Mulit-Country Rustic Pathways Gap Year

Video and Photos

Nasivikoso village (home stay)
Farming in the highlands
Somo Somo island family
Students travel across Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand
Students travel across Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand
Community service in the highlands of Fiji
Community service in the highlands of Fiji

About

A gap year is not a one-kind-fits-all experience. That's why Rustic Pathways offers 3-month gap semesters and 1-month block programs ranging from group adventures to language study through homestay experiences.

You can choose where you want to travel and what you want to get out of it! Our gap year programs inspire growth, encourage openness, and help you develop global perspectives before taking the next step, wherever your path may lead.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

95%
based on 20 reviews
  • Housing 9
  • Support 9.5
  • Fun 9.1
  • Value 9
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 16 - 20 of 20
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Rhiannon
7/10
Yes, I recommend this program

"Eh" experience - Mixed Feeling

I participated in the Helping Hands Gap Year Block.

Laos:
I traveled in Laos for two weeks as part of the Helping Hands gap year block.

I think that Laos is an incredibly beautiful country, and each of the cities we were in were stunning. There are a lot of outdoor activities which we participated in (kayaking, hiking, swimming, etc.). In addition, we visited temples, caves, night markets, and other cultural attractions which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, many of our night time group discussions were focused on personal reflections which meant that we did not get to learn as much about the history or culture of Laos as I would have liked.

The service project was a disappointment. We were meant to be building two public toilets but lacked the technical skills required to do much of the actual work. There was not enough work to do to occupy fourteen, unskilled teenagers so many of us spent hours sitting around waiting for the work day to be other. At points, the villagers would grab the tools from us and take over. It felt as if the construction project would have been more of a success if done entirely by the villagers, as opposed to with our half-heartedly attempts to assist.

In addition, two volunteers taught each day at the village school which was a touching experience as they had never received English instruction before. As we were extremely untrained teachers, it's not clear how much we were able to teach them but they did pick up a few words and those who like being around children enjoyed the experience.

The two local staff were pretty good, although one was much easier to interact with than the other. Between them and the Western staff, we were always safe and healthy. At times staff did show questionable judgment however (for example, encouraging us to put whole raw eggs in our mouths as part of a group Olympic event, despite the risk of salmonella). There was a great deal of supervision, perhaps more than I personally would have liked or required, which meant that many of the decisions such as what to do or what time the lights would be turned off were made by staff instead of students, despite the fact we were all adults and could have been trusted to be a part of the decision-making process.

Two final notes about the gap year program was that although this was never explicitly stated, Rustic only covers two meals per day and participants are expected to pay the third from the spending money they bring, and, although it is marked as a gap year "block" because this was a part of the greater semester program there were only three new students for this month and the remaining eleven members had been together for one or two months already.

Laos was an incredible country so I'm thankful I had the opportunity to visit, I am just not sure that this was the right fit of a program for me. There were some really great memories but overall, the trip was a disappointment for me.

Cambodia:
I spent two weeks in Cambodia this November on the Helping Hands gap year block. Overall, I felt the experience was okay but not great.

I started off the trip with being forgotten at the airport and desperately trying to get ahold of someone to pick me up. I was shocked upon arriving into the group to realize that although it is marketed as a gap year "block" since it is a part of the larger semester program, only three of the fourteen students were new. Everyone else had spent one or two months together already and although they were very nice and welcoming, they already knew one another and were established in their friendships. One of the local staff members was great and the other one was very sweet but spoke significantly less English so it was difficult to communicate with him. The leadership from the Western staff was at times lacking, although all staff always made sure we were safe and healthy.

I enjoyed all of the "touristy" things we were able to do in Cambodia, from visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh to exploring Ankor Wat, and taking a boat ride to visit the floating villages. I thought there was a good mixture of activities that helped me learn about the country and its history/culture.

I was not as excited however by our service project which was building a brick wall. We, as American teenagers, do not have the technical skills required to do construction very well, even as simple as building a brick wall. As a result, our van driver ended up doing a significantly larger portion of the work than our entire group combined (including tearing down a section we had already completed to re-do it since it wasn't straight or steady). Thinking about the materials wasted, it would have been a larger benefit to the community if we had used our expensive fees to hire local technicians to do the work in half the time.

And finally, I was disappointed that Rustic Pathways never informed Gap Year program participants that only two meals each day were included in the already hefty program fees you pay. This meant that each day we had to purchase one meal, often dinner, on our own. In addition to creating hectic situations at restaurants when our group had to pay the bill, many students had not budgeted one meal a day into their spending money since Rustic never disclosed that they were not purchasing all meals (and although dinners were not particularly expensive, it does add up over the course of a month or two or three).

My feelings about this program were extremely mixed-- there were some great moments and some not-so-great ones too. Overall, I have to admit that I was disappointed but I think for the right person this type of program could be great. Like I said, you get to see and learn a lot about the country but you do not get to participate in a community-driven project for which you are actually needed.

Response from Rustic Pathways

Hi Rhiannon,

We are glad to see that although your experience did not meet your expectations, that you still found both Laos and Cambodia to be beautiful and interesting countries.

