways?
I had just finished a year of teaching abroad in Japan. At that point, I had no idea what I wanted to do besides travel. Upon returning home to New York City I worked as a bartender and a historical walking tour guide and I was able to save up enough money to take a three-month trip through Eastern Europe, starting in Istanbul and ending in Greece. During my trip, I met a fellow traveler who was a Rustic Pathways program leader in China the summer before. I had no idea that one could lead such programs and instantly applied that evening. I was accepted to lead trips as a program leader the next summer in Cambodia.
How long have you been working at Rustic Pathways?
I have been working for Rustic Pathways for 5 years. I started as a program leader in Cambodia in 2015. In 2016, I began work as a Rustic Road Warrior, speaking to teachers and students at schools across New Jersey and Pennsylvania about our programs for half the year and working as the Cambodia Program Manager for the other half. In October 2018, I became the Balkans Country Director.
What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
The floating village project in Prek Toal Cambodia will always have a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to be introduced to this incredible community during my first-ever program, Off The Map: Cambodia 2015. I knew the very first night, while sleeping at a homestay in a floating house along the Tonle Sap Lake, that my worldview would forever be changed. To live in a community that couldn’t be more different physically than where I grew up, but so beautifully similar in so many ways, really changed my life. Having the chance to build a number of full-size floating homes for many community’s most underserved members over the years really made me feel proud of the work the students and the Rustic Cambodia team was doing. The icing on the cake will always be when the Rustic Pathways community worldwide was able to raise enough money to build the Preak Toal Primary School. I saw first hand for many years the need for a safe place for these students to attend school and I can proudly say that was finally completed with the help of the Rustic Pathways community.
Why do you view travel as an essential part of every education?
Even though my father was a high school teacher for 35 years, I always understood education as not simply what a person receives within a traditional classroom setting. Every moment of every day we as individuals are taking in information, experiences, and ways of thinking that are part of our education about the world around us. I have always believed that travel, both near and far, is essential to everyone’s education because it broadens the scope of the information, experiences, and ideas that we encounter. Every new sight, sound, taste, smell, and thought, adds to one’s own library of knowledge. The more one travels, the larger this library grows, and the better equipped one becomes to think critically about the world around them and create their own individualized understanding about the world.
What makes you proud to work at Rustic Pathways?
I’ve always been proud of the incredible co-workers that I have been lucky enough to work alongside year after year. Working for an international travel organization, I’ve been so lucky to meet the hardest working, dedicated individuals from all around the globe. I’ve been part of meetings with 40 people all located in different countries across the world. I’ve held staff training with program leaders that represent over 10 countries. I feel very proud of working for a company that really values those cross-cultural connections.
What makes Rustic Pathways’ programs different from other programs in the Balkans?
The big difference is our emphasis on the educational value travel can have within the region. While there are many providers that take groups to the tourist sights, our programs really focus on the stories of our local leaders and how we can learn from them. The impact of the programs comes from learning about the history of the region from our leaders who grew up and lived through the important events of the past and who are excited to share their culture and experiences with students from around the world.
What is the first thing program participants do when they arrive in the Balkans?
Eat! Food is such an important, cherished, and diverse part of culture throughout the region and we promise no one will go hungry on our programs here! From the freshest seafood and homemade pasta along the Croatian coasts to loads of mouthwatering meat and cheeses throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, food is a great way to really take in the Balkan’s unique cultural delicious differences.
What is the most important thing participants bring home with them?
The importance of critically thinking about the information one is receiving. Once you learn about the war years in the region, you gain an understanding of how people are easily turned against one another. As you talk to different sides of the conflict, you are able to break down a lot of the stereotypes and discrimination that exist and start to humanize everyone that was unfortunately involved.
Part of the “ethos” of Rustic Pathways is to start meaningful dialogues and create real interactions with the local communities. How do you ensure your programs abroad include these immersive aspects?
This is really the most important and impactful part of any Rustic Pathways program in the Balkans. Connecting with our local program leaders who grew up in the towns and villages that our students visit. Hearing their stories from their past and learning about the history and differences of the region.