Who Are Rustic Pathways Program Leaders?

Who Are Rustic Pathways Program Leaders?

The global team at Rustic Pathways, from interns to the CEO, all contribute to providing awesome and safe experiences for students.

Program Leaders play the most crucial role. Our trip leaders facilitate programs, mentor and teach students, manage risks, lead discussions, act as first responders, and translate cultures and languages.

Rustic Pathways Program Leaders have varied backgrounds, including experiential educators, activists, wilderness guides, camp counselors, nurses, teachers, youth mentors, park rangers, social workers, coaches, graduate students, Peace Corps Volunteers, and Rustic Pathways alumni.

What's the Program Leader job exactly?

A Program Leaders’ main job is to ensure student safety during travel. They create life-changing experiences, inspiring and motivating students while positively impacting local communities.

Program Leaders join students in all activities, staying with them from arrival to departure. They keep students safe, healthy, happy, and engaged. They lead safety briefings, facilitate discussions, coordinate logistics, run games, manage group dynamics, and teach program content.

Who are Rustic Pathways 2024 Trip Leaders?

Audrey Wierda

From a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Paraguay to a STEM teacher using project-based, experiential learning with at-risk youth in rural Colorado, my work is driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of students’ their communities. I’m really excited to be returning to Rustic Pathways in 2024, and can’t wait to see my students this year in the Balkans!

Patrick McHugh

I’m a 24 year old International Studies major from Florida. I’ve spent the last 2 years abroad, living in Spain and Colombia, respectively. I love to play and follow sports, especially basketball. I am currently learning Portuguese and hope to work abroad in the future.

Aaron Brown

I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. My favorite travel memory is visiting the city of Cusco, in Peru. For summer 2024, I’m incredibly excited to learn some Italian and see more of Italy!

Sara La Lone

I have moved around the U.S. quite a bit growing up, but I currently call Raleigh, North Carolina home. I’ve made a lot of great travel memories taking solo trips, leading groups, and visiting friends, but my favorite memory is when I drove along the Great Ocean Road in Australia. My first international trip was to Italy and Greece and I’m excited to share the same excitement and sense of adventure with Rustic students this summer!

John Purcell

Hi my name is JP and I am so excited to be a Program Leader this travel season in Italy and Greece! I grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago and currently live in the city since graduating from the University of Dayton. My favorite travel experiences have been with Rustic in highschool on the Surf and Service Program in Costa Rica and then on the Big Fiji Explorer program the summer after my senior year. I am most excited to meet all of the students this summer and show them how awesome traveling and exploring new cultures can be!

Penelope Ioannou (Pinelopi  Ioannou)

My name is Penelope and I grew up in the Greek-speaking side of the island of Cyprus. My favourite travel memory is from when I was island hopping in the Greek islands and a pod of dolphins chased our boat for hours! This summer I’m excited to dive deep into turtle conservation and learn together with our students but I also cannot wait to see Verona as I am a deeply obsessed fan of Shakespeare.

Mario Muñoz

My story begins in the small border town of Rio Rico, Arizona. Growing up I yearned to explore. College was the catalyst that allowed me to discover my interests, study abroad in 3 countries, and work throughout the southwest. After graduating college, I wanted to served by volunteering for two years in Nicaragua through the Peace Corps as an environmental educator. It was the toughest job I ever loved. I then joined he Southwest Conservation Corps and Rustic Pathways in 2019. I’ve lead trips in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the U.S, Fiji, and Italy. My philosophy is that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. My hope is to make a positive impact through my work. Currently, I work as a Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator for the School of  Mining & Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona.

Kristen Kirkland

My heart is in the mountains – I live in Crested Butte Colorado and grew up in Lake Tahoe California. I love being active, skiing in the winter, and hiking and biking in the summer. I am excited to change gears for a bit and spend time in the sun this summer helping with the Italy Adventure and Greece Turtle Conservation Programs. My favorite travel experience was kayaking around the Italian island of Ischia.

Inika Bhatia

Hello! My name is Inika, and I was born and raised in the Bay Area, California. My best travel memory was my solo backpacking trip last fall where I met so many new friends from all over the world and shared experiences with people I would have normally never met. I am super excited to meet all the students and share my love for travel, cultural exchange, and community service!

Catherine Chimbolo

Hi Rustic Pathways families! My name is Catherine and I’m a graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a major in linguistics and and a leader in the New Hampshire Outing Club.  I hope to be a positive role model for our students this summer and am excited to be working in Costa Rica.

John Burger

My name is John Burger – born and raised in the outskirts of Philadelphia; I began to call Colorado home in my early twenties. One of my favorite travel memories of late was driving my moto up into the high peaks of Colombia and watching the sunrise on the glaciers of Cocuy Park (attached photo). This summer, I am looking forward to getting to know more about Costa Rica: the people, the fish, the jungle and getting better at surfing while working the surf and service program.

