Sydney is a rising Junior from Los Angeles, California. On top of being a hard working student, she is a competitive swimmer for her school, and is recognized for her photography and art. In the summers of 2016 and 2017, she spent time with Rustic Pathways on three different programs which focused on community service and cultural behavior.
Why did you choose this program?
I had done two programs with Rustic Pathways before, and both were great ways to branch out and see the world from others' perspectives. However, the previous programs were not as long, nor had the amount of service that this one had.
The challenge of this program was bringing just about nothing of materialistic value with me, and that was probably one of the most intriguing factors.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Rustic Pathways is there every step of the way. They provide you with all of the information you can possibly need.
They organize all of your flights and have staff at every airport, which is particularly helpful. If you prefer to do flights and packing yourself, that is available as well. They are always in contact throughout the process of preparing for your trip.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Always remind yourself that you are in a different environment than usual. Sometimes you may just want to complain about the heat or whine about the bugs, but it all truly is part of the experience.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Four days are spent doing service in a community. The work hours are long but rewarding. It is mainly physical, making cement and helping with construction.
At night you do activities or hold discussions with your group. You get used to the amenities (squat toilets and bucket showers).
On that fourth and last day, you pack up and say goodbye, and travel to a small hotel. These next two days are called rejuvenation days, where you will visit temples, sightsee, and relax before going to your next community.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I was afraid I wouldn't be able to keep up with the work physically. Being there for three weeks and doing work almost every day was pretty intimidating.
I think my entire group overcame that fear because we were together. We encouraged each other and were there to help when another needed a break. We played music and kept it fun and productive. Don't see yourself doing this alone, you have a whole group there to back you up!
Ultimately, when the heat becomes too much and your body is drenched with sweat, what kept us all moving was knowing that this work is not for us and our sake of comfortability, but for an entire community to share and grow from, even when we are gone.
What made your experience with Rustic Pathways unique?
This program made me feel like I wasn't a tourist. Now of course I know I was. Having been there for just three weeks and learning only a handful of words in their intricate language, I can't claim to be much other than a tourist.
That being said, Rustic Pathways took the opportunity to find the small towns, the little dots on the map - we lived with locals, ate their food, and learned their culture - places so far from the center of tourist culture that I no longer felt like one.
I believe and know that I woke up every morning and saw the true and raw Thailand, not just the sugar coated package that a tourist might get. I saw the hardship, I saw the togetherness, I saw the work, and I saw the love. And as a result, I felt it all. That is why I didn't feel like a tourist. That is why I keep going back.