We apologize that you were not aware of the two meal policy before embarking on your trip. We have since changed this policy and are now providing three meals a day on all of our Gap Year programs.

We are constantly evaluating our service projects and working with the local communities to set up purposeful projects that are identified by the needs of the community and can be accomplished by collaborative work between the locals and our students. Surely, the preparation and planning does not always play out on the ground. Our Director of Global Community Service is currently out in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, reviewing our service projects and making sure they are up to our standards.

Once again, although our program did not quite meet your expectations, we are glad to see that you enjoyed parts of your trip and thank you for participating in our Gap Year Blocks.

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Kara
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Program and Amazing Trip

I have nothing but great things to say about the company and locations they work in. The program is well developed with adventure, community service and site seeing. I would recommend this location or any other trip with Rustic, I have done two others besides the Fiji one and was equally impressed. It is a great opportunity to travel in a safe organized environment while also seeing more than the touristy bits of a location.

What would you improve about this program?
I would say that sometimes the online itinerary can make you think you will be doing more than you actually will be. Maybe the wording of it should be more "this could happen or you could go here" but not make it seem so guaranteed.
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Brooke
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Wananavu

Fiji days were spent hard at work constructing better schools for the children or in total relaxation snorkeling 3 times a day and having local staff scale coconuts for you to drink. A genuine life style with constantly positive people who are rich and full of life and wonder. You will find your nights filled with laughter surrounding a Kava bowl with interested locals whose voices ring in harmony as they sing along to a guitar. The local staff made me already make plans too come back and see them again in life.

New Zealand is filled with adrenaline pumping action whether it be 5 hours spent caving, or jumping off of buildings, planes, and bridges. The food is as fresh as it gets and all organic. The markets were always so fun to explore after you built up a hunger from the action earlier in the day.

Australia is all about the locals showing you their home country with pride. Singing along to Australian folk songs featuring local instruments was one of my favorite things on car rides towards the beach. Getting an Australian perspective, personality, and accent to teach you the Australian way couldn't have been more awesome of an introduction to this great country.

The South Pacific gap semester with Rustic Pathways was unmistakably one of the best trips of my life. Every moment was filled with laughter, adventure, and a shared genuine interest in life and each other by the leaders, local staff, and students. Life long friendships were forged throughout three countries that I will definitely be visiting again in life due to my experience and the unforgettable people along the way.

What would you improve about this program?
No program is perfect and I think with this one I occasionally wanted a little more free time and some down days, however , thinking back I wouldn't want to give up one moment to sleep in or pass up on any opportunity.
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Sequoia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

INCREDIBLE. EYE OPENING. INSPIRING.

I participated in two programs in Laos. The first being Mystical Caves and Shamans, the second was Sticky Rice.

MYSTICAL CAVES AND SHAMANS.
This program was incredible. I cannot stress it enough. It opened my eyes to the world around us. We stayed in the base house where we were sleeping on mats under mosquito nets; I still miss my mosquito net... Every morning we would wake up and after breakfast begin work on our service project. During my trip our service project was building a volleyball court for the village. I definitely enjoyed experiencing building something from scratch. As we went to the river to gather rocks and sand so we could make concrete, we were required to push the tractor back up the hill because the road was too slippery. The laughs exchanged were definitely a highlight. After lunch we would do an activity such as teaching kids, visiting a cave, seeing a shaman, going to a waterfall, etc.
I would definitely recommend this trip to all students looking for a unique way to experience Laos in its true beauty. And I will probably do this program again because it was so extremely amazing.

STICKY RICE
This program is for students who are looking for a more touristy experience in Laos.
We flew into the city Luang Prabang where we stayed for three nights doing things like visiting temples, monks, waterfalls, markets, etc. Then we took a three hour drive to a village called Nong Khiaw where we stayed two nights. There we kayaked, hiked to a waterfall, did service work (painting a school and teaching children), and swam in the river.
This program is not as Rustic as Mystical Caves and Shamans, however still enjoyable.
We stayed in hotels the entire time and had the luxury of western toilets the entire trip.
Though I would not do this program again due to its lack of Rustic-ness, it was still an enjoyable program.

In a nutshell, Laos was the most incredible country I have ever visited. I do plan on returning. The programs I chose have opened my eyes to the world around me. I am so fortunate to have chosen these programs.(:

What would you improve about this program?
Mystical Caves and Shamans: Nothing. It really was perfect.

Sticky Rice: More rustic-ness and more service.
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Cass
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Rustic Pathways Laos

I did the elephant program in Laos along with the " Wonders and Riches of Southeast Asia". Both of these were very different trips and I liked them for different reasons. I have been back to Laos on various Rustic Pathways trips over the last three years and loved each of them. Rustic has a smaller program in Laos, which allows for smaller groups of students and more focused goals: a key aspect for positive experiences.
The local staff are warm, fun, and knowledgeable. The programs give you a taste of everything. From fun and shopping in Laung Prabang, to riding elephants in the Mekong River, and to riding boats four hours to a far off village. They offer a plethora of experiences for any type of traveler.

What would you improve about this program?
Would love to experience more of the rural side of Laos, but this was due to the trips I chose. They offer "Come with Nothing" that will take you to those far off places for the experienced travelers.