Leyla Pedraza

My name is Leyla, and have spent the past several years working in tourism and hospitality in Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. I’m incredibly excited to bring my unique combination of education, hospitality experience and my passion for adventure toward the benefit of my students. I’m super excited to join the team this year in Costa Rica!

Piper Raleigh

I’m originally from Northern California but I’ve been lucky enough to call Australia home for the last seven years. My favorite travel memory is reaching the summit of Volcán Acatenango in Guatemala just as the sun set behind the clouds. I can’t wait for this summer because I’m excited to connect with nature, meet new people, and make some memories that will last a lifetime!

Zoe Milner

My name is Zoe! I am originally from Fort Collins, Colorado. I do as much traveling as I can and one of my best travel memories is riding the Ha Giang Loop in North Vietnam! This summer I am excited to be back in Thailand, and I am looking forward to sharing my favorite country with all of you.

Eva Elfishawy

I’m Egyptian-American, born and raised in California. I am a lover of adventure both locally and abroad and recently spent six months backpacking in the Middle East! A graduate of UC Berkeley, I studied sustainability and costume design, and love the intersection of creativity and the environment. I enjoy making music and art.

Daniel Lucassen

I grew up in Wisconsin and am a cheesehead by heart! I love to travel and have been living the nomad life for the past 4 years by working contracts that allow me to lead and guide students around the world. My best travel memory was when I got to lead and guide students in the place where I started my traveling adventures through studying abroad and where I became the person I am today. I am most excited to make connections with students, co-leaders, and the amazing people we meet along the way! Also so excited to return to the amazing country of Thailand and help my students learn or continue to be impactful global citizens.

Ian Houts

I joined Rustic Pathways as a program leader in 2013, so this is my 11th year with the company! In my other life, I’ve managed nonprofits, consulted with UNICEF and The World Bank, and served as an economist for the Rwanda Social Security Board. I’m beyond excited to return to Thailand this summer and hope to inspire our students to impactful lives and careers of their own.

Sydney Morris

I’m originally from Northern California, now living in Spain for the past four years. Backpacking in the Andes remains one of my most cherished traveling experiences, as I got to explore remote parts of Peru while being surrounded by stunning mountains. I’m thrilled to be heading back to Peru after 8 years! Traveling to Peru was my first time leaving the country, so I’m excited to share this experience with students embarking on their own new adventures.

Emma Pryre

I grew up in New York City, but my home base has been Washington, D.C for the past 5 years, where I teach the third grade. It is hard to pick a favorite travel memory, but it might be scuba diving with sharks in Beqa. During my free time, I love to hike, read, and listen to live music. I am so excited to return to Fiji for my fifth rustic summer!

Nate Bastian

I’m a graduate of the University of Rhode Island where I studied Psychology and Communications. Benefiting from parents who worked in education, growing up travel was always a part of my life and I spent summers traveling and road tripping North America. Upon graduation from college I made traveling to more international destinations a priority and have loved getting to work with students from all over the world to share my passion for travel and adventure while exploring and learning from new cultures. Mainly based out of Costa Rica when I am not working, I am following the swell hoping to surf the best waves I can find or getting dirty working on one of my many vintage van restoration projects.

Andreanna Banta

My home base is the island of Oʻahu! I was born and raised in Kāneʻohe and currently live in Waiʻanae. My best travel memory is when I went to Kalaupapa on the island of Molokaʻi. While there we got to meet the residents and listen to their moʻolelo. We also had a kuleana towards the people and the ʻāina. We helped to clear the land of overgrowth, we mapped the local cemetery, got to stargaze, hike, and so much more. I’m so excited to meet the haumāna. I hope to help enhance their experience of our land, our people, and our culture through indigenous cultural practices and local volunteer efforts. I hope the students walk away from this program with the foundational skills necessary to help better their own community and make their own mark in the world. I want to empower them to be better today than they were yesterday.

Kyleigh McGrail

I grew up in Virginia, just outside of D.C. My base for the last two years has been Costa Rica! Last year, I hiked “El Camino de Costa Rica” alongside a group of students. One of the most cherished moments (among so many!) occurred on my birthday. We celebrated by making banana pancakes, singing, playing games, and hanging out – a seemingly “normal” day that remains one of my best travel memories. I’m stoked about immersing myself in Hawaii’s natural beauty this summer, while also guiding our students to develop a more global perspective. It’s an opportunity to not only enjoy the wonders of nature, but also to cultivate a deeper understanding of travel as a model of sustainable development.

Cristian Arce Valverde

I grew up in Costa Rica, lived in Cartago and San Jose, and now call Cleveland, Ohio my home. I’ve been working in tourism for over 5 years. I’m really excited about nature and ecology. Since I was a kid, I felt passionate about new cultures and traveling. I studied Eco Tourism in Universidad de Costa Rica. He is really happy to be part of the Rustic team for another year, this time in Hawaii!

Ashley Fox

Ashley found her way to Rustic through her love of outdoor recreation. Pursuing a career in guiding, she stumbled upon Rustic in 2017 and has worked across the globe with us since. Because of her background in environmental science and conservation, her favorite programs are those that allow her to help foster a positive relationship between students and the natural world around them. When she’s not working, you can find Ash traveling in her van, rock climbing in Moab, or getting her favorite soup in Vietnam.

Raleigh Addington

I look forward to sharing in the Costa Rican culture, Spanish language and mutual learning that will come along with our programs this Summer. Hola, my name is Raleigh Addington. I am 26 years old and have lived and worked in Latin America off and on for the last 5 years. I am from Colorado and all about the outdoors, learning, languages, the arts and spending time with friends and family. Look forward to meeting you.

Alexis Sinder

My name is Alexis and I bring over four years of student-facing experience overseas. This is third season with Rustic Pathways, and I love witnessing the power that experiential education and service learning has to positively transform the lives of students. I am moved by Rustic Pathways’ devotion to gaining global perspectives, inclusivity, and sustainable tourism. I can’t wait to meet my students this summer in South Korea!

Gregory Gaylor

I am a high school English teacher and currently reside in Houston, TX but have lived in New York City, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington DC, and Japan – all for a variety of reasons. My best travel memories always include discovering something unique, new, unanticipated, and off the proverbial beaten path – something usually only known by the local community. One of my most memorable travel moments was discovering some of the best “unagi” (eel) I had ever eaten while visiting the countryside of Japan and talking about the art of traditional Japanese “kimono” making with a 95-year-old Japanese man. It really is the little, unexpected pleasures that make the strongest, most emotional impact during one’s journey into the unknown. This summer, I am most excited about helping students to navigate the world around them through hands-on, authentic, experiential learning and discover what it means to be a true global citizen.

What's the program leader schedule like?

We have three types of travel programs at Rustic Pathways:

  • Student Travel – spring break and summer programs for middle and high school students (and three programs for college students)
  • Gap Year – programs for recent high school grads and other college students,
  • Group Travel – teacher-led trips for high school students

The vast majority of our Program Leaders begin by working on Student Travel programs during spring break (March and April) and summer (June, July, and August) months. Those programs are one to three weeks and repeat throughout the spring break or summer season. A seasonal period of employment generally involves leading multiple programs over an average of seven weeks.

See below for examples of spring break and summer seasonal schedules.

Spring Break

March 18-21 March 24-30 March 31-April 6 April 7-13 April 14-20 April 20-27
In-country training Spring to Fiji OFF Spring to Fiji Spring to Fiji Private Group Program


May 23-30 May 30-June 3 June 4-13 June 13-20 June 20-27 June 27-July11 July 11-25 July 26-Aug. 2
In-country training (Thailand) Site-specific training (Laos) OFF Amazing Thailand Amazing Thailand Laos Service Adventure Laos Service Adventure Amazing Thailand

How are Program Leaders trained at Rustic Pathways?

Program Leaders go through online and in-country in person training.

Online training comes first, covering Rustic Pathways’ protocols and approach to student travel. In-country training involves practicing skills through role play, meeting the team, and learning about the country and its programs.

This two-part training helps Program Leaders develop skills in managing group dynamics, facilitating programs, and teaching cultural respect and responsible travel. They also learn Rustic’s detailed safety and risk management protocols.

Learn more about our Program Leader training.

How many Program Leaders are hired?

We hire about 250 Program Leaders each spring break and summer. This keeps our Program Leader to student ratio at seven to one.

Most Program Leaders are hired locally in the countries where we operate. Each team includes at least one leader from the program’s country. This ensures students experience authentic local perspectives.

What are the compensation and benefits for Program Leaders?

Compensation and Benefits

  • Competitive weekly rate and training stipends
  • Pay increases in the second and third years, as well as for gap year and Photo Guides
  • Roundtrip airfare to the country of employment, with flexibility for personal travel plans
  • Meals, lodging, transport, and activities covered while leading programs
  • Wilderness First Responder certification or recertification stipend (with manager’s approval)
  • Time off determined at the country or program level
  • Medical and travel insurance for Program Leaders working outside their home country
  • Free 24/7 counseling services for you and your immediate family through our
  • Employee Assistance Program
  • Rustic Pathways t-shirt and other travel merch

Opportunities for Growth

  • Lead programs in different countries each season
  • Work year-round leading Group Travel and Student Travel programs
  • Lead gap year programs from September to December and/or February through April, and continue leading Student Travel programs from June through August
  • Join the full-time staff as a Program Manager
  • Join other departments like sales or marketing as full-time